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Currier v. PDL Recovery Group, LLC

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

August 18, 2017

Ryan Currier, Plaintiff,
v.
PDL Recovery Group, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART & DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES AS TO PDL RECOVERY AND JAMIE BELSTADT (Doc. # 186)

          Sean F. Cox United States District Court Judge

         Plaintiff originally filed this action on June 3, 2014, asserting claims pursuant to Telephone Consumer Protection Act (“TCPA”), the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), the Michigan Occupational Code (“MOC”), and the Michigan Collection Practices Act (“MCPA”).

         Currently before the Court is Plaintiff's “Motion for Attorney Fees as to PDL Recovery and Jamie Belstadt.” (Doc. # 186, Pl.'s Mo.). Defendants have responded to the motion (Doc. # 191, Def.s' Resp.), and Plaintiff has replied. (Doc. # 215, Pl.'s Reply). Plaintiff asks for an attorney fee award of $212, 234.80. To account for any discrepancies, Plaintiff's amount reflects a 30% across-the-board reduction to the total fee award.[1] (Pl.'s Reply at Pg ID 3020). The Court finds the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the parties' briefs such that oral argument will not significantly aid in the decisional process. It is therefore ordered that the motion will be resolved on the briefs submitted. E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f)(2).

         For the reasons that follow, the Court shall GRANT in part and DENY in part Plaintiff's motion. Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED to the extent that it seeks an award of attorney fees. However, the motion is DENIED to the extent that it seeks $212, 234.80 in fees. Instead, the Court awards Plaintiff $153, 877, which is reasonable in light of the facts and circumstances of this case.

         BACKGROUND

         As a threshold matter, the Court notes that this simple case has been aggressively litigated by both parties - as evidenced by the 216 docket entries over the course of three years.

         A. Procedural Background

         On June 3, 2014, Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to the TCPA, FDCPA, MOC, and MCPA. Plaintiff originally named the following as defendants in this case: PDL Recovery Group, LLC, Avante Teleadvance, Inc., Mara Pfalzer, Benjamin J. Hoey, Jamie Belstadt, Ronald Cobb, Vera B. Ray, and John Does (1-20). (Doc. # 1). Sometime thereafter, Plaintiff settled the TCPA claims against Avante Teleadvance, and he voluntarily dismissed Benjamin Hoey and Ronald Cobb[2] from this case.

         On June 29, 2015, Plaintiff filed a second amended complaint - the operative complaint in this case. (Doc. # 48). The following were named as defendants: PDL Recovery Group, LLC; V, Cobb Associates, LLC; Mara Pfalzer; Jamie Belstadt; John Puglisi; and Mike Hasson. Plaintiff alleged that Defendants violated the TCPA by placing 11 unauthorized pre-recorded calls to Plaintiff's cellular phone. Plaintiff also alleged that Defendants violated the FDCPA and MOC by failing to send the required notice under the Act and by placing harassing phone calls to Plaintiff's place of employment in an effort to collect on a debt.

         Since the filing of the second amended complaint, Clerks Entries of Default have been entered against Defendants V, Cobb Associates, Puglisi, and Hasson. On August 10, 2016, Plaintiff filed a partial motion for summary judgment, seeking judgment in his favor against Defendants PDL, Belstadt, and Pfalzer as to liability and statutory damages under the TCPA, FDCPA, and MOC. (Doc. # 142, Pl.'s MSJ).

         The Court granted in part and denied in part Plaintiff's motion. (Doc. # 170). The Court granted Plaintiff's motion to the extent that he sought statutory damages against PDL and Belstadt for willful violations of the TCPA. The Court also granted Plaintiff's motion to the extent that he sought statutory damages against PDL, Belstadt, and Pfalzer for violations of certain subsections of the FDCPA and the MOC. Plaintiff was subsequently ordered to file his calculations for appropriate statutory damages. On March 9, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion for Reconsideration, which the Court denied on May 1, 2017.

         Following a status conference with the Court, the parties settled the remainder of the case. Plaintiff settled his claims against Mara Pfalzer and entered into a consent judgment for $50. Defendants PDL and Belstadt entered into a Final Stipulated Judgment with Plaintiff on May 10, 2017. (Doc. # 181). The parties stipulated to a damage award of $22, 500 - $16, 500 statutory damages for the willful TCPA violations and $6, 000 statutory and actual damages for the violations under the FDCPA and MOC. The parties also agreed to attempt to resolve the attorney's fees and costs.

