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Reeser v. Henry Ford Health System

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

October 4, 2017

NATALIE REESER, Plaintiff,
v.
HENRY FORD HEALTH SYSTEM, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES (Doc. 112) and PLAINTIFF'S SUPPLEMENTAL MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES (Doc. 145)

          GEORGE CARAM STEEH UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         In this retaliatory discharge action, Plaintiff Natalie Reeser alleged she was terminated in retaliation for asserting her right to a paid lunch hour in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3), and the Whistleblower Protection Act (“WPA”), Mich. Comp. Laws §15.362. Following a seven day trial, the jury rendered a no cause verdict on her FLSA claim, but awarded Reeser $3, 200 in economic damages on her WPA claim. Reeser then filed a motion for attorney fees in the amount of $315, 133.[1] The court granted the motion but awarded only $10, 000 based on the meager nature of Reeser's recovery at trial. Reeser appealed, and the Sixth Circuit ruled that this court did not follow the correct procedure for determining fees and remanded the matter to this court for reconsideration in light of the methodology outlined in Pirgu v. United Serv. Auto. Ass'n, 499 Mich. 269 (2016). In addition, Reeser now seeks attorney fees for the time expended on her motion for attorney fees, response to Defendant Henry Ford Health System's (“Henry Ford”) renewed motion for judgment and motion for post-judgment sanctions, and her appeal. The court addresses both motions below.

         I. Background

         Reeser seeks attorney fees for the work of four attorneys from the law firm of Miller Cohen - two trial attorneys, Keith Flynn and Adam Graham, a senior partner, Richard Mack, and a former associate, Ada Verloren. In total, Reeser claims 1, 189.70 hours of attorney time broken down as follows: Flynn, 628.60 hours at $275.00 per hour for a total of $172, 865; Graham, 460.65 hours at $250.00 per hour for a total of $115, 162.50; Verloren, 84.60 hours at $275 per hour for a total of $23, 265; and Mack, 15.85 hours at $300.00 per hour for a total of $4, 755. In support of her motion, Reeser's attorneys have submitted over 55 pages of billing records consisting of approximately 550 entries.

         In her supplemental motion for attorney fees, Reeser seeks an additional $45, 260 in fees for 173.75 hours billed by Graham and Flynn on plaintiff's motion for attorney fees and reply brief, and time spent on appeal. The amount requested is based on Flynn billing a total of 75.4 hours worked comprised of 72.9 hours billed at $275.00 per hour, and 2.5 hours billed at $250.00 on December 16, 2016 and February 28, 2017, [2] for a total amount billed of $20, 672.50. Graham billed at the $250 hourly rate for 98.35 hours worked for a total of $24, 587.50. In support of her supplemental motion, Reeser's attorneys have submitted ten pages of billing records consisting of nearly one hundred entries.

         II. Standard of Law

         The first step in determining an award of attorney fees is to determine the reasonable hourly rate customarily charged in the locality for similar services. Pirgu, 499 Mich. at 281. The second step is multiplying “that rate by the reasonable number of hours expended in the case to arrive at a baseline figure.” Id. Once the court arrives at this figure, referred to as the lodestar amount, the court considers the non-exhaustive list of eight factors identified by the Michigan Supreme Court in Pirgu:

(1) the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services,
(2) the difficulty of the case, i.e., the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly,
(3) the amount in question and the results obtained,
(4) the expenses incurred,
(5) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client,
(6) the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer,
(7) the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances, and
(8) whether the fee is fixed or contingent.

Id. at 282.

         III. Analysis

         The WPA provides the court with discretion to award “reasonable attorney fees . . . if the court determines that the award is appropriate.” Mich. Comp. Laws § 15.364. In response to Reeser's original motion for attorney fees, Henry Ford argues that this court should exercise its discretion and deny any award of attorney fees based on the fact that Reeser recovered less at trial than Henry Ford offered her to settle the case. The ...


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