EDMONDSON v. LILLISTON FORD, INC. et al
OPINION FILED. Signed by Judge Renee Marie Bumb on 4/26/17. (js)
NOT FOR PUBLICATION
[Docket Nos. 87, 93, 108]
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
SARA ANN EDMONDSON,
Civil No. 13-7704 (RMB/JS)
LILLISTON FORD, INC., et al.,
Sara Ann Edmondson
71 Rainbow Trail
Pittsgrove, New Jersey 08318
Pro Se Plaintiff
Kevin J. Thornton, Esq.
Cooper Levenson P.A.
1125 Atlantic Avenue, 3rd Floor
Atlantic City, New Jersey 08401
Attorney for Defendant Lilliston Ford, Inc.
BUMB, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE:
This matter comes before the Court upon Plaintiff Sara Ann
Edmondson’s “Motion to Vacate Arbitration Award Pursuant to
9 U.S.C. § 10(a)(1) Corruption, Fraud or Undue Means” [Docket
No. 87], Defendant Lilliston Ford Inc.’s Cross-Motion
“Requesting An Order to Show Cause; to Strike Plaintiff’s
Submissions; and Confirm the Award of Arbitration pursuant to
9 U.S.C. § 1 et seq.” [Docket No. 93], and Plaintiff’s “RESPONSE
TO COURT’S MARCH 23, 2017 ORDER & MOTION FOR STAY PENDING
APPEAL” [Docket No. 108].
For the reasons set forth herein,
Defendant’s Motion to Confirm the Arbitration Award is granted,
in part, and Plaintiff’s Motion to Vacate the Arbitration Award
The Arbitration Award entered on December 27, 2016
is hereby confirmed.
To the extent that Plaintiff’s “RESPONSE
TO COURT’S MARCH 23, 2017 ORDER & MOTION FOR STAY PENDING
APPEAL” may be construed as a motion to stay this action or the
Arbitration Award pending appeal, the motion is denied as moot.
Defendant seeks further relief from this Court surrounding
the alleged unauthorized practice of law by Plaintiff’s
daughter, Tracee Edmondson, in violation of N.J.S.A. § 2C:21-22,1
District of New Jersey Local Civil Rule 101.1, and New Jersey
Court Rule 1:21-1.
Specifically, Defendant seeks an Order to
Show Cause “in accordance with this Court’s prior practice with
Sara Ann Edmondson’s daughter [Tracee Edmondson] for the
unauthorized practice of law” and an Order striking any
submissions by Plaintiff that were prepared by Tracee Edmondson.
Def. Opp. Br. at 1-2, 9-12 [Docket No. 92]; Def. Notice of
Cross-Motion [Docket No. 93].
These requests are denied.
However, because there is sufficient evidence before this Court
N.J.S.A. § 2C:21-22 provides, in relevant part: “A person
is guilty of a crime of the fourth degree if the person
knowingly engages in the unauthorized practice of law.”
to demonstrate conduct on the part of Tracee Edmondson violative
of N.J.S.A. § 2C:21-22, consistent with this Court’s ethical
obligations, the Court will forward the matter to the
appropriate law enforcement agencies with jurisdiction over such
FACTUAL AND PROCEDRUAL BACKGROUND
This protracted litigation, spanning more than three years,
involves a dispute regarding Plaintiff’s purchase of a 2012 Ford
Focus from Lilliston.
As part of that purchase, Edmondson
agreed to trade in her 2004 Lincoln LS and receive an $800.00
credit from Lilliston.
The parties executed a Retail
Installment Agreement (the “Agreement”).
delivered the Ford Focus to Edmondson.
Edmondson alleges that
shortly after the purchase, she experienced mechanical
difficulties with the car.
After multiple attempts to repair
the car, she tried to return it but Lilliston would not accept
Lilliston also demanded that she turn over the title to the
2004 Lincoln or reimburse the company for the $800.00 vehicle
trade-in credit, but Edmondson refused.
filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law
In addition to this Court’s own observations that
Plaintiff appeared not to be writing her own papers, see, e.g.,
Mem. Order at 3 [Docket No. 36], Defendant has also set forth
convincing evidence of Tracee Edmondson’s unauthorized practice
of law. See, e.g., Def. Br. at 3 [Docket No. 92]; Hughes Cert.
