Carpenters Pension Trust Fund for Northern California v. Walker et al

Filing 102

Order by Hon. William H. Orrick granting in part and denying in part 93 Motion for Attorney Fees. The defendants shall pay the Trust Fund $225,072.00 in attorneys' fees and $418.50 in costs (totaling $225,490.50). (jmdS, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 3/9/2015)

Download PDF
1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 CARPENTERS PENSION TRUST FUND FOR NORTHERN CALIFORNIA, Plaintiff, 8 9 Case No. 12-cv-01447-WHO ORDER RE ATTORNEYS’ FEES v. Re: Dkt. No. 94 10 United States District Court Northern District of California 11 KEITH WALKER, et al., Defendants. 12 Plaintiff Carpenters Pension Trust Fund for Northern California (“Pension Fund”) 13 prevailed on two motions for summary judgment against the defendants in this case and is entitled 14 to attorneys’ fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1132(g)(2) and 1451(b). Its motion is suitable for 15 disposition without oral argument and I VACATE the March 11, 2015 hearing. Civ. L.R. 7–1(b); 16 FED. R. CIV. P. 78(b). Although its motion for $250,080.00 in attorneys’ fees and $4,250.71 in 17 litigation expenses is unopposed, I am reducing the fees sought by 10% because plaintiff billed for 18 six lawyers to handle a relatively uncomplicated matter, causing inevitable duplication. I am also 19 reducing the costs because plaintiff seeks some that are not allowed under ERISA. The Pension 20 Fund is entitled to $225,072.00 in fees and $418.50 in costs. 21 22 BACKGROUND The Pension Fund is an employee benefit plan and a multiemployer plan as defined by the 23 Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). Order (2) at 1 (Dkt. No. 90). 24 It covers employees in the building and construction industry. Id. at 2. Defendant Keith Walker 25 owned Rollie French Inc. (“RFI”), as well as defendants the Keith Walker Trust dated March 17, 26 1999, the Keith Walker Trust dated May 17, 1999, the Real Estate Leasing Business operated by 27 the Keith Walker Trust, D&B Engineered Applications, Inc. (“D&B”), and K&M Industries 28 (“K&M”). Id. at 1-2. RFI filed for bankruptcy in 2005. Order (1) at 2 (Dkt. No. 75). RFI and the 1 Pension Fund were bound by collective bargaining agreements until 2008, when RFI terminated 2 the agreements. Id. When the Pension Fund notified RFI that it had been assessed withdrawal 3 liability under ERISA of $1,726,467.00, RFI stated that it did not owe withdrawal liability 4 payments and did not pay. Id. The Pension Fund brought the present action against the 5 defendants, and I granted summary judgment on April 17, 2014 and January 16, 2015. See Order 6 (1); Order (2). The Pension Fund moves for attorneys’ fees and costs totaling $254,330.71. The 7 defendants did not file an opposition. LEGAL STANDARD 8 9 Under ERISA, an employer’s failure to pay withdrawal liability payments within the time prescribed is treated as a delinquent contribution. 29 U.S.C. § 1451(b). A prevailing plaintiff is 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 entitled to fees and costs resulting from enforcement of delinquent contributions. 29 U.S.C. § 12 1132(g)(2). 13 District courts use the lodestar method to calculate an award of attorneys’ fees. Under this 14 method, the court “multiplies the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the 15 litigation by a reasonable hourly rate.” Gonzalez v. City of Maywood, 729 F.3d 1196, 1202 (9th 16 Cir. 2013) (internal citations and quotations omitted). A fee award calculated under the lodestar 17 method is generally presumed to be reasonable. Id. at 1208-09. However, the court may adjust 18 this figure “if circumstances warrant . . . to account for other factors which are not subsumed 19 within it.” Ferland v. Conrad Credit Corp., 244 F.3d 1145, 1149 n.4 (9th Cir. 2001). 20 The party seeking an award of fees must establish entitlement to the award and must 21 submit evidence that supports the hours worked and the rates claimed. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 22 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). “Where the documentation of hours is inadequate, the district court may 23 reduce the award accordingly.” Id. The Ninth Circuit has stated that a district court may “impose 24 a small reduction, no greater than 10 percent—a ‘haircut’—based on its exercise of discretion and 25 without a more specific explanation.” Moreno v. City of Sacramento, 534 F.3d 1106, 1112 (9th 26 Cir. 2008). To determine a reasonable fee award under the lodestar method, the court may 27 “exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” 28 Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. 