CASTRO v. LLOYD & MCDANIEL, PLC
ENTRY ON PETITION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES AND EXPENSES - For the aforementioned reasons, the Petition for Payment of Attorney's Fees by Mr. Castro (Filing No. 62 ) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The Court GRANTS Mr. Castro a total o f $77,253.31 in attorney's fees and costs for the Philipps firm, and $27,783.00 for the Taft firm, for a total award of $105,036.31. In this regard, the Court notes that Mr. Castro's request for the Philipps firm has been reduced by $1,514.00 for clerical work done by attorneys, $4,428.00 for vague entries on the billing statement, $4,049.50 for unreasonable attorney's fees in connection with the fees petition, and $290.15 for unallowable costs. Signed by Judge Tanya Walton Pratt on 9/19/2016. (JLS)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF INDIANA
DENNIS CASTRO individually and on behalf
of all others similarly situated,
LLOYD & MCDANIEL, PLC a Kentucky
limited liability company,
PCA ACQUISITIONS V, LLC a Delaware
limited liability company,
PHILIPPS & PHILIPPS, LTD.,
Case No. 1:15-cv-00559-TWP-DML
ENTRY ON PETITION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES AND EXPENSES
This matter is before the Court on Interested Party Philipps & Philipps, Ltd. (“Philipps”)
Petition for Payment of Attorney’s Fees and Expenses, under the Fair Debt Collection Practices
Act (“FDCPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq. (Filing No. 62.) On February 26, 2016, the Court
entered a final Order approving the class action settlement between the Plaintiffs Dennis Castro
(“Mr. Castro”) on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, and Defendants Lloyd &
McDaniel, PLC (“L&M”), and PCA Acquisitions V, LLC (“PCA”) (collectively, “the
Defendants”). Philipps served as Class Counsel in this matter and requested that the Court award
it $72,302.50 in fees and $3,104.96 in expenses, as well as $6,686.50 in fees to Taft, Stettinius and
Hollister, LLP (“Taft”). Defendants filed a Response in Opposition to the amount of fees
requested. (Filing No. 66.) On April 22, 2016, Class Counsel filed their Reply in Support of
Petition for Payment of Attorney’s Fees and Expenses, in which they assert that Class Counsel
should be awarded the total amount of $84,124.46 in fees and $3,410.50 in expenses to Philipps
& Philipps, Ltd., and $27,783.00 in fees to Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP; for time spent preparing
and defending the fee petition. (Filing No. 71.) Having considered the Petition, Response in
Opposition, and the Reply, the Court issues the ruling below.
PCA operates a nationwide debt collection business, in which PCA buys large portfolios
of defaulted consumer debt. Id. at 2. PCA then employs other collection agencies, such as L&M,
to collect defaulted debt. Id. It is unclear at what point PCA acquired Mr. Castro’s defaulted credit
card debt. (Filing No. 19 at 2.) However, PCA admits that it did. Id. On September 19, 2014,
L&M sent Mr. Castro a debt collection letter on behalf of PCA. (Filing No. 20 at 3.) Thereafter,
on April 8, 2015, Mr. Castro filed a complaint bringing suit against the Defendants under the
FDCPA. (Filing No. 1.) That same date, attorneys David J. Philipps, Mary E. Philipps, and Angie
K. Robertson, with the Chicago area law firm of Philipps and Philipps, Ltd., each filed their Notice
of Appearance on behalf of Mr. Castro. (Filing No. 3, Filing No. 4, and Filing No. 5.)
In his suit, Mr. Castro alleged that the Defendants violated the FDCPA by failing to
effectively identity the current creditor, in violation of section 1692g(a)(2) and alleged that the
Defendants’ statement “[b]ecause of interest, late charges and other charges that may vary from
day to day, the amount due on the day you pay may be greater” was false, deceptive or misleading,
in violation of section 1692e. Id. at 5.
On October 28, 2015, Mr. Castro, as an individual and on behalf of all others similarly
situated, entered into a settlement agreement with the Defendants. (Filing No. 59 at 1.) As part
of the settlement agreement, the Defendants agreed to discontinue the practices alleged in Mr.
Castro’s Complaint, to pay Mr. Castro $1,000.00 as a class representative, and to pay $21,550.00
to the class. Id. On February 26, 2016, this Court approved the settlement agreement. Id.