         Because the parties were unable to resolve the issue of attorney's fees, Plaintiff filed the instant motion on July 10, 2017. Plaintiff contends that his attorneys have expended 1, 170.6 hours litigating this case over the course of three years, which results $298, 318.50 in attorney fees. Plaintiff agrees to reduce his total fee award to $212, 234.80, which constitutes a 30% reduction. The motion has been fully briefed by the parties.

         ANALYSIS

         In support of his motion, Plaintiff submits a 115-page billing statement, which chronologically lists the services rendered, hours expended, and the billing attorney/staff member. (Ex. 1 to Pl.'s Mo.).

         Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff is entitled to attorney fees in this action. However, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's hourly rates are unreasonable, and that Plaintiff's expended hours are excessive and unreasonable. Defendants propose that: (1) Plaintiff's requested fees should be reduced to $59, 663.70 (73% across-the-board reduction) to reflect the proportion of the settlement award relating to the FDCPA claims, i.e., to reflect limited success; or (2) that Plaintiff's fees should be reduced by $126, 481 to account for improper billing, i.e., billing time for clerical work, duplicative efforts, vague descriptions, travel time, time relating to other defendants, time for unnecessary discovery.

         The Court finds Plaintiff's requested fee of $212, 234.80 unreasonable. Plaintiff's proposed hourly rates are high. And while Defendants' dilatory litigation (evading Plaintiff's discovery efforts) strategy is partly to blame, Plaintiff's attorneys over-staffed and over-billed this straight forward case.

         A. Attorney Fees

         Although Plaintiff received partial summary judgment in his favor as to the TCPA, FDCPA, and MOC, he is only entitled to attorney fees as to his FDCPA and MOC claims. With respect to those claims, Plaintiff's recovery in this case amounted to approximately $6, 000. The FDCPA provides that a debt collector who fails to comply with the Act is liable for “the costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). Section 339.916(2) of the MOC similarly provides for reasonable attorney fees.

         To calculate a reasonable attorney fee award, courts employ the “lodestar method, ” which requires the Court to multiply a reasonable hourly rate by the reasonable number of hours worked. Ellison v. Balinski, 625 F.3d 953, 960 (6th Cir. 2010).

         1. Reasonable Hourly Rates

         As a general matter, an attorney's reasonable hourly rate is calculated according to the “prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 897 (1984). The Sixth Circuit has explained that “the ‘prevailing market rate' is that rate which lawyers of comparable skill and experience can expect to command within the venue of the court of record. . . .” Adcock-Ladd v. Secy' of Treasury, 227 F.3d 343, 350 (6th Cir. 2000). The Sixth Circuit has clarified that “[t]he 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.” Sykes v. Anderson, 419 Fed. App'x 615, 618 (6th Cir. 2011) (quoting Gonter v. Hunt Valve, Co., 510 F.3d 610, 618 (6th Cir. 2007)).

         The burden is on the prevailing attorney to justify the reasonableness of a requested fee award. Blum, 456 U.S. at 896 n.11. Specifically, the fee applicant must “produce satisfactory evidence-in addition to the attorney's own affidavits-that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.” Id. The Court has “broad discretion to determine what constitutes a reasonable hourly rate for an attorney.” Wayne v. Vill. of Sebring, 36 F.3d 517, 533

         (6th Cir. 1994).

         Here, there is no dispute that the relevant community is the Eastern District of Michigan.

         Plaintiff requests the following rates:

Ian Lyngklip (admitted 1992; senior partner)

$450 per hour

Julie Petrik (admitted 1992)

$350 per hour

Carl Schwartz (admitted 2007)

$250 per hour

Priya Bali (admitted 2014)

$250 per hour

Sylvia Bolos (admitted 2014)

$250 per hour

Amanda Logendyke Waldron (admitted 2013)

$200 per hour

Michael J. Bonvolanta (admitted 2015)

$200 per hour

Emily Reagan (admitted 2014)

$200 per hour

Laura Branco (paralegal)

$125 per hour

Mykayla Minock (legal assistant)

$50 per hour

Emily Reagan (law clerk through May 2014)

$100 per hour


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