United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
Judge, Anthony P. Patti
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR BACK BENEFITS, INTEREST,
COSTS, AND ATTORNEY FEES 
E. LEVY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court previously granted plaintiff's motion for summary
judgment, finding that defendants Federal Express Corporation
and Aetna Life Insurance Company denied his claim for
long-term disability benefits in violation of The Employee
Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. (Dkt. 28.) At issue
here is plaintiff's motion for back benefits, interest,
costs, and attorney fees, pursuant to the Court's order.
(Dkt. 29.) For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's
motion is granted in part and denied in part.
do not oppose plaintiff's request for back benefits in
the amount of $12, 479.38, nor do they oppose his request for
reinstatement of his long-term disability benefits. (Dkt. 29
at 4.) Thus, the Court awards plaintiff $12, 479.38 in back
benefits and orders defendants to reinstate plaintiff's
long-term disability benefits.
also do not oppose plaintiff's request for pre-judgment
interest in the amount of $40.35, as calculated by plaintiff
based on the 52-week Treasury 1 year constant maturity yield
rate for each month, compounded annually. (See Dkt.
29 at 4-5; Dkt. 29-3.) Thus, the Court awards plaintiff
pre-judgment interest in the amount of $40.35.
also requests $699.60 in total costs (Dkt. 29 at 2; Dkt.
29-4), but defendants argue that plaintiff is entitled to
taxable costs of only $400 for his e-filing fee, and not $114
for West Law research, $171.70 in copying costs, and $13.90
in postage. (Dkt. 33 at 2-3.) According to defendants,
“routine copy expenses; those made for service; filing
or for the convenience of counsel are not taxable within the
discretion of the taxation clerk, ” and
“computerized legal research charges and postage fees
are not taxable.” (Id.)
Court has broad discretion to award costs to prevailing
parties in ERISA actions. See 29 U.S.C. §
1132(g)(1) (providing that the Court “in its discretion
may allow a reasonable attorney's fee and costs of action
to either party”). And even nontaxable costs may be
considered part of an attorney fee award under the statute,
“as long as those costs are reasonable . . . [and]
normally charged to a fee-paying client in the course of
providing legal services.” See Potter v. Blue Cross
Blue Shield of Mich., 10 F.Supp.3d 737, 771 (E.D. Mich.
2014) (collecting cases).
for legal research have been permitted as part of a
reasonable attorney fee award. Id. (citing Gratz
v. Bollinger, 353 F.Supp.2d 929, 945 (E.D. Mich. 2005)
(awarding but reducing total research cost as
“exorbitant”); Ousley v. GM Ret.
Program, 496 F.Supp.2d 845, 852 (S.D. Ohio 2006)
(awarding legal research costs)). So too have copying and
postage costs. Id. (collecting cases). Here,
plaintiff seeks modest nontaxable costs of only $114 for
research, $171.70 for copying, and $13.90 for postage. And
those are the costs that are regularly charged to fee-paying
clients in the normal course. See Id. Thus, the
Court awards plaintiff the total request of $699.60 in costs,
$400 of which are taxable and $299.60 of which are part of
the attorney fee award.
plaintiff seeks $58, 185 in attorney fees, for 129.3 hours of
work at a rate of $450 per hour. (See Dkt. 29-5 at
7.) Defendants do not dispute that plaintiff's counsel is
entitled to an award. Rather, defendants argue that the
requested amount is excessive for a number of reasons.
According to defendants, the $450-per-hour rate is
excessively high (they argue that plaintiff's rate should
only be $250 per hour); a number of plaintiff's billing
entries are excessive, unsupported, or vague; and there
should otherwise be an across-the-board reduction of 25%
because of voluminous block billing with vague descriptions.
(Dkt. 33 at 3-9.)
primary concern in an attorney fee case is that the fee
awarded be reasonable, that is, one that is adequately
compensatory to attract competent counsel yet which avoids
producing a windfall for lawyers.” Geier v.
Sundquist, 372 F.3d 784, 791 (6th Cir. 2004) (quoting
Reed v. Rhodes, 179 F.3d 453, 471 (6th Cir. 1999)).
The “lodestar” method-multiplying a reasonable
hourly rate by the proven number of hours reasonably expended
on the case by counsel-is the “proper method for
determining the amount of reasonable attorney's
fees.” Bldg. Serv. Local 47 Cleaning Contractors
Pension Plan v. Grandview Raceway, 46 F.3d 1392, 1401
(6th Cir. 1995) (citing Pa. v. Del. Valley Citizens'
Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 563 (1986)). First,
the lodestar must be calculated for each attorney involved.
See Del. Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air,
478 U.S. at 563. Second, the Court may, “within limits,
adjust the ‘lodestar' to reflect relevant
considerations peculiar to the subject litigation.”
See Adcock-Ladd v. Sec'y of Treasury, 227 F.3d
343, 349 (6th Cir. 2000) (citing Reed, 179 F.3d at
reasonable hourly rate is generally calculated according to
the “prevailing market rates in the relevant
community.” See Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886,
895 (1984). The “relevant community” here is the
Eastern District of Michigan. See Adcock-Ladd, 227
F.3d at 350 (relevant community is the legal community within
the court's territorial jurisdiction). And the
“‘prevailing market rate' is that rate which
lawyers of comparable skill and experience can expect to
command” in the relevant community. See Id.
“The appropriate rate . . . 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.” Gonter v. Hunt Valve Co., 510
F.3d 610, 618 (6th Cir. 2007).
argues that Craig Nemier and Michelle Mathieu,
plaintiff's counsel, are entitled to $450-per-hour
because they are “AV rat[ed]” attorneys with 40
and 34 years' experience, respectively, and should be
awarded rates in the 95th percentile of attorneys with more
than 35 years' experience, with an office location in
south Oakland County, and with a practice of civil
litigation. (See Dkt. 29 at 11-12.)
to the most recent survey from the State Bar of Michigan,
attorneys with over 35 years' experience charged rates of
$350 at the 75th percentile and $525 at the 95th.
See State Bar of Michigan, Economics of Law Practice
6 (2014), http://www.michbar.org/
file/pmrc/articles/0000151.pdf. Attorneys who practice in
Oakland County south of M-59 charged hourly rates of $325 at
the 75th percentile and $495 at the 95th. See Id. at
7. Attorneys in a firm the size of 7 to 10 attorneys, the
approximate size of plaintiff's counsels' firm,
charged hourly rates of $325 at the 75th percentile and $455
at the 95th. See Id. And attorneys who practice
plaintiffs'-side employment law charged hourly rates of
$330 at the 75th percentile and $450 at the 95th.
Nemier and Ms. Mathieu are experienced and well-qualified
attorneys. The most relevant rate here is that of attorneys
in the 75th percentile of the categories set forth above,
because plaintiff's counsel bill for legal work that
could not likely command the requested $450-per-hour from
fee-paying clients. For example, plaintiff's counsel bill
for work such as “prepare proposed [stipulated] order,
” “legal research case citations of [summary
judgment] brief, ” and “legal research re
recoverable atty fees in ERISA” (see Dkt. 29-5), which
is often the type of work that is assigned to associates or
legal assistants and charged at much lower rates. The Court
will thus award a rate of $375-per-hour for the work
performed by both counsel. ...