Unfortunately, the parties were not able to reach an agreement for attorney’s fees and expenses,
so Mr. Castro filed the motion currently before the Court.
In order to handle the petition for attorney’s fees and expenses, Philipps, as class counsel,
employed the legal services of Taft law firm. Initially, Philipps’ attorney’s fees and expense
petition was for a total amount of $75,407.46 in fees and expenses. (Filing No. 63 at 10.) However,
Mr. Castro incurred an additional $6,686.50 in fees from Taft for preparing the expense petition.
Id. Subsequently, the Defendants filed a twenty-seven page objection to the fees petition, which
caused Mr. Castro’s attorneys to incur additional expenses and fees. (Filing No. 71 at 1.) Thus,
Mr. Castro now petitions this Court to grant an award of $84,124.46 in fees and $3,410.50 in
expenses to Philipps and an award of $27,783.00 in fees to Taft. Id. at 19. Together, Mr. Castro
has requested a total amount of $115,317.96 in his attorney’s fees petition.
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Prevailing plaintiffs under the FDCPA are entitled to an award of costs and reasonable
attorney’s fees as determined by the court. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3); Tolentino v. Friedman, 46
F.3d 645, 651 (7th Cir. 1995). In proving the reasonableness of attorney’s fees, the burden rests
on the party seeking the fees award. Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of Chi., 175 F.3d 544, 550 (7th
Cir. 1999). However, if the petitioner of attorney’s fees meets his or her burden, then the opposing
party bears the burden of providing evidence that demonstrates why a lower rate is essential.
Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 640 (7th Cir. 2011). The same burden applies
to the market rate component of the lodestar calculation. The burden of proving the market rate is
on the petitioner, however, a petitioner’s own affidavit is insufficient to establish a reasonable
market rate. Id. Instead, a petitioner can meet his or her burden if the petitioner presents third
party affidavits from similar attorneys who charge similar rates for comparable work. Spegon, 175
F.3d at 556. In the alternative, the petitioner can provide evidence of clients paying him or her a
similar rate for similar work in the relevant market. Id.
Because the fees amount is not mechanically linked to the amount of the plaintiff's award,
Eddleman v. Switchcraft, Inc., 927 F.2d 316, 318 (7th Cir. 1991), the lodestar method of
calculating the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable
hourly rate is an appropriate and helpful determination. Gastineau v. Wright, 592 F.3d 747, 748
(7th Cir. 2010). This method may be adjusted by the court to “reflect various factors including the
complexity of the legal issues involved, the degree of success obtained, and the public interest
advanced by the litigation.” Schlacher v. Law Offices of Phillip J. Rotche & Assocs., P.C., 574
F.3d 852, 856-57 (7th Cir. 2009). In this manner, the lodestar method produces a fees award that
is presumptively reasonable, while still deferring to the district court’s “greater familiarity with
the case”, regarding the reasonable number of hours expended on the case. See Pa. v. Del. Valley
Citizens Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986); see also Gastineau, 592 F.3d at 748
(stating that a “highly deferential” version of the abuse of discretion standard applies when
reviewing a district court’s fees award).
Once the lodestar figure is calculated, by multiplying the number of hours reasonably
expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate, the Seventh Circuit permits district courts
to adjust the amount up or down after considering various relevant factors, including:
the time and labor required; the novelty and difficulty of the questions; the skill
requisite to perform the legal services properly; the preclusion of employment by
the attorney due to acceptance of the case; the customary fees; whether the fees are
fixed or contingent; time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; the
amount involved and the results obtained; the experience, reputation, and ability of
the attorneys; the “undesirability” of the case; the nature and length of the
professional relationship with the client; and awards in similar cases.
Mathur v. Bd. of Trs. of S. Ill. Univ., 317 F.3d 738, 742 n.1 (7th Cir. 2003). Determining the
amount of a fees and expense award is a matter that rests within the sound discretion of the trial
court. See In re Dairy Farmers of Am., Inc., Cheese Antitrust Litig., 80 F. Supp. 3d 838, 844 (N.D.
In evaluating the reasonable time expended for the lodestar calculation, courts will
consider similar factors used to reduce the total lodestar amount. For example, when assessing the
reasonableness of time expended, courts look at “the time and labor required, the novelty and
difficulty of the issues, the legal skill required, the reputation of the attorneys, the time burdens
imposed by the client or the circumstances, and awards in similar cases”. Owens v. Howe, 365 F.
