Ayers v. State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company et al
ORDER granting in part 77 Motion for Attorney Fees. Signed by Magistrate Judge Thomas B. Smith on 1/11/2018. (EC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Case No: 6:17-cv-1265-Orl-37TBS
STATE FARM MUTUAL AUTOMOBILE
INSURANCE COMPANY, RUTH MIER
GRAHAM and GOVERNMENT
EMPLOYEES INSURANCE COMPANY,
Pending before the Court is Defendant State Farm Mutual Automobile Company’s
Motion for Attorneys’ Fees (Doc. 77) associated with its prior motion for protective order
(Doc. 68). In granting the motion for protective order, the Court determined that State
Farm was entitled to its reasonable expenses incurred in making the motion, including
attorneys' fees (Doc. 73 at 5-6). Now, State Farm seeks an award of $6,352 in fees based
upon 18.9 total hours expended by three attorneys, at rates ranging from $270 to $550
per hour. Plaintiff opposes this amount, and argues that a reasonable fee is $962.50 for
3.5 hours expended at an average rate of $275 hour (Doc. 78). On review, the motion for
fees is GRANTED, in part, and State Farm shall recover a reasonable fee of $3,347.50.
Standards of Law
The Court employs the customary lodestar approach as the first step in calculating
a reasonable fee for the services of State Farm’s attorneys. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461
U.S. 424 (1983); Norman v. Hous. Auth. of the City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1299
(11th Cir. 1988); FTC v. Life Mngm’t Servs., Case No. 6:16-cv-982-Orl-41TBS, 2016 WL
7013517, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 14, 2016). “[T]he starting point in any determination for an
objective estimate of the value of a lawyer’s services is to multiply hours reasonably
expended by a reasonable hourly rate.” Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299. “[T]he fee applicant
bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate
hours expended and hourly rates.” Henns v. Mony Life Ins. Co. of Am., Case No. 5:11-cv55-Oc-37TBS, 2012 WL 1599871, at *3 (M.D. Fla. April 13, 2012), quoting Hensley, 461
U.S. at 437.
“[T]he lodestar as calculated in Hensley presumptively includes all of the twelve
factors derived from the ABA Code of Professional Responsibility DR 2—106 (1980), and
adopted in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974),
except on rare occasions the factor of results obtained and, perhaps, enhancement for
contingency.” Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299. The Johnson factors are: (1) the time and labor
required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to perform the
legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to
acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent;
(7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved
and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10)
the “undesirability” of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship
with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases. Johnson, 488 F.2d at 717-19 (abrogated
on other grounds by Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87 (1989)).
Once the Court has determined the lodestar, it may adjust the amount upward or
downward based on a number of factors including the results obtained. Norman, 836 F.2d
at 1302. “Ultimately, the computation of a fee award is necessarily an exercise of
judgment, because ‘[t]here is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations.’”
Villano v. City of Boynton Beach, 254 F.3d 1302, 1305 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Hensley,
461 U.S. at 436). The Court is “an expert on the question [of attorneys’ fees] and may
consider its own knowledge and experience concerning reasonable and proper fees and
may form an independent judgment either with or without the aid of witnesses as to value.”
Norman, 836 F.2d 1303 (quoting Campbell v. Green, 112 F.2d 143, 144 (5th Cir. 1940)).
The amount of time billed is viewed as “the most useful starting point for
determining the amount of a reasonable fee.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. The applicant
should present records detailing the amount of work performed. Once the party seeking
fees produces adequate billing records, the opponent “has the burden of pointing out with
specificity which hours should be deducted.” Rynd v. Nationwide Mutual Fire Ins. Co., No.
8:09-cv-1556-T-27TGW, 2012 WL 939387, at * 3 (M.D. Fla. Jan. 25, 2012) (quoting
Centex-Rooney Const. Co., Inc. v. Martin Cnty, 725 So. 2d 1255, 1259 (Fla. 4th DCA
1999)); Norman, 836 F. 2d at 1301.
