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Dixon v. St. Paul Protective Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division

April 30, 2015



GERSHWIN A. DRAIN, District Judge.


On July 24, 2014, Plaintiffs Richard and Paula Dixon filed the instant complaint against Defendant St. Paul Protective Insurance Company, doing business as The Travelers Indemnity Company ("Travelers"). The Dixons held an automobile insurance policy with Travelers. On August 24, 2010, Richard Dixon sustained bodily injuries in an automobile accident. On August 6, 2013, Plaintiff sustained additional injuries when he stepped in a hole on his property.

Plaintiffs asserted that his 2013 fall exasperated his 2010 automobile injuries. They contended that, under the terms and conditions of his automobile insurance policy, Travelers was obligated to pay certain expenses or losses. Plaintiffs alleged, however, that Defendant unreasonably refused to pay or has unreasonably delayed in making proper payments for attendant care, recovery, medical, and rehabilitation expenses.

The parties have settled the matter as to Plaintiffs' claim for insurance benefits. Presently before this Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorney Fees. Doc. Nos. 14, 21. On February 13, 2015, the Court entered an Opinion and Order Granting Plaintiffs' Motion. Doc. No. 24. The Court, however, ordered Plaintiffs to submit the amount of attorney fees for which they seek. The Court also ordered Plaintiffs to submit a "detailed affidavit of counsel supporting the reasonableness of the claimed attorney's fees." See K.G. ex rel. Gray v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., 674 F.Supp.2d at 862, 873-874 (E.D. Mich. 2009). Upon review of the briefs of both parties, the Court will grant Plaintiff's motion for reasonable attorney fees. The Court, however, will deny Plaintiffs' request to include additional litigation expenses as a portion of the attorney fee amount awarded.


A. Standard of Review

A reasonable attorney fee is one that is "adequately compensatory to attract competent counsel yet which avoids producing a windfall for lawyers." Gonter v. Hunt Valve Co., Inc., 510 U.S. 610, 616 (6th Cir. 2007) (quoting Geier v. Sundquist, 372 F.3d 784, 791 (6th Cir. 2000). To achieve this effect, courts generally use the lodestar method when calculating attorney fees. See Capaldi v. Am. Credit & Collections, LLC, No. 12-10254, 2014 WL 3925163, slip op., at *3 (E.D. Mich. Aug. 12, 2014) ("There is a strong presumption' that the lodestar amount represents a reasonable' fee."). The lodestar fee equals "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." B & G Min., Inc. v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, 522 F.3d 657, 661 (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).

The Court has "broad discretion to determine what constitutes a reasonable hourly rate for an attorney." Hett v. Bryant Lafayette & Assocs., LLC, No. 10-cv-12479, 2011 WL 740460, at *2 (E.D. Mich. Feb. 24, 2011). The Court, however, "is required to adjust attorney fee rates to the local market rates for attorneys." Swans v. City of Lansing, 65 F.Supp.2d 625, 647 (W.D. Mich. 1998) (citing Hadix v. Johnson, 65 F.3d 532, 536 (6th Cir. 1995)). "The appropriate rate, therefore, is not necessarily the exact value sought by a particular firm, but is rather the market rate in the venue sufficient to encourage competent representation. Id. at 663 (quoting Gonter, 510 F.3d at 618).

In addition, the courts look to the prevailing rates of lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation. Hadix, 64 F.3d at 536. The Court uses the Michigan Rules of Professional Conduct to guide its assessment of the reasonableness of proposed attorney fees, taking all of these requirements into account.

Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 provides that a court should consider the following factors in determining whether a fee is reasonable: "(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (2) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer; (3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services; (4) the amount involved and the results obtained; (5) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances; (6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; (7) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer... performing the services; and (8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent." MRPC 1.5(a)(1)-(8).

Michigan law imposes a similar set of factors to consider when determining a reasonable hourly rate for attorney fees. Under Michigan law, courts should consider the following six factors: "(1) the professional standing and experience of the attorney; (2) the skill, time and labor involved; (3) the amount in question and the results achieved; (4) the difficulty of the case; (5) the expenses incurred; and (6) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client." Wood v. Detroit Auto. Inter-Ins. Exch., 413 Mich. 573, 588 (1982). However, "there is no precise formula for computing the reasonableness of an attorney's fee." Id. While the Wood factors should be considered, courts are "not limited to those factors in making its determination." Id. Furthermore, "the trial court need not detail its finding as to each specific factor considered." Id.

The Supreme Court has further held that "district courts should exclude from [the] initial fee calculation hours that were not reasonably expended." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433-34 (internal quotation marks omitted). Moreover, "[c]ounsel from the prevailing party should make a good faith effort to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, ...

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