Supp. 2d 942, 947 (N.D. Ind. 2005).
In evaluating the reasonable rate for the lodestar calculation, courts consider what the
petitioner’s attorneys charge for similar work in the relevant market. Bratton v. Thomas Law Firm,
P.C., 943 F. Supp. 2d 897, 902 (N.D. Ind. 2013). In particular, courts consider what lawyers with
similar abilities and experience charge their clients for similar work in the same market. Owens,
365 F. Supp. 2d. at 947. Nonetheless, courts generally presume the attorney’s billing rate for
comparable work to be a reasonable rate. Id.
As an initial matter, on April 25, 2016, the Defendants filed a Motion for Leave to File
Sur-reply. (Filing No. 72.) Therein, the Defendants requested the opportunity to reply to additional
fees being petitioned by Mr. Castro. However, the Defendants stated that such objections would
be similar in nature to the objections raised in their initial brief. The Defendants petition this Court
to be allowed to raise objections to the additional fees sought by Mr. Castro, if the Court would
find it useful. The Court finds that the similar information would add no value to the analysis
regarding the additional fees being petitioned by Mr. Castro. Therefore, the Court finds a surreply unnecessary and the motion for leave (Filing No. 72.) is DENIED.
The Philipps firm is comprised of three attorneys, David J. Philipps (Managing Partner),
Mary E. Philipps (Partner), and Angie K. Robertson (Associate). (Filing No. 62-1 at 8.) In Mr.
Philipps’ declaration, he asserts that his firm charges $575.00 per hour for his work, $565.00 per
hour for Ms. Philipps’ work, $275.00 per hour for Ms. Robertson’s work, and $185.00 per hour
for the work of their paralegals. Id. at 19. According to the expense report submitted by the
Philipps firm, all three attorneys and two paralegals contributed to the litigation of Mr. Castro’s
case. (Filing No. 62-2.)
Additionally, two partners and one associate from the Taft law firm worked on the fees
petition, resulting in additional legal expenses. (See Filing No. 63 at 7.) The Taft attorneys that
worked on the fees petition were Samuel Hudson (Partner), Tracy Betz (Partner), and Tammara
Porter (Associate), billing $435.00 per hour, $360.00 per hour, and $295.00 per hour, respectively.
Id. For the reasons stated below, the Court finds the rates and some of the time expended by Mr.
Castro’s attorneys to be reasonable.
The rates charged by the Philipps and Taft firms were reasonable.
The Defendants argue that the rates sought by Mr. Castro’s attorneys are unreasonable and
that Mr. Castro has failed to satisfy his burden of establishing the market rate for his attorneys.
(Filing No. 64 at 2.) The Court is not persuaded.
Mr. Philipps is the senior partner in the Philipps firm with over 25 years of experience, and
has litigated in numerous consumer protection cases. (Filing No. 63. At 5.) Mr. Philipps has been
approved as class counsel in twenty-nine contested cases, and has been appointed as class counsel
for settlements in another 190 cases. Id. Ms. Philipps is the co-founder of the Philipps firm. Id.
Ms. Robertson is an Associate at the Philipps firm, and has over five years of legal experience. Id.
In support of the market rates claimed by the Philipps firm, Mr. Castro cites to past
decisions in this District, including this one, in which courts have found comparable rates claimed
by the Philipps firm to be reasonable. (See Filing No. 63 at 6; Filing No. 71 at 5-6.) While the
Seventh Circuit has held that fees assessed in similar cases by other courts are not binding, the
Seventh Circuit stated that they must be considered and must not be ignored. See Spegon, 175
F.3d at 556.
Mr. Castro cites to Paulus v. Pride Acquisitions., to support the reasonableness of the rates
sought by the Philipps firm. (Filing No. 63 at 6.) Paulus involved violations of the FDCPA. No.
