Garza et al v. Mitchell Rubenstein & Associates, P.C.
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge George Jarrod Hazel on 12/27/2016. (aos, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
GARZA et aI.,
Case No.: G.JII-I5-I572
Motion I(Jr Attorneys'
Loe. R. IOS.6 (D. Md. 2(16).
Garza and George Easton Jr:s
Practice Act ("FDCI'A"),
Fees. ECF No. 17. arising out of their successful
class action lawsuit against Mitehcll Rubenstein
of the Fair Debt Collection
Presently pending bel()re the Court is Christopher
No hearing is
Fees is granted.
For the f()llowing reasons, Plaintiffs'
This case began as a class action lawsuit against Defendant
the Fair Debt Collection
by f(tiling to provide proper disclosures
could verify and dispute the legitimacy
April f f. 2016. Plaintiffs
Practice Act ("FDCPA")
of the debts they owed. ECF NO.1. On
tiled a Consent Motion for Settlement.
ECF No. 16. Following
hearing on April 2S, 2016. the Court entered an Order of Final Approval
ECF No. 22. The settlement
in relevant part. that
Dell:ndant would pay the two named Plaintiffs. Garza and Easton. $1.000.00 each. and that it
\\'ould create a common fund in the amount of $12,425.00 to be distributed on a pro rata basis to
each of the 884 class members. Id at 3.1 In addition. as highlighted in Plaintiffs' Consent Motion
fiJI'Settlement. Defendant agreed to change the language in its debt collection letters going
lorward. to address Plaintiffs' concerns. ECI'
o. 16 at'4.
with their Consent Motion fiJI'Settlement. Plaintiffs also moved till'
an award of attorneys' fees and costs. ECF No. 17. In their motion. Plaintill's noted that. pursuant
to the settlement agreement. Delendant would not oppose the lirst $20.000.00 in requested Ices
and expenses. and that Plaintiffs would not seck more than $35.000.00 in Ices and expenses. Id
at 3. Reflecting this agreement. Plaintiffs requested $35.000.00 in attorneys' Ices and expenses.
based on 87.5 hours of work completed by lilliI' attorneys li'om the law linn of Greenwald.
("GDR"): 11.7 hours completed by local counsel: and an estimated
$1.234.53 in litigation related costs. ECF No. 17- 1. Defendant submitted a Response to
Motion on April 25. 20J6. amended on April 26. 20J6. arguing that the Court should
award Plaintiff only $20.000.00 in Ices and expenses. ECF No. 23. Plaintiffs tiled a Reply in
support of their Motion on May J2.20 I6. reiterating their request lilf $35.000.00 in fees and
expenses. ECI' No. 24. They noted that GDR attorneys had dedicated an additional 32.2 hours on
the case. bringing the toWI compensable hours to 131.4 hours. and submitted a tin'll bill of
expenses totaling $1.166.52. a slight downward departure li'om their previous estimate. lOCI'No.
24 at I: lOCI'No. 24-1 at 14.
Pin cites to documents liIcd
the Court"s electronic filing system (CM/ECF)
refer to page numbers generated
STANDAIW OF REVIEW
While thc paymcnt ofattorncys'
claims is mandatory.
fecs and costs to plaintiffs who prcvail on [,DCPA
1692k(a)(3) ... thc statutc makcs clear that calculation
award must bc len to thc district court'" Carroll, .. l/'olpo(T& Ahralllsoll. 53 F.3d
626. 62S (4th Cir. 1995). To rccovcr attorncy's
party". a thrcshold
fecs and costs. a plaintilrmust
fiJI' which thc Court accords a "gcncrous
Eckrr!lar/. 461 U.S. 424. 433 (19S3). A plaintiff is a '.prcvailing
fccs if the plaintiffsuccccds
'.on any signilicant
be a "prcvailing
party'. cntitlcd to attorney's
:Z:ZSS.2013 WL 38S991. at
party'. for the purpose of
issuc in litigation which achievcs
bcnelit thc partics sought in bringing suit'" Jd Plaintiffs hcrc obtaincd
which was aflirmcd
by this Court. and is thcrcforc a
fccs. See Nelsoll \', ,1&11M%rs.
(D. Md . .Ian. 30. 2013). This contcntion
IIIC,.Civil No . .IKS 12-
is not disputcd
Thc most uscful starting point 1111" cstablishing
or ..thc number of hours rcasonably
the proper amount of an award is thc
by a rcasonablc
ratc'" Hcmley \., Ecker/wr/. 461 U.S. 424. 433 (19S3): see also RUlli ("reek Coal Sales. Ille. \.,
Caper/oil. 3 I F.3d 169. 174 (4th Cir. 1994). Thc court must adjust thc numbcr of hours to dcletc
hours. and thc number of hours must be reasonable
but where full rclicfis
on only some ofthc
fcc and in cascs of cxccptional
Caper/oil. 31 F.3d, at 175 (citing /lellsley. 461 U.S. at 437).
claims. thc numbcr of hours may bc adjusted
attorney should rcceivc a fully
success. cvcn an cnhancement..'
thc ovcrall rcasonablencss
Jd at 174-75
of the lodestar. thc court may
the twelve factors set Ic)rth in./o!lllsoll
974) ("the Johnson
Erpress. IlIc .. 488 F.2d
(I) The time and labor required; (2) The novelty and difticulty of the
questions raised: (3) The skill requisite to pericH'll] the legal services
properly: (4) The preclusion of employment by the altorney due to
acceptance of the case: (5) The customary fee: (6) Whether the fee is
lixed or contingent: (7) Time limitations imposed by the client or the
(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
prolessional relationship between the altorney and the client: and (12)
Altorney's Icc awards in similar eases.