2 DISCUSSION 1 2 I. ATTORNEYS’ FEES 3 The first motion for summary judgment addressed control group liability and the 4 defendants’ waiver of defenses by their failure to initiate ERISA’s arbitration procedures. See 5 Order (1) at 6-9. The second motion for summary judgment involved substantially similar issues 6 against different defendants. See Order (2) at 5-9. Although this case was fact-intensive in that it 7 required the Pension Fund to determine Walker’s relationship to multiple corporate entities, the 8 legal analysis was not particularly complex, especially for a law firm that specializes in ERISA 9 matters. I understand that counsel for the Pension Fund encountered some unexpected setbacks in prosecuting this case--of the two attorneys primarily assigned to the case, one departed from the 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 firm and the other suffered a personal tragedy, preventing both from drafting the first motion for 12 summary judgment. Mot. at 5 (Dkt. No. 93). Still and all, plaintiff is entitled to a reasonable fee 13 for work needed for the case, not for compensation for every moment a lawyer spent on it if the 14 work was duplicative, inefficient or unnecessary. 15 It was not reasonable to employ six attorneys, three of whom have over 20 years of 16 experience, to work on this matter. The fees motion reflects a substantial amount of hours billed 17 by multiple experienced attorneys on matters that could have been accomplished by less senior 18 attorneys. See Hernandez v. Grullense, No. 12-CV-03257-WHO, 2014 WL 1724356, at *8 (N.D. 19 Cal. Apr. 30, 2014) (“in light of [his] specialized knowledge and his commensurately high billing 20 rate, [counsel] should reasonably limit his involvement to matters requiring his level of skill”). 21 The number of attorneys working on this matter created an unnecessary amount of time billed for 22 conferencing and strategizing. Id. at *10. Nor do I understand why it took four lawyers to draft 23 the motion for summary judgment. 24 Based upon my detailed review of the Pension Fund’s billing records, I find that a 10% 25 reduction in the requested attorneys’ fees is appropriate to account for the overstaffing of this case. 26 See Moreno, 534 F.3d at 1112. I therefore reduce the lodestar amount recoverable by the Pension 27 Fund to $225,072.00. 28 3 1 II. COSTS The Pension Fund requests $4,250.71 in litigation expenses, including parking and 2 attorney travel to attend court hearings, electronic research, fax filing for service of summons, 3 overnight delivery, copying fees, and postage. Mot. at 7. The Ninth Circuit has held that costs 4 provided to a prevailing party under the relevant sections of ERISA are limited to costs allowed 5 under 28 U.S.C. § 1920. Agredano v. Mut. of Omaha Companies, 75 F.3d 541, 544 (9th Cir. 6 1996); Bonilla v. KDH Backhoe Serv., Inc., No. C05-3259 EMC, 2007 WL 39307, at *2 (N.D. 7 Cal. Jan. 4, 2007). As opposed to the recovery of costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 or 16 U.S.C. § 8 1540, this statute does not include costs for postage, electronic research, overnight delivery, or 9 attorney travel. See Good Earth Corp. v. M.D. Horton & Associates, No. C-94-3455-CAL, 1997 10 WL 702297, at *10 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 4, 1997) aff’d sub nom. Good Earth Corp. v. M.D. Horton & 11 United States District Court Northern District of California Associates, 156 F.3d 1236 (9th Cir. 1998); see also Bonilla, 2007 WL 39307, at *3; Ferreira v. 12 M/V CCNI ANTOFAGASTA, No. 204-CV-1916-MCE-DAD, 2007 WL 3034941, at *2 (E.D. Cal. 13 Oct. 16, 2007). Therefore, the Pension Fund’s recovery of litigation expenses is limited to those 14 related to service of summons ($64.75) and copying ($353.75), or $418.50. 15 CONCLUSION 16 17 The Trust Fund’s motion for attorneys’ fees and costs is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The defendants shall pay the Trust Fund $225,072.00 in attorneys’ fees and $418.50 in 18 costs (totaling $225,490.50). 19 IT IS SO ORDERED. 20 Dated: March 9, 2015 21 22 23 ______________________________________ WILLIAM H. ORRICK United States District Judge 24 25 26 27 28 4

Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.

Why Is My Information Online?