1:12-cv-1433-LJM-MJD (S.D. Ind. Oct. 2, 2013). In the decision, the court found the market rates
of $505.00 per hour for Mr. Philipps, $495.00 per hour for Ms. Philipps, and $165.00 per hour for
paralegals, to be reasonable. Id. (order granting final approval of class settlement). Another
decision cited by Mr. Castro in support of the rates sought is Baker v. Nations Recovery Ctr., which
also concerned violations of the FDCPA. In that decision, the undersigned approved, the market
rates of $505.00 per hour for Mr. Philipps, $495.00 per hour for Ms. Philipps, and $165.00 per
hour for paralegals were again found to be reasonable. See Baker v. Nations Recovery Ctr., 1:13cv-0071-TWP-DML (S.D. Ind. Nov. 15, 2013) (order granting final approval of class settlement).
In addition, and perhaps the most compelling case cited by Mr. Castro, is the decision Wood
v. State Collection Serv., which also dealt with allegations of FDCPA violations. Therein, the
court approved the exact same rates being requested in this petition. See Wood v. State Collection
Serv., No. 1:15-cv-0475-SEB-DKL (S.D. Ind. Jan. 29, 2016) (order granting final approval of class
settlement). In that decision, the court found the market rate of $575.00 for Mr. Philipps, $565.00
for Ms. Philipps, $275.00 for Ms. Robertson, and $200.00 for paralegals, to be reasonable. Id.
The Court finds the past decisions to be highly persuasive regarding the reasonableness of the rates
requested by Mr. Castro.
In addition to the past decisions supporting the rates for Mr. Castro’s attorneys, Mr. Castro
also submitted three third party affidavits to support the reasonableness of the rates. Specifically,
Mr. Castro submitted affidavits from Keith J. Keogh (“Keogh”), and Daniel A. Edelman
(“Edelman”), both nationally recognized consumer protection attorneys. (Filing No. 63 at 6.)
Additionally, Mr. Castro obtained an affidavit from Irwin B. Levin (“Levin”), who is a nationally
recognized authority on class action and consumer protection and is based out of Indianapolis,
In their affidavits, Keogh and Edelman both stated that they believed the rates sought by
the Philipps firm were reasonable and consistent with the market. (Filing No. 62-4 at 22; Filing
No. 62-5 at 8.) Keogh has a national practice, which includes work under the FDCPA, and he
stated that his market rate would be around $661.00 per hour. (Filing No. 62-4 at 23.) Indeed,
Keogh stated that the rate being requested by the Philipps firm should be higher than requested,
given the firm’s national prominence. Id. Similarly, Edelman’s consumer law practice is also
national in nature, and he stated his market rate was $700.00 per hour. (Filing No. 62-5 at 5.)
Thus, he concluded the rates being requested by the Philipps firm, were reasonable and in line with
the market. Id. at 8. Both Keogh and Edelman are members of the bar for the Southern District
of Indiana, and claim to know the relevant market well. (Filing No. 62-4 at 2; Filing No. 62-5 at
2.) Additionally, both have tried cases, or have cases pending, in Indiana. Id.
The third affidavit by Levin, indicated that Levin was a nationally recognized class-action
attorney. (Filing No. 62-3 at 1-3.) While Levin did not include his market rate, he swore under
perjury of law to be familiar with the market rate, and that in his belief the rates being sought by
the Philipps firm were reasonable. Id. at 4-5. Given that Levin’s practice is based out of Indiana,
the Court finds his affidavit persuasive. Additionally, Levin stated that he reviewed the efficiency,
market rates, and time that the Taft attorneys were seeking. Id. Levin concluded that the rates
Taft was seeking were reasonable for the market. Id. As Mr. Castro correctly points out, the
hourly rates for the Taft attorneys are lower than those of the Philipps attorneys. (Filing No. 71 at
17.) As such, Mr. Castro argued, because the Philipps hourly rates are reasonable, the lower Taft
hourly rates are also reasonable. This Court agrees.
The Defendants argue that the prevailing rates for the Indianapolis market should apply
because that is where the case was litigated. (Filing No. 64 at 8.) In this regard, the Court notes
the previous decisions in this district finding comparable rates by the Philipps firm to be
reasonable, persuasively establishing that the Philipps firm is requesting the forum market rate.
Additionally, the three affidavits of attorneys practicing in Indiana also lend support to the
conclusion that the forum market rate is being applied.