“When awarding an attorney’s fee, the ‘[c]ourts are not authorized to be generous
with the money of others, and it is as much the duty of the courts to see that excessive
fees and expenses are not awarded as it is to see that an adequate amount is awarded.’”
Oden v. Vilsack, No. 10-00212-KD-M, 2013 WL 4046456, at *4 (S.D. Ala., Aug. 9, 2013)
(quoting Am. Civil Liberties Union of Ga. v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 428 (11th Cir. 1999)).
Formulating the award
State Farm is represented by three Carlton Fields Jorden Burt, P.A. attorneys:
Benjamine Reid (a shareholder), D. Matthew Allen (a shareholder), and Jon M. Philipson
(an associate). The motion calculates the time expended by each attorney and the rates
charged as follows:
Mr. Reid, the lead and most senior attorney, expended 2.8 hours, at a rate
of $550 per hour, revising and finalizing the motion;
Mr. Allen, the next most senior attorney, expended 3.0 hours, at a rate of
$425 per hour, revising the motion, conferring with deponents, and
conducting the good faith conference with Plaintiff's counsel;
Mr. Philipson, the most junior attorney on the matter, expended 13.1 hours,
at a rate of $270 per hour, conducting fact discovery, legal research, legal
analysis of discovery requests; conferring with deponents; and drafting and
revising the 16-page motion.
The motion is accompanied by Mr. Reid’s declaration summarizing the
considerable experience and qualifications of counsel, providing edited time entries for
the work performed, and attesting that the time entries are correct and the hours were
necessarily incurred (Doc. 77-1).
Plaintiff argues that preparation of the motion for protective order by three
attorneys, two of whom are well-seasoned shareholders, assisted by a six year associate
was overkill and – notwithstanding the success of the motion – the Court tends to agree. 1
A review of the Johnson factors is illustrative. As for the time and labor required,
although the motion for protective order was clearly meritorious (factor 8) it incorporated a
memorandum of law which was only 2 ½ pages long. The vast majority of the motion sets
It is important to remember that the Court is evaluating this matter in the fee shifting context. The
Court recognizes that the participation of all three attorneys in the prosecution of the motion may have been
exactly what State Farm expected or even demanded of its counsel. The Court also does not mean to
suggest that the time claimed was not actually expended. But, in the fee shifting context, the Court must
determine a reasonable amount independent of the desires/demands of the client.
forth the history of the dispute and frames the relatively straightforward issue of the
proper scope of discovery in view of that history.
The question presented by the motion was not novel or difficult (factor 2) and the
time and labor required to present that question should reflect that. Too, while all three
attorneys have the skill necessary to successfully prosecute a discovery motion (factors 3
and 9), it does not usually require three lawyers (including two high level shareholders) to
While the attorneys argue that they were precluded from other employment on
other clients and matters “because of their involvement in this motion,” (Doc. 77 at 8), this
is not what is meant by the fourth Johnson factor. There is no showing that serving as
counsel for State Farm (presumably a very desirable client), in this case precluded the
firm from accepting other employment, 2 nor do I find that the representation was
“undesirable” (factor 10).
As for factors 5, 6, and 11, it does not appear that the fee was contingent, and
counsel represent that State Farm is a longstanding client of the firm and its legal
services are provided at a rate “substantially below” the attorneys’ normal billing rates.
Although counsel contend that they were under time constraints to file the motion
promptly (Doc. 77 at 8), that was no more so in this case than in a multitude of other
discovery disputes which come before the Court.