Exs. 5-11 [Docket No. 92-2].
Division, Special Civil Part, Salem County, and Edmondson
In January 2013, the state court action was
dismissed without prejudice.
Def. MTD Ex. 5 [Docket No. 6-2].
Edmondson filed a demand for arbitration with the American
Arbitration Association (“AAA”) in October 2013.
On November 8,
2013, the AAA stated to the parties that, per the parties’
Agreement, “it appears [Lilliston] is responsible for payment of
the Consumer’s portion of the filing fee in the amount of
$200.00 in addition to the fees attributable to the Business
under the rules, for a total of $3,200.00.”
Letter at 15 [Docket No. 1-2].
Nov. 8, 2013 AAA
On November 19, 2013, the AAA
declined to arbitrate the case, however, because Lilliston had
not paid the required arbitration fees.
Letter at 22 [Docket No. 1-2].
Nov. 19, 2013 AAA
The AAA also requested that
Lilliston “remove the AAA name from its arbitration clause so
that there is no confusion to the public regarding our
On December 20, 2013, Edmondson filed a Complaint with this
Court alleging claims under the Magnuson-Moss Act and the
Odometer Act, as well as several state law claims.
filed a Motion to Dismiss--which should have been a Motion for
Judgment on the Pleadings because an Answer had already been
filed--contending, in relevant part, that there was no
controversy between the parties because the parties had settled
their differences in state court.
Def. MTD [Docket No. 6].
Lilliston represented to this Court that the parties had reached
a settlement in the state court action, whereby the dealership
withdrew its claims without prejudice on the condition that
Edmondson execute a form stating that the title to the trade-in
vehicle had been lost.
Edmondson disagreed that there was a
According to her, the parties mutually agreed to
withdraw their claims to engage in arbitration.
Prior to oral argument on the Motion to Dismiss, Edmondson
filed a Motion to Compel Arbitration under the Federal
Arbitration Act (“FAA”) [Docket No. 14].
At oral argument, the
Court questioned its subject matter jurisdiction in addition to
whether the case had settled.
In attempting to resolve the
foregoing issues, the Court imprudently denied Plaintiff’s
Motion to Compel Arbitration--as opposed to administratively
staying the motion--so that it could determine, first, whether
it had subject matter jurisdiction and, second, whether the case
had in fact settled before the state court [Docket No. 16].
Plaintiff appealed that Order.
The Third Circuit vacated the
Court’s denial of the Motion to Compel but acknowledged the
Court’s need to first address its subject matter jurisdiction.
The Third Circuit also indicated “there is at least a reasonable
possibility that some of the issues presented are arbitrable.”
3d Cir. Opinion at 6 [Docket No. 44-2].
On remand, this Court--after a series of prolonged
proceedings, including three motions for recusal by Plaintiff
[Docket Nos. 32, 49, 51]--concluded that Plaintiff had
sufficiently, although barely, pled a violation of the federal
Odometer Act, 49 U.S.C. § 32701, et seq., giving this Court
jurisdiction to hear the Motion to Compel [Docket No. 61].3
Additionally, after a difficult time with the parties, the Court
determined that, contrary to Defendant’s representations to this
Court, no settlement had been reached before the state court.
At every turn of the litigation before this Court,
Plaintiff vigorously sought to compel arbitration pursuant to
the arbitration provision of the Agreement.
In relevant part,
the provision provides:
The parties to this agreement agree to arbitrate any
claim, dispute, or controversy, including all statutory
claims and any state or federal claims, that may arise
out of or relating to the sale or lease identified in
this agreement . . . .
The arbitration shall be
conducted in accordance with the rules of the American
Arbitration Association before a single arbitrator, who
shall be a retired judge or attorney . . . .
Agreement at 6 [Docket No. 1-1].
