Firneno et al v. Radner Law Group, PLLC et al
ORDER Granting in Part and Denying in Part Plaintiffs' 175 Motion for Attorney Fees. Signed by District Judge Stephen J. Murphy, III. (DPar)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
JODY FIRNENO and CHRISTOPHER
Case No. 2:13-cv-10135
HONORABLE STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III
MAGISTRATE R. STEVEN WHALEN
RADNER LAW GROUP, PLLC, et al.,
OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING
IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES 
Before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees and non-taxable expenses
incurred over four years of hard-fought litigation in a Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) case.
Plaintiffs initiated the case on January 14, 2013 and eventually accepted offers of judgment
from Defendants 800 Zero Debt, LLC and Radner Law Group, PLLC. See ECF 104,
162–64. The Court entered corresponding judgments, see ECF 168–71, and closed the
case after Plaintiffs reached a separate settlement with Defendant Lasercom, LLC.1 See
ECF 172, 173.
All that remains to resolve is the amount of recoverable fees and expenses: Plaintiffs
seek $133,573.73 of the former and $4,819.37 of the latter, ECF 175, while Defendants
claim only $37,659.00 should be awarded, ECF 178. Having witnessed firsthand the history
of the case and considered the parties' extensive briefing, the Court finds that a hearing is
not necessary. See E.D. Mich. LR 7.1(f); see also Michael A. Cramer, MAI, SRPA, Inc. v.
United States, 47 F.3d 379, 384 n.5 (10th Cir. 1995) (collecting cases).
In the case of a successful action to enforce liability for a defendant's willful statutory
Lasercom is not party to the instant motion.
violation, the FCRA allows the plaintiff to recover "the costs of the action together with
reasonable attorney's fees as determined by the court." 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681n(a)(3),
1681o(a)(2). Recoverable fees are "reasonable" if they adequately attract competent
counsel without producing a windfall or representing economic waste. Lee v. Thomas &
Thomas, 109 F.3d 302, 306–07 (6th Cir. 1997).
Plaintiffs' attached invoices detail the breakdown of their work as follows:
Lyngklip and Associates Fees
Bailey and Glasser Fees
The approximate breakdown of requested fees is as follows:
Lyngklip & Associates
$ 450 / hour
~ 95 hours
$ 350 / hour
~ 178 hours
$ 250 / hour
~ 40 hours
$ 200 / hour
~ 30 hours
$ 200 / hour
~ 15 hours
$ 200 / hour
~ 5 hours
Alanna [last name omitted]
$ 200 / hour
~ 2 hours
$ 125 / hour
~ 3 hours
$ 100 / hour
~ 22 hours
$ 100 / hour
~ 5 hours
$ 100 / hour
~ 1.5 hours
$ 100 / hour
~ 0.2 hours
Bailey & Glasser
$ 450 / hour
~ 1 hour
$ 310 / hour
~ 8.7 hours
$ 275 / hour
~ 0.2 hours
$ 195 / hour
~ 4.3 hours
$ 90 / hour
~ 0.5 hours
ECF 175-3, 175-4, 175-5.
First, the Court considers the prevailing market rate charged by lawyers of
comparable experience in the "venue of the court of record." Adcock-Ladd v. Secretary of
Treasury, 227 F.3d 343, 350 (6th Cir. 2000). Plaintiffs contend that their fees are
reasonable in light of the 2015–16 United States Consumer Law Attorney Fee Survey
Report, which suggests that the average hourly rate for an attorney at a small Midwestern
firm is $375.00. ECF 175-2. The survey is silent as to the prevailing market rate for
consumer law attorneys in southeastern Michigan, but the amount is close to the median
hourly rate for consumer law attorneys listed by the State Bar of Michigan—$335.2 Only Mr.
Lyngklip's and Mr. Barrett's hourly rates exceed both figures. Given Mr. Lyngklip's
extensive experience, the Court will apply a rate of $400 per hour of his work, and $375 per
hour of Mr. Barrett's work, reducing the requested amount by $4,807.00.
