United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
TRUSTEES OF THE DETROIT CARPENTERS FRINGE BENEFIT FUNDS, Plaintiffs,
ANDRUS ACOUSTICAL, INC., a Michigan Corporation, STERLING MILLWORK, INC., a Michigan Corporation, ALAN ANDRUS, an individual, and MARK BOLITHO, an individual, jointly and severally, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES AND COSTS (ECF
D. BORMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Trustees of the Detroit Carpenters Fringe Benefit Funds
(“the Funds” or Plaintiffs) filed this action
against the Defendants for unpaid fringe benefit
contributions pursuant to the Employee Retirement Income
Security Act (“ERISA”), 29 U.S.C. § 1145, on
October 21, 2011. The Funds have succeeded, after a long and
arduous fight, in establishing that the Defendants operated
as alter egos to evade fringe benefits due to the Funds. On
November 27, 2017, following a four-day bench trial on
liability and a two-day bench trial on damages, this Court
entered Judgment in favor of the Funds in the amount of $1,
080, 543.38. (ECF No. 112.)
Funds have filed a Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs
(ECF No. 113) and the Defendants have responded seeking a
significant (50%) reduction in the requested fees. (ECF No.
148). The Court has thoroughly reviewed the briefs and
supporting materials and concludes that oral argument will
not assist in resolution of the motion. The Court therefore
will decide the matter on the parties' written
submissions pursuant to E.D. Mich. L.R. 7.1(f)(2). See
also Building Service Local 47 Cleaning Contractors Pension
Plan v. Grandview Raceway, 46 F.3d 1392, 1400 (6th Cir.
1995) (holding that “the district court's failure
to conduct an evidentiary hearing is not reversible error
because a fee application may be decided without a
hearing”). For the reasons that follow, Plaintiffs'
motion is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.
case involved novel alter ego facts and also involved the
intricate unraveling of Defendants' fraudulent
double-billing scheme. The background of this litigation is
set forth in a number of previous Opinions and Orders of this
Court. See Trustees of Detroit Carpenters Fringe Benefit
Funds v. Andrus Acoustical, Inc., et al., No.
11-cv-14656, 2018 WL 1980656 (E.D. Mich. April 27, 2018);
Trustees of Detroit Carpenters Fringe Benefit
Funds v. Andrus Acoustical, Inc., et al., No.
11-cv-14656, 2016 WL 1125594 (E.D. Mich. March 22, 2016);
Trustees of Detroit Carpenters Fringe Benefit Funds v.
Andrus Acoustical, Inc., et al., No. 11-cv-14656, 2014
WL 1746399 (E.D. Mich. April 30, 2014).
Funds' counsel (Mr. Walter Fisher was lead counsel for
the Funds and is the only attorney whose fees are being
sought) was required to conduct an extensive investigation
into the conduct of the Defendants which included “the
review of four years of weekly timesheets, employee files,
job cost logs, job payroll logs, each company's payroll,
invoices, accounting ledgers, project contracts, project
documents, third party project documents, and emails, ”
as well as conducting multiple “meetings with
witnesses, depositions of witnesses, and preparing a detailed
explanation and presentation of the facts that set forth the
intertwined operations of the alter ego.” (ECF No. 151,
Pls.' Reply 3, PgID 3170.) Plaintiffs' counsel
“review[ed] and analy[zed] thousands of pages of
time-sheets and accounting documentation.”
(Id.) Many of these documents were introduced during
the course of the bench trial and Plaintiffs'
counsel's analysis of them and familiarity with their
content was critical to the Plaintiffs' case. The Court
does not question that a tremendous amount of work was
required to piece together the proofs necessary to establish
the breadth and depth of the alter ego operation and to
present that evidence to the Court in a comprehensive and
articulate manner. The level of detail in Plaintiffs'
counsel's work was evident at every stage of the
Defendants raise a fair challenge to the clarity and detail
of Plaintiffs' counsel's billing records in some
respects and, for the reasons that follow, the Court
concludes that a 15% across-the-board reduction in
Plaintiffs' fee request is appropriate.
award of attorneys' fees to the Plaintiff Funds in this
ERISA case for delinquent fringe benefit contributions is
mandatory pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2):
(g) Attorney's fees and costs; awards in actions
involving delinquent contributions
(2) In any action under this subchapter by a fiduciary for or
on behalf of a plan to enforce section 1145 of this title in
which a judgment in favor of the plan is awarded, the court
shall award the plan-
(D) reasonable attorney's fees and costs of the action,
to be paid by the defendant . . . .
29 U.S.C. § 1132(g). See Cleaning Contractors,
46 F.3d at 1400 (“As this action was brought pursuant
to 29 U.S.C. § 1145, an award of reasonable
attorneys' fees is mandated by 29 U.S.C. §
1132(g)(2)(D).”). “However, the award of
attorneys' fees must be reasonable as determined under
the “lodestar” approach.” Id. at
1401. “In applying the lodestar approach, ‘[t]he
most useful starting point . . . is the number of hours
reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a
reasonable hourly rate.'” Id. (quoting
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).
“There is a ‘strong presumption' that this
lodestar figure represents a reasonable fee.”
Id. (quoting Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley
Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546,
Funds seek an attorneys' fee award in the amount of $480,
party seeking fees bears the burden of establishing
entitlement to the amount claimed for the ...