This Johnson factor “involves the dual consideration of otherwise available business which is
foreclosed because of conflicts of interest which occur from the representation, and the fact that once the
employment is undertaken the attorney is not free to use the time spent on the client's behalf for other
purposes.” Johnson, 488 F.2d at 718. Unless counsel were to engage in “double billing,” time spent on any
matter necessarily means that the particular amount of time spent is not available to spend on another
matter. The preclusion referred to in this factor addresses a situation where, for example, the sheer amount
of work required by a case precludes a lawyer from expending any time on any other case. That is not
As for the remaining factor, State Farm cites to only one other allegedly similar
case - Utopia Providers Sys., Inc. v. Pao-Med Clinical Sys., L.L.C., No. 6:08-mc-79-Or128GJK, 2009 WL 347416, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 11, 2009) (awarding fees for a successful
motion for protective order of a non-party deposition). There, a lawyer with thirty-five
years of experience and one with thirty years were awarded a rate of $425 an hour to
prosecute an emergency motion to quash a subpoena. A review of the papers filed in that
case shows that the emergency discovery motion was more complex than that presented
here, and yet counsel in that case claimed only 8.9 total hours.
After due consideration, the court finds that the facts of this case do not support
State Farm’s claim of 18.9 hours. The motion for protective order did not, in this Court’s
view, present a complex or novel dispute warranting attention from three practitioners,
two of whom are highly skilled, with the third currently developing those skills.
This conclusion is buttressed by a review of the time claimed. All three attorneys
expended time drafting the motion for protective order. Mr. Philipson did the lion’s share,
but Mr. Allen spent time “preparing motion for protective order” (November 17, 2017),
“reviewing draft” (11/20), “reviewing and revising motion” (11/22), “revising motion” (11/26
and 11/27), “preparing motion” (11/28) and “revising motion” (11/30); and Mr. Reid spent
over two hours to “review” and “finalize” the motion. The Court finds that the time spent
reviewing each other’s work was duplicative and unnecessary, considering the
experience and abilities of these lawyers. “If fee applicants do not exercise billing
judgment, courts are obligated to do it for them, to cut the amount of hours for which
payment is sought, pruning out those that are ‘excessive, redundant, or otherwise
unnecessary.’” Am. Civil Liberties Union of Georgia v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 428 (11th
Cir. 1999). The Court finds the total hours claimed to be unreasonable for the task at
hand. On the record presented, and after deducting a portion of the time spent reviewing
and revising each other’s revisions, the Court concludes that 8 hours for Mr. Philipson,
1.5 hours for Mr. Allen, and 1 hour for Mr. Reid is reasonable.
With respect to rates, a reasonable hourly rate is “the prevailing market rate in the
relevant legal community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skills,
experience, and reputation.” Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299 (citations omitted). State Farm is
paying discounted rates for the services of its attorneys. Those discounted rates are
appropriate for experienced lawyers handling similar work. Plaintiff argues that the rates
charged are excessive, citing the Declaration of Kyle Sanders (Doc. 40-3), 3 and
Kotchman v. State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co., No. 8:15-CV-2482-T-JSS, 2017 WL
4124845, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 18, 2017) (concluding that hourly rates of $175 per hour
for shareholders' time and $140 per hour for associate attorneys' time are reasonably
hourly rates, in line with the prevailing market rates charged in Tampa for insurance
defense work). Plaintiff also cites Martin v. Glob. Mktg. Research Servs., Inc., No. 6:14CV-1290ORL31KRS, 2016 WL 6996118, at *3 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 30, 2016) for the
proposition that a reasonable hourly rate between $200 and $350 is appropriate for class
The Court is not persuaded by Plaintiff’s objection. This is not a typical insurance
defense case and the award in Martin was for plaintiffs’ counsel, following a class action
settlement. The Court accepts counsel’s representation that these are actual discounted
rates for State Farm. In view of the stated and uncontradicted expertise of these counsel
and the Court’s own experience, it finds the rates charged for services rendered in this
3 Mr. Sanders, a State Farm employee, declared that State Farm paid average hourly rates of
$161.00 for associates and $178 for partners, for retained counsel hired to defend its insureds against
automobile bodily injury claims.
specific case to be reasonable and within the prevailing market rate for similar services in
this legal community.
Consistent with the foregoing, State Farm is awarded $ 3,347.50, calculated as
follows: 8 hours at $270 per hour plus 1.5 hours at $425 per hour plus 1 hour at $550 per
DONE and ORDERED in Orlando, Florida on January 11, 2018.
Copies furnished to Counsel of Record
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