The Court also considers other factors when determining the "lodestar amount"—the
product of a reasonable number of hours and a reasonable rate. Isabel v. City of Memphis,
404 F.3d 404, 415 (6th Cir. 2005). Here, the documentation offered in support of the hours
Available at https://www.michbar.org/file/pmrc/articles/0000151.pdf.
charged is, for the most part, "of sufficient detail and probative value to enable the court to
determine with a high degree of certainty that such hours were actually and reasonably
expended in the prosecution of the litigation." United Slate, Tile & Composition Roofers,
Damp & Waterproof Workers Ass'n, Local 307 v. G & M Roofing & Sheet Metal Co., 732
F.2d 495, 502 n.2 (6th Cir. 1984).
Five of the lodestar factors are particularly relevant here. Plaintiffs' attorneys
expended a tremendous amount of time and labor to prosecute this case—four years' worth
of docket entries, including motions to compel discovery, successful opposition to
Defendants' motions to dismiss, partially successful opposition to a motion to strike or
dismiss an amended complaint, and complex Court-ordered supplemental briefing. See,
e.g., ECF 41, 80, 81, 90, 102. They addressed difficult questions that arose, including a
novel standing issue that emerged in the wake of Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S. Ct. 1540,
1547 (2016). And they approached each juncture with the skill and strategy necessary to
obtain an indisputably positive result for their clients, which is "the most critical factor in
determining the reasonableness of a fee award." Isabel, 404 F.3d at 416 (quotations
omitted); ECF 168–71. Indeed, the experience, reputation, and abilities of Plaintiffs'
attorneys—particularly Mr. Lyngklip and Ms. Petrik—are among the highest in the area.
Isabel, 404 F.3d at 415; see ECF 175-6, 175-7, 175-8, 175-9, 175-10.
Defendants challenge several aspects of the fee request. First, they argue that fees
related to Defendant Lasercom ($17,295.00) and Nationwide Marketing Services, Inc.3
($6,093.00) should be excluded as improperly billed because Lasercom and Nationwide
are not party to the instant motion. ECF 178, PgID 1871. The objection is well-taken. It
A defendant in a companion case.
would be improper for the Court to award fees against Defendants for litigation related to
the separate companion case against Nationwide, or the concurrent case against
Lasercom. In particular, Plaintiffs reached a separate settlement agreement with Lasercom.
The instant motion seeks fees for prevailing against Defendants Zero Debt and Radner
only. Defendant's argument is rejected, however, insofar as they seek to exclude fees they
inaccurately categorized by misreading Plaintiffs' notices or improperly describing the
procedural posture. See, e.g., ECF 77, 180-2. Accordingly, the Court will omit from the
award $8,675.00 of Plaintiffs' fees associated with Lasercom and Nationwide.
Second, Defendants take aim at fees related to class action claims that never
materialized ($20,795.00) and "other unsuccessful or aborted litigation" ($9,940.00). ECF
178, PgID 1871–72. The argument is well-taken as to the contemplated class claims. It is
proper to disallow time spent on class issues when no class recovery was realized. Munger
v. First Nat'l Collection Bureau, Inc., No. 15-11276, 2016 WL 3964813, at *3 (E.D. Mich.
July 25, 2016). In Munger, as here, the fact that the class was never more than
proposed—much less certified and established as a "prevailing class" entitled to
recovery—undercut the plaintiff's request to collect fees related to the contemplated
representation of that class. Id. at *4. Plaintiffs' attorneys secured a positive result for their
clients — not others. Accordingly, the Court will exclude $5,640.00 in fees that are clearly
related to the class claims.
Next, Defendants argue that as a matter of law, $16,657.00 in fees related to "clerical
work" should be excluded as unrecoverable. ECF 178, PgID 1872. In response, Plaintiffs
contend that they have already reduced their bill to account for clerical items, and the billed
items that remain cannot be "purely clerical" for a small law firm like Plaintiffs' attorneys'.
ECF 180, PgID 1912. "While reviewing correspondence can constitute legal work, receiving
and filing correspondence presumably constitutes clerical work." B & G Min., Inc. v. Dir.,
Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, 522 F.3d 657, 666 (6th Cir. 2008). Because Plaintiffs'
attorneys operate a small firm does not mean that every single clerical task is converted
into one that requires legal knowledge to be compensated in the event of a positive result.