Nonetheless, even if the rates being sought by the Philipps firm are higher than that of the
prevailing rate in Indianapolis, it does not automatically warrant a conclusion that the fees award
is unreasonable. Instead, the Seventh Circuit has stated that an attorney can charge higher than the
average of the community if he or she possesses qualities that “command a premium”. See Mathur
v. Bd. of Trustees of S. Ill. Univ., 317 F.3d 738, 743 (7th Cir. 2003) (this could be a short cite). In
this action, the Court notes that the complaint was made under the FDCPA, which is a national
statute; the Philipps firm has obtained national prominence in litigating claims under the statute;
and the Philipps attorneys are experienced class-action attorneys. In fact, local Indianapolis
counsel referred Mr. Castro’s case to the Philipps firm because they felt that the Philipps firm was
better equipped to handle the matter. (Filing No. 71 at 5.) Therefore, even if the rates sought by
the Philipps firm are higher than the Indianapolis average, given the specialty of the firm, the
complexity of the FDCPA, and the experience of the Philipps firm, the rates are reasonable.
For the aforementioned reasons, the Court finds that the rates sought by the Philipps and
Taft firms are reasonable.
Mr. Castro has demonstrated the reasonableness of only part of the time expended
by his attorneys, thus the Court finds it necessary to adjust the attorney fees
Next, Defendants argue that the time expended by the Philipps firm was unreasonable.
(Filing No. 64 at 9.) The Defendants present multiple challenges to the reasonableness of time
expended by Mr. Castro’s attorneys which the Court will examine in turn.
The amount of time expended to draft court documents by Mr. Castro’s
attorneys was reasonable given the existence of two separate defendants, each
having their own counsel.
The Defendants argue the time expended drafting documents by Mr. Castro’s attorneys
was unreasonable given the availability of form or template documents. (Filing No. 64 at 9.) In
particular, Defendants contend that document templates from previous cases were utilized by Mr.
Castro’s attorneys in this matter. (Filing No. 64 at 10.) Defendants cite to Lemieux v. Guy, where
the court found it unreasonable for an attorney with Mr. Philipps’ expertise to spend 2.3 hours
drafting a complaint, and 3.1 hours drafting Rule 26 disclosures, proposed interrogatories,
document requests, and case management plan. See No. 1:06-cv-0941-DFH-WTL, 2006 WL
3626555 at *4 (S.D. Ind. Nov. 20, 2006). Relying on that decision, the Defendants contend that
this Court should find the 4.1 hours spent drafting similar documents by Mr. Philipps to be
unreasonable. The Court is not persuaded.
In Mr. Castro’s case there are two defendants. Despite the availability of templates, the
amount of time expended to draft the pleadings and court documents is not unreasonable. In
contrast, in the Lemieux case, there was only one defendant, and thus, Mr. Philipps had only one
set of documents to address. Id. In Mr. Castro’s case, there were two answers and affirmative
defenses, two sets of discovery responses, and different positions regarding the liability of the
separate defendants. (Filing No. 71 at 7.)
Another distinction between Mr. Castro’s case and the Lemieux case is the position the
Defendants took. Specifically, in the Lemieux case, the defendants settled before there was even
an initial pre-trial conference. See 2006 WL 3626555 at *4. In Mr. Castro’s case, the Defendants
denied any culpability, mounted affirmative defenses, fought class-certification, and required a
deposition of Mr. Castro. (Filing No. 71 at 8.) Therefore, the Court believes the time Mr. Philipps
spent on drafting the relevant documents was reasonable.
Mr. Castro’s attorneys can recover for travel expenses to Indianapolis since
their presence was required.
The Defendants argue that Mr. Castro’s attorneys should not be compensated for travel
time between Indianapolis and Chicago because they had local counsel. (Filing No. 64 at 11.) The
first contention of travel time by the Defendants stems from Mr. Castro’s attorneys traveling into
Indianapolis for Mr. Castro’s deposition hearing. Id. However, the Court notes that such
deposition was conducted at the request of the Defendants. (Filing No. 71 at 16.) The Defendants
argue that local counsel could have handled the matter and cite to Kaylor-Trent v. Bonewicz in
support. See 916 F. Supp.2d 878, 889 (C.D. Ill. Jan. 9, 2013) (reducing out of town attorney’s
hours expended for travel time from Chicago to Springfield where local counsel could have
handled the case). In Kaylor-Trent, there was local counsel who was competent to handle the
matter and thus there was no need for the out of town attorneys to be present. Id. In Mr. Castro’s
case, he argues persuasively that his local counsel are not experts in class action suits, and thus the
presence of the Philipps firm attorneys was required for the deposition. Therefore, the Philipps
firm can recover for the expenses incurred as a result of traveling for Mr. Castro’s deposition.