The Court granted Plaintiff’s motion to compel arbitration
on June 22, 2015 and administratively stayed the matter pending
the arbitration [Docket No. 61].
The parties were unable to
The FAA does not independently confer subject matter
jurisdiction. Moses H. Cone Mem’l Hosp. v. Mercury Constr.
Corp., 460 U.S. 1, 26 n. 32 (1983); see also 9 U.S.C. § 4.
arbitrate with the AAA and Plaintiff filed a motion for summary
judgment on September 3, 2015, in which Plaintiff sought the
entry of judgment in her favor on each of her ten substantive
counts as set forth in her Complaint [Docket No. 67].
At oral argument, on January 27, 2016, Plaintiff expressed,
once again, her desire to arbitrate her claims.
In light of
this and because there was never a dispute that all the claims
and issues were within the scope of the Agreement’s arbitration
provision, the Court ordered the parties to arbitration and,
initially, to agree on the selection of an arbitrator [Docket
The parties commenced the arbitration process, but
they could not agree on the final selection of the arbitrator.
Plaintiff thereafter moved for an order enforcing the specific
provision of the Agreement that the arbitration must be “in
accordance with the rules of the American Arbitration
Association” and conducted by an AAA arbitrator, not a private
mediator selected by the parties [Docket No. 75].4
then ordered Defendant to show cause why the Agreement did not
require the parties to submit their disputes to arbitration
As set forth supra, according to the parties’ Agreement,
the arbitration was to be conducted in accordance with AAA’s
Rules. The AAA Consumer Arbitration Rules provide that, when
the parties’ contract states that the dispute will be arbitrated
under the AAA’s rules, the parties thereby agree that the AAA
will administer the arbitration. See Mar. 3, 2016 Opinion at 4
[Docket No. 76].
conducted by the AAA or by an individual or organization
authorized by the AAA and Defendant to pay the costs associated
with the arbitration [Docket Nos. 76, 77].
On March 8, 2016,
Defendant agreed to arbitrate using the services of the AAA
[Docket No. 80].5
Thus, as set forth in Defendant’s letter,
Lilliston agreed to arbitrate before the AAA--as it was required
to do in the first instance (although no party raised this issue
To do so, Lilliston would have to pay the requisite
AAA fees associated with an AAA arbitration.6
The arbitration proceeding was held on December 13, 2016.
On December 27, 2016, the AAA arbitrator issued an arbitration
award (the “Arbitration Award”) dismissing all of Edmondson’s
claims and ordering Edmondson to return title to the 2004
Lincoln to Lilliston within 14 days or be subject to a fee of
Perplexingly, Edmondson filed an “Intent to File Mandamus
Petition,” complaining of this Court’s “partiality” by extending
“yet another courtesy” to Defendant [Docket No. 78]. Two days
later, she filed a copy of a Mandamus petition [Docket No. 82].
Edmondson appears to have taken the position that the
Agreement was void ab initio because Lilliston did not have a
relationship with the AAA at the time of the Agreement. Even
assuming that is so, that is neither here nor there. The
Agreement provided that the parties arbitrate their dispute
before the AAA. Whether Lilliston owed fees to the AAA or was
in good standing with the AAA is between Lilliston and the AAA.
Plaintiff sought to enforce the AAA arbitration provision, as
written in the Agreement, and prevailed.
$35.00 a day for its storage at Lilliston’s dealership.