Accordingly, the Court will reduce Plaintiffs' award to the extent they have not already
eliminated fees requested for receiving and filing correspondence and documents:
Fourth, Defendants contend that fees totaling $83,961.00 should be excluded as
duplicative, related to overstaffing, excessive, or vague. ECF 178, PgID 1872–73. But the
weight of Defendants' argument rests almost entirely on form objections. Plaintiffs have
already reduced their bill by nearly 30% to account for several kinds of entries. And it is
perfectly reasonable for several employees to share the workload at a smaller firm like
Plaintiffs' attorneys'. Having reviewed the items remaining after applying the above
exclusions, the Court is not left with the impression that Plaintiffs' billings were improper or
excessive. Accordingly, Defendants' argument in this regard is rejected.
Finally, Defendants argue that $10,905.00 in fees should be excluded because the
related records are not contemporaneous, and thus "impossible to reconstruct" post hoc,
ECF 178, PgID 1873–74 (quoting In re Newman, 270 B.R. 845, 848 (Bankr. S.D. Ohio
2001)), and $37,085.00 in fees should be excluded as impermissibly vague "block billing."
ECF 178, PgID 1874–75. The Sixth Circuit has cited district courts that "have reduced
attorney fees on the basis of insufficient billing descriptions where the attorney did not
maintain contemporaneous records of his time or the nature of his work and where billing
records 'lumped' together time entries under one total so that it was 'impossible to
determine the amount of time spent on each task,'" while also upholding a fee award
"where entries made by counsel were sufficient even if the description for each entry was
not explicitly detailed and where the attorney provided the court with computerized
calendars and file information indicating the dates and times of work performed." Imwalle
v. Reliance Med. Prod., Inc., 515 F.3d 531, 553 (6th Cir. 2008). Generally, block-billing can
be sufficient "so long as the description of the work performed is adequate." Smith v. Serv.
Master Corp., 592 F. App'x 363, 371 (6th Cir. 2014).
Here, Plaintiffs claim that the entries flagged as "not contemporaneous" are supported
by "the actual emails which were sent and received," e.g. ECF 180-4, and the Court's
"docket entries and emails which represent tangible documentation supporting the time,"
e.g. ECF 180-6 (citing ECF 175-4, PgID 1783). ECF 180, PgID 1914. Plaintiffs attempt to
substantiate each of these claims with a single example. That effort is insufficient. By failing
to at least attempt to provide specifics for each of the remaining non-contemporaneous
entries, Plaintiffs have not discharged their "burden of providing for the court's perusal a
particularized billing record." Imwalle, 515 F.3d at 553.
Many of the Defendants' cited instances of so-called block-billing, however, are
inapposite, and sufficiently detailed. See, e.g., ECF 178-1, PgID 1879 ("Research and draft
response to defendants' motion for a protective order."), 1892 ("Prepare notice of
acceptance of Radner offer, and proposed judgment; file over ECF system."), 1901
("Review draft brief by Sattler on Spokeo, research FCRA and Spokeo cases, conference
with attorney Lyngklip to discuss strategy."). The instance flagged by the Defendants as the
"most egregious example," however, will be excluded as insufficiently detailed: the "711
email items" for which a discounted award is requested are merely tacked on at the tail end
of the notice, and unaccompanied by "file information indicating the dates and times of work
performed." See Imwalle, 515 F.3d at 553. Thus, for the reasons above, the Court will
exclude $9,275.00 from the total fee award due to insufficiently detailed instances of block
billing and non-contemporaneous fee entries.
Although Plaintiffs' attorneys did not successfully prosecute their class claims, they
succeeded in nearly all other respects by successfully defending several dispositive
motions and eventually securing significant offers of judgment. Having considered the
abovementioned factors, the documentation offered by the Plaintiffs' attorneys, and
Defendants' arguments, the Court finds that Plaintiffs' attorneys have successfully
prosecuted their clients' case, and deserve the majority of the fees they request. The Court
will award Plaintiffs their fees and expenses incurred, less $32,635.00 associated with the
analysis of the reductions stated above.
The award shall be apportioned against Defendants jointly and severally.
WHEREFORE, it is hereby ORDERED that Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorney Fees 
is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiffs shall recover $100,938.73 in attorney fees
and $4,819.37 in nontaxable costs from Defendants 800 Zero Debt, LLC and Radner Law
Group, PLLC on a joint and several basis.
s/Stephen J. Murphy, III
STEPHEN J. MURPHY, III
United States District Judge
Dated: August 25, 2017
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was served upon the parties and/or
counsel of record on August 25, 2017, by electronic and/or ordinary mail.
s/David P. Parker
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