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Trustees of the Sheet Metal Workers Local 7 Zone 3 Health Fund v. Traverse Bay Roofing Co.

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

March 18, 2019


          Honorable Paul D. Borman.


          Elizabeth A. Stafford United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         In May 2018, Plaintiffs, ERISA employee benefit plans providing pension and health and welfare benefits, (“the Funds”) requested and received an entry of judgment by default against Defendant Traverse Bay Roofing Co. [ECF Nos. 11, 12]. The Funds filed a motion for attorneys' fees in the amount of $7, 066.00 under ERISA 502(g)(2)(D). [ECF No. 13]. In July 2018, this Court filed a report and recommendation, concluding that the Funds are entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys' fees, but that they did not meet their burden of showing that the hours the attorneys expended were reasonable because their billing records were redacted. [ECF No. 15]. The Funds thus filed an amended motion for attorneys' fees with unredacted billing records, and the Honorable Paul D. Borman found the earlier report and recommendation moot. [ECF Nos. 16, 17].

         Traverse Bay has not responded to the Funds' amended motion, which was referred to this Court for another report and recommendation under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). [ECF No. 18]. For the reasons stated below, the Court recommends the Funds' motion be GRANTED.

         II. Background

         The Funds filed an amended complaint against Traverse Bay, an employer obligated to make contributions to the Funds on behalf of its employees, alleging its failure to submit reports and remit contributions to the Funds in violation of ERISA § 515, 29 U.S.C. § 1145. They also alleged Traverse Bay violated Section 515 of ERISA by failing to remit liquidated damages and interest due to delinquent contributions. [ECF No. 4]. Service was perfected on Traverse Bay, but it failed to answer or otherwise respond to the Funds' amended complaint. The Clerk issued an entry of judgment by default in the amount of $1, 856.67.

         In support of their amended motion, the Funds submitted billing sheets identifying time entries by various attorneys and legal assistants for this matter. The submitted itemized billing sheets reflect a total of 36.4 hours billed for a total fee of $7, 066.00. [ECF No. 16-2].

         III. Analysis


         Under 29 U.S.C. § 1132(2), when a judgment in favor of a plan is awarded, as in this case, the Court shall award reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Bd. of Trustees of Ohio Laborers' Fringe Ben. Programs v. Dixon Masonry, Inc., 2011 WL 3793502, at *3 (S.D. Ohio Aug. 25, 2011). The starting point for determining the amount of reasonable attorney's fees is the “lodestar” amount. Id. (citing Imwalle v. Reliance Med. Prods., Inc., 515 F.3d 531, 551 (6th Cir.2008)). This is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Id. “Where the party seeking attorney fees has established that the number of hours and the rate claimed are reasonable, the lodestar is presumed to be the reasonable fee to which counsel is entitled.” Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565-566, 106 S.Ct. 3088, 92 L.Ed.2d 439 (1986).

         Courts have held that, once the lodestar figure is derived, an upward or downward adjustment is permitted based upon twelve factors first listed in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974).[1] Geier v. Sundquist, 372 F.3d 784, 792 (6th Cir. 2004) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983)). But many of the Johnson “factors usually are subsumed within the initial calculation of hours reasonably expended at a reasonable hourly rate.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434, n. 9. And more recently, the Supreme Court discouraged use of the Johnson factors except in rare or exceptional circumstances, deeming the lodestar method more objective and reiterating that “the lodestar figure includes most, if not all, of the relevant factors constituting a reasonable attorney's fee.” Perdue v. Kenny A. ex. rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 553 (2010) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). There is a “strong presumption” that the lodestar figure is reasonable, and there are few circumstances in which it should be deemed inadequate. Id. at 554.


         For the first step of the lodestar-determining the reasonable hourly rate to be applied-courts initially assess the “prevailing market rate in the relevant community”. Adcock-Ladd v. Sec. of Treasury , 227 F.3d 343, 350 (6th Cir. 2000). The prevailing market rate can be demonstrated in a number of ways including affidavits from attorneys or experts; citations to prior precedents showing reasonable rate adjudications for comparable attorneys or cases; references to fee award studies showing reasonable rates charged or awarded in the relevant community; testimony from experts or other attorneys in the relevant community; discovery rates charged by the opposition party; and reliance on the court's own ...

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