The Defendants’ second contention regarding travel time comes from the Philipps firm
attorneys having to travel to Indianapolis for a fairness hearing, which was held on February 25,
2016. (Filing No. 60.) The Defendants again cite to Kaylor-Trent for support. Id. However, in
Kaylor-Trent, the court did not allow the travel expenses because the attorneys were given the
option to conduct the bench trial through video technology. Kaylor-Trent, 916 F. Supp.2d at 889.
In contrast, the Court notes that Mr. Philipps requested to appear telephonically but such request
was not granted by the Court. (Filing No. 71 at 16.) Because Mr. Philipps was required to appear
in person, the Philipps firm can recover for travel expenses for the fairness hearing.
The Court finds some of the time spent by Mr. Castro’s attorneys to be clerical
or administrative and therefore the fees award is reduced accordingly.
In regards to their third challenge, the Defendants argue that much of the time billed by
Mr. Castro’s attorneys is not recoverable because the tasks were clerical or administrative in
nature. (Filing No. 64 at 12.) The Court notes that the Seventh Circuit and courts in this District
have found a variety of tasks to be administrative in nature, and therefore not proper for an attorney
or paralegal to bill for. See e.g., Spegon, 175 F.3d at 553 (finding that updating a case-list,
calendar, and conferences with paralegal discussing communication with court’s minute clerk to
be unbillable legal services); Young v. Accounts Recovery Bureau, Inc., No. 1:11-CV-255-WTLDKL, 2012 WL 3764014 at 4. (S.D. Ind. Aug. 8, 2012) (finding retrieving and preparing
documents for mailing and traveling to court to file documents to fall in the administrative clerical
category, but finding electronic filing to be billable).
The Defendants list seventeen particular entries that they find to be unbillable. (Filing No.
64 at 13.) However, the Court will address only the entries that it finds unrecoverable.
The Court finds the following entries to be clerical or administrative based on the language
used in the entry description:
1. Entry stating “calendar same” on 7/18/2015 for .2 hours at $575.00/hr;
2. Entry stating “email same to opposing counsel” on 9/10/2015 for .2 hours at
3. Entry stating “Locate materials re: settlement needed for deposition preparation
and assemble same” on 9/28/2015 for .5 hours at $565.00/hr;
4. Entry stating “work with staff on class notice mailing” on 11/18/2015 for .3
hours at $575.00/hr;
5. Entry stating “Copy and fold class notice, print out and stuff envelopes and
return envelopes for class mailing” on 11/18/2015 for 3 hours at $200.00/hr;
6. Entry stating “work on assembling materials” on 1/11/2016 for .2 hours at
7. Entry stating “email same to S. Hodson” on 3/4/2016 for .2 hours at $565.00/hr.
The Court concludes that these seven tasks for which the Philipps firm is billing were better
suited for a legal secretary. See Spegon, 175 F.3d at 553. If no secretary was available, it still
does not justify billing at an attorney or paralegal rate to accomplish these administrative tasks.
The Philipps firm contends that the tasks required legal judgment, but they do not elaborate why
the tasks required legal expertise. Therefore, the listed entries will be discounted from Mr. Castro’s
attorney’s fees petition. The total amount discounted for these seven entries is $1,514.00.
The Philipps firm has not engaged in “top heavy” staffing.
The Defendants also allege that Mr. Castro’s attorneys engaged in “top heavy” staffing.
(Filing No. 64 at 13-14.) The Court notes that the Philipps firm consists of three attorneys and
three paralegals. (Filing No. 62-1 at 8.) One of the three attorneys at the Philipps firm is an
Associate while the other two are Partners. Id. The Court finds that, given the complexity of the
issues involved with the FDCPA, the Partners properly handled the bulk of the work. In particular,
as the Philipps firm notes, the Associate or Paralegals would have required supervision which
would have resulted in less efficiency. The Court agrees. Additionally, the Court has already
discounted for the time billed that did not reasonably require higher expertise.
Mr. Castro’s attorneys did not engage in excessive billing within the firm.
In their fifth challenge, the Defendants argue that Mr. Castro’s attorneys engaged in
excessive billing. Id. Specifically, the Defendants contend that the Philipps firm should not be
compensated for the “duplicative” billing entries made when attorneys within the firm consulted
with one another. However, the Court notes that such consultation is often a necessary practice
when it benefits the client, by having more than one attorney handle the matter. Similarly, other
courts have found that consultation between attorneys ensures that no facts go overlooked. See,
e.g., Bohen v. City of E. Chi., 666 F. Supp 154, 157 (N.D. Ind. 1987.) Accordingly, the Court finds
the entries by the Philipps firm resulting from conferences between attorneys to be recoverable, as
it was in the best interest of Mr. Castro.
Mr. Castro’s attorneys are not entitled to recover for vague or erroneous
Next, the Defendants argue that some entries on the Philipps firm’s billing statement should
be disallowed for vagueness. (Filing No. 64 at 20.) The Court agrees with the Defendants in
regards to the following entries:
1. Entry stating “update records on debt buyer liable for attorney” on 6/9/2015 for
.4 hours at $575.00/hr;
2. Entry stating “Get letter and send same to potential expert Hopper at
VerstaResearch” on 8/6/2015 for .2 hours at $565.00/hr;
3. Entry stating “Review materials re: potential survey expert” on 8/18/2015 for
.4 hours at $565.00/hr;
4. Entry stating “Work with Angie K. Robertson and M. Eades at co-counsel’s
office” on 9/9/2015 for .3 hours at $575.00/hr;
5. Entry stating “review draft of same” on 9/23/2015 for .5 hours at $565.00/hr;
6. Entry stating “work on assembling materials” on 1/11/2016 for .2 hours at
7. Entry stating “research on LEXIS re: same” on 1/29/2016 for .4 hours at
8. Entry stating “revise and finalize” on 2/18/2016 for .5 hours at $565.00/hr;
9. Entry stating “Prepare for fairness hearing” on 2/24/2016 for 1 hour at
10. Entry stating “research re: same and revise same” on 3/4/2016 for 3.5 hours at
The Court finds these ten entries to lack sufficient detail for the Court to make a
determination of whether or not they are reasonable. Additionally, the Court finds it proper to
discount $230.00 for the entry stating “Prepare for and attend hearing on case management plan
before J. LaRue” on 6/26/2015 for .4 hours at $575.00 per hour. This last entry appears to have
been erroneously entered as there was no hearing before Magistrate Judge LaRue on that date.
Therefore, the Court finds it proper to further reduce the attorney fees by $4,428.00.
Mr. Castro’s petition for attorney’s fees in connection to the fees petition is only
partially reasonable and thus the attorney’s fees petition is appropriately adjusted.
The fees sought by Mr. Castro in connection with the fee petition are $18,835.00. The
Defendants argue that the fees sought by Mr. Castro for the work done by Taft should be
disallowed because the necessity of additional counsel for the fees petition was not shown. (Filing
No. 64 at 22.) In support, the Defendants cite to an Eleventh Circuit case in which the court stated
that “[t]hose attorneys who feel the need to hire counsel would be well-advised to raise the issue
with the court prior to taking such action. Otherwise they run the risk that the trial court may
determine that the necessities of the case did not justify retaining special fees counsel”. See Jonas
v. Stack, 758 F.2d 567, 569 (11th Cir. 1985). In this regard, the Defendants contend that Mr.
Castro should have provided an explanation as to why Taft was necessary for the attorney’s fees
petition, or that prior court approval was required. (Filing No. 64 at 22.)
However, in Jonas, the court explicitly stated that obtaining the court’s approval prior to
hiring another law firm was not a requirement. Jonas, 758 F.2d at 569. Instead, the Jonas court
explicitly stated that “[w]hether fee counsel’s services are justified in a particular instance remains
within the sound discretion of the trial court”. Id. Given Taft’s lower hourly rates, the Court finds
that Mr. Castro’s decision to have Taft’s assistance is reasonable.
Next, Defendant argues that it is “exceptionally unreasonable that while Philipps &
Philipps, Ltd. chose to engage outside counsel to purportedly represent it in fee litigation, it seeks
reimbursement of $12,148.50 for work done in connection with the fee petition, in addition to the
$6,686.50 sought by fee counsel.” (Filing No. 64 at 22). The Court is persuaded by Defendants’
argument. Having made the decision to hire outside counsel to litigate the fee petition, far less
time and involvement from the Philipp’s firm is appropriate. For example, members of the
Philipps firm billed to research case law regarding hourly rates, and spent considerable time doing
reviewing and analyzing drafts, despite having hired Taft for their expertise in this area 1. In
addition, Mr. Philipps’ declaration in connection with the Joint Motion for Preliminary Settlement
Approval (Filing No. 41-4) is nearly identical to his declaration in support of the fee petition (Filing
No. 62-1), yet Mr. Philipps billed nearly six (6) hours for reviewing, researching and revising the
declaration. (See Filing No. 62-2). The Court agrees that it is unreasonable that the Philipps firm
utilized twenty-two (22) hours of work in connection with the fee petition, on top of the sixteen
(16) hours performed by their outside counsel retained solely for the purpose of preparing and
defending the fee petition 2. The result of using two law firms to prepare and defend the fee petition
Among the entries for research are billings from the Philipps firm for .5 hour on 1/29/2016 for “research case law
re: same as evidence of hourly rates, review with Jeff dec. from 7th Cir.,” and 3.5 hours on 3/4/2016 for “research re:
same and revise same.” (Filing No. 62-2 at 10, 12.)
Compare Filing 64-20, Filing 71-1 at 8-10 and Filing No. 71-2 at 3-5.
has inflated the fee request for the Philipps firm to an unreasonable level. Recognizing that the
Philipps firms’ Supplemental Declaration of David J. Philipps (Filing No. 71-1) includes time
related to distribution of the settlement fund; the Court finds that a reasonable attorney fee for the
Philipps firm for their supplemental work in connection with the fee petition is $8,099.00 rather
than the $12,148.50 sought, which represents a one-third discount for these particular services.
Mr. Castro is entitled to recover part of the additional costs incurred by his attorneys.
Finally, the Defendants argue that some of the additional costs sought by Mr. Castro’s
attorneys are not recoverable. Specifically, the Defendants argue against a $250.00 charge for
computer assisted research, $1,086.68 charge for travel expenses, and a $40.15 charge for a vague
entry on the bill submitted by the Philipps firm. (Filing No. 64 at 25.) Because the Court has
already decided that the travel expenses are recoverable, only the remaining charges will be
To support the claim against the $250.00 computer assisted research charge, the
Defendants cite to a Seventh Circuit decision that states that such charge cannot be recovered as
cost. See Haroco, Inc. v. American Nat. Bank & Trust, Co., 38 F.3d 1429, 1440-41 (7th Cir. 1994)
(stating that computer research fees are to be considered attorney’s fees and not recoverable as
cost). The Court notes that the Philipps firm included the $250.00 computer assisted research
charge as cost and not attorney’s fees. Thus, the Court finds the charge unrecoverable and is
subtracted from the total fees petition award. In regards to the $40.15 charge, the Court agrees
with the Defendants that it is vague and will not approve the charge.
Therefore, the award of attorney’s fees is to be further reduced by $290.15.
For the aforementioned reasons, the Petition for Payment of Attorney’s Fees by Mr. Castro
(Filing No. 62) is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. The Court GRANTS Mr. Castro a
total of $77,253.31 in attorney’s fees and costs for the Philipps firm, and $27,783.00 for the Taft
firm, for a total award of $105,036.31. In this regard, the Court notes that Mr. Castro’s request for
the Philipps firm has been reduced by $1,514.00 for clerical work done by attorneys, $4,428.00
for vague entries on the billing statement, $4,049.50 for unreasonable attorney’s fees in connection
with the fees petition, and $290.15 for unallowable costs.
Joseph Shaw Messer
MESSER & STILP & STRICKLER LTD.
Nicole Marie Strickler
MESSER & STILP & STRICKLER, LTD.
Stephanie A. Strickler
MESSER & STILP & STRICKLER, LTD.
Angie K. Robertson
PHILIPPS AND PHILIPPS, LTD.
David J. Philipps
PHILIPPS AND PHILIPPS, LTD.
Mary E. Philipps
PHILIPPS AND PHILIPPS, LTD.
Michael D. Slodov
SESSIONS FISHMAN NATHAN & ISRAEL LLC
Samuel D. Hodson
TAFT STETTINIUS & HOLLISTER LLP
Tracy Nicole Betz
TAFT STETTINIUS & HOLLISTER LLP
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