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Hubbell v. Fedex Smartpost, Inc.

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

March 20, 2018




         Plaintiff Sheryl Hubbell brought this action against defendant FedEx Smartpost, Inc., alleging that she was subjected to gender discrimination and retaliation. On June 9, 2017, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff on her retaliation claims and awarded damages. This matter is presently before the Court on plaintiff's motion for entry of judgment, costs, attorney fees, and interest. (Doc. 76).

         I. Background

         The facts of the case are well known to the parties. A brief summary will suffice here. Plaintiff worked as a parcel sorter for defendant. She alleged gender discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment claims under Title VII and Michigan's Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA). The Court granted defendant partial summary judgment on plaintiff's hostile work environment claim. On June 5, 2017, the parties proceeded to trial on the remaining counts. After a five day trial, the jury found for plaintiff on her retaliation claims. (Doc. 73). The jury awarded her $32, 100 for economic damages to the date of the verdict, $53, 500 for future economic damages, $30, 000 for non-economic damages, and $403, 950 for punitive damages. (Doc. 73 at PageID 2640-42). Defendant immediately stated its intent to file post-trial motions. Plaintiff filed the instant motion on June 22, 2017. The Court resolved to address defendant's anticipated post-trial motions before entering judgment. On March 13, 2018, the Court denied defendant's requests for judgment as a matter of law and a new trial and granted its request for remittitur and reduced plaintiff's punitive damages award. (Doc. 90). Judgment was entered March 14, 2018. (Doc. 91).

         The Court now returns to plaintiff's motion. She seeks attorney's fees, costs, and interest. Defendant filed a response on July 11, 2017. (Doc. 78). It focused on requesting that judgment not be entered. It did not articulate any challenge to plaintiff's requests for attorney's fees, costs, or interest.

         II. Judgment

         Judgment was entered on March 14, 2018. (Doc. 91). Plaintiff's request for judgment is, therefore, MOOT.

         III. Attorney's Fees

         Section 706(k) of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorizes the award of attorney's fees to the prevailing party and entrusts the effectuation of this statutory policy to the discretion of the district courts. Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n, 434 U.S. 412, 416 (1978). The ELCRA also authorizes “[a] person alleging a violation of this act” to receive reasonable attorney's fees. Mich. Comp. Laws §§ 37.2801(1), (3); see also Hall v. State Farm Ins. Co., 18 F.Supp.2d 751, 764 (E.D. Mich. 1998).

         In her motion for attorney's fees, plaintiff's counsel states that “this matter was taken upon a 1/3 contingency fee basis and written agreement and understanding that attorney fees above that 1/3 contingency fee may be awarded by law to the attorneys.” (Doc. 76 at PageID 2669) (emphasis added). Preliminarily, the Court reminds plaintiff and her counsel that the law entitles plaintiff, not her attorneys, to attorney's fees.

         “Prevailing party” in Title VII's fee shifting provision “refer[s] to plaintiff's entitlement to those fees, not the plaintiff's lawyer, . . . independent of his client, an attorney has no personal right to an award of statutory attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k).” Soliman v. Ebasco Servs. Inc., 822 F.2d 320, 322-23 (2d Cir. 1987). Likewise, plaintiff, not her counsel, is the “person alleging a violation of” the ELCRA. Any attorney's fees award is, therefore, awarded by law to plaintiff Hubbell.

         “When determining an amount of a reasonable attorney's fee, federal courts generally begin by calculating the ‘lodestar' (the product of multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate), and then reduce or augment that amount by considering other case-specific factors.” Hunt v. Hadden, 159 F.Supp.3d 800, 806 (E.D. Mich. 2016) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-37 (1983)). Michigan courts follow a similar approach; first determining the lodestar and then assessing the factors outlined in Wood v. DAIIE, 413 Mich. 573 (1982) and Michigan Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5(a) to determine if they warrant an increase or decrease in the base number. Id.

         “The factors considered in Wood are:

(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.

Id. (citing Wood, 413 Mich. at 588). “The factors in Professional Conduct Rule 1.5(a) are largely the same. Those factors are not exclusive, and ‘courts should consider any additional relevant factors.'” Id. (quoting Smith v. Khouri, 481 Mich. 519, 530 (2008)).

         A. Hourly Rate

         The party seeking attorney's fees bears the burden of establishing a reasonable hourly rate. Yellowbook Inc. v. Brandeberry, 708 F.3d 837, 848 (6th Cir.2013). A reasonable hourly rate is generally defined by reference to the “prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” See Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984). “[T]he ‘relevant community' for fee purposes” is “the legal community within that court's territorial jurisdiction. . . .” Adcock-Ladd v. Sec'y of Treasury, 227 F.3d 343, 350 (6th Cir. 2000). As such, the applicable prevailing market rate is that which lawyers of comparable skill and experience in the Eastern District of Michigan “normally charge their paying clients for the type of work in question.” Smith, 481 Mich. at 531. The appropriate rate, however, “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). “The attorney should submit his own affidavit documenting his skill, experience, and reputation . . and that ...

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