See Cap<'I'lolI. 31 FJd at 175. These ftlctorS. however.
"usually are subsumed
at a reasonable
II vs. ll1c. v. World A "e. USA. LLC'. No. I'JM-08-92I. 20 II WL 3419565 at
*3 (D. Md. Aug. 11.2011). In this Districl. the Court's "market knowledge" is set fi)rth in
Appendix B of the U.S. District Coun of Maryland Local Rules. which provides Guidelines
Regarding Hourly Rates based upon length of professional experience. as follows:
(a) I.awyers admitted to the bar for less than five (5) years: $150')1--).
(b) Lawyers admitted to the bar li)r five (5) to eight (8) years:
(c) Lawyers admitted to the bar for nine (9) to founeen (14) years:
(d) Lawyers admitted to the bar li)r lineen (15) to nineteen (19)
(e) Lawyers admitted to the bar lilr twenty (20) years or more:
(I) Paralegals and lawelerks: $95-150.
Loc. R. App. H(3) (0. Md. 2016).l'laintiffs
ask the Coun to award altortley's fees at the
lollowing hourly rates: Jesse S. Johnson: $350.00 (over six years of experience): Michael L.
Greenwood: $400.00 (over II years of experience): .lames L. Davidson: $400.00 (over 12 years
of experience): Aaron D. Radbil: $400.00 (9 years of experience) and Eric Stravitz $250.00
(experience and length of bar membership not listed). ECF No. 17 at 6-7: Eel' No. 17-1 at'I'120
Defendant argues that the rates lor Johnson. the lead altorney on the case. should be
adjusted downward. to $275.00 per hour. in accordance with what the local rules would suggest
is reasonable lor an attorney with six years of experience. ECF No. 23 at 2. Johnson
acknowledges that his rate is higher than the local guidelines would recommend. but argues that
it isjustilied because Plaintiffs were successlili. the guidelines are not binding. similar rates were
recently approved by this Court in other cases. and Johnson's specilic rate was approved in a
recent class action case in the Northern District of California.
Fourth Circuit has emphasized.
ECF No. 24 at 10-11. As the
"market rate should guide the ICe inquiry'"
Corp .. 549 F.3d 313. 321 (4th Cir. 2008). A close look at the eases within this circuit on which
Plaintiffs rcly ShOll'S that they do not support his request ftJr an upward deviation from the local
The S350.00 hourly rate that Plaintiffs asserts Judge Garbis awarded in Slilllllock r.
Weis Morkels. was actually subsumed within a lower blended rate 01'$289.00 per hour. Slilllllock
\'. Weis,\forkels. loc .. No. CIV.A. MJG-7-1342.
ECF No. 128-1 at II. Furthermore.
Weslloke Ser\'s..while Judge Ilollander
fees was reasonable.
did lind that an award 01'$350.00 per hour
departing slightly above the guidelines in effect at that time.
the lawyer in question had 10 years of experience.
CIV.A. ELI 1-1 1-1837. 2014 WI. 556288, at
* 14 (0. Md.
that an hourly rate of $275 rather than $350 is reasonable
attorncy with Johnson's
Weslloke Sen's ..
Feb. 7. 2014). Thus. the Court tinds
the local market rate lor an
Davidson and Radbil. Defendant does not dispute
their rates but argues that their hours should be disallowcd
skill and expericnee.
Turning next to attorneys Greenwood.
in lilll as they did not lonnally enter
in the casc. ECF No. 23 at 4. DcICndant does not provide a citation lor this
and the Court linds no support Illr it in the case law. As PlaintifTnotes.
Circuit recently held that attorney's
fees "includes authorization
perf<.mned not only by attorneys but also by persons doing .tasks traditionally
attorney and 1<.Ji'
which the attorney would customarily
charge the client:
perl<.mned by an
licensed attorney. paralegal. or law clerk perl<.mned thcm'" Prieslley \'. Aslme. 651 FJd 410.
416 (4th Cir. 2011)(quoting
district court's denial of attorncys'
r. 80mhorl. 315 F.3d 239. 255 (4th Cir.2002))(rcversing
by out-ol~state attorncys undcr the
Equal Access to Justice Act). II"the legal work 01" a person unable to enter an appearance
such as a paralegal
the hours 01" Greenwood.
so must thc work 01" a liccnsed allorney.
or law clerk. is compensable.
as their work is properly
and not Il)tllld to be duplicative.
Thus. the Court !inds that
and Radbil arc eligible Il)r reimbursement.
argue that because
did not contest the hourly rates of Greenwood.
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