ruling provided as follows:
Any and all claims by Respondent [Edmondson] against
prejudice, as the Respondent failed to prove any cause
of action upon which relief could be granted;
Respondent is hereby Ordered to execute such documents
as shall vest clear title to the 2004 Lincoln in the
Claimant within fourteen (14) days of entry of this Final
If Respondent shall fail to execute such documents then
she shall refund the $800.00 trade-in value of the 2004
Lincoln and remove it from Claimant’s property and
premises within thirty (30) days of the entry of this
Final Award; and
If Respondent shall fail to make such payment and
remove the 2004 Lincoln from Claimant’s premises within
thirty (30) days of the entry of this Final Award then
she shall pay Claimant a storage fee of Thirty-Five
($35.00) per day beginning on the thirty-first (3lst)
day after the entry of this Final Award until clear
title is obtained by Claimant or the 2004 Lincoln is
removed from Claimant’s property and premises; and
Claimant shall be entitled to apply for an Order in a
Court of competent jurisdiction granting clear title to
the 2004 Lincoln which is the subject matter of this
Respondent shall be responsible to reimburse Claimant
for reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of Court
incurred on account of enforcement of this Final Award
to obtain clear title to the 2004 Lincoln and any other
necessary enforcement this Final Award; and
Other than as set forth in the proceeding paragraphs,
each party shall pay their own attorney’s fees and costs
Arbitration Award at 2-3, Hughes Cert. Ex. 18 [Docket No. 92-4].
Two days later, on December 29, 2016, Plaintiff moved to
vacate the Arbitration Award before this Court [Docket No. 87].
To this day, Edmondson has refused to turn over the title to the
2004 Lincoln or reimburse Lilliston the $800.00 vehicle trade-in
credit and remove the vehicle from Lilliston’s lot where it has
been stored since 2012.
Pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 9, after an arbitration award is
entered, the Court must judicially enforce the award “unless the
award is vacated, modified, or corrected . . . .”
Assocs., L.L.C. v. Mattel, Inc., 552 U.S. 576, 587 (2008).
“There is a strong presumption under the Federal Arbitration
Act, 9 U.S.C. et seq., in favor of enforcing arbitration
Brentwood Med. Assocs. v. United Mine Workers of Am.,
396 F.3d 237, 241 (3d Cir. 2005) (citing Moses H. Cone Mem’l
Hosp., 460 U.S. at 24–25); see also Hamilton Park Health Care
Ctr. Ltd. v. 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers E., 817 F.3d
857, 861 (3d Cir. 2016).
Pursuant to 9 U.S.C. § 10(a), there are only four grounds
upon which an arbitration award may be vacated:
(1) where the award was procured by corruption, fraud,
or undue means;
(2) where there was evident partiality or corruption in
the arbitrators, or either of them;
(3) where the arbitrators were guilty of misconduct in
refusing to postpone the hearing, upon sufficient cause
shown, or in refusing to hear evidence pertinent and
material to the controversy; or of any other misbehavior
by which the rights of any party have been prejudiced;
(4) where the arbitrators exceeded their powers, or so
imperfectly executed them that a mutual, final, and
definite award upon the subject matter submitted was not
9 U.S.C. § 10(a).
In general, Plaintiff claims that the Arbitration Award was
procured by corruption, fraud, or undue means.
argument, the Court sought to elicit a better understanding of
Despite this Court’s best efforts to do so,
Plaintiff could not answer this Court’s most basic questions.
Instead, Plaintiff simply referred the Court to her papers,
refusing to elaborate.
This conduct naturally confirmed the
Court’s continued suspicions that Tracee Edmondson had written
As best as this Court can determine, they are as follows,
each of which is woefully deficient to warrant vacating the
First, Edmondson contends that the
arbitrator was biased against her because one of the e-mails he
sent to the parties was addressed to “Counsel” (referring to
counsel for Lilliston) and “Ms. Lilliston.”
See Dec. 1, 2016
E-mail, Hughes Cert. Ex. 13 at 2 [Docket No. 92-4].
the reference to Ms. Lilliston--Plaintiff leaps to the unfounded
conclusion that the arbitrator was engaging in ex parte
communications with Lilliston, even though Edmonson had received
the e-mail in question.
Despite the obvious explanation--that
this was a typographical error meant to say “Ms. Edmondson”--the
arbitrator nonetheless admitted his typographical error and
apologized for it.
Dec. 2, 2016 E-mail, Hughes Cert. Ex. 17
at 9 [Docket No. 92-4].
Moreover, even after Plaintiff
requested the arbitrator’s recusal, the AAA reaffirmed the
arbitrator’s neutrality and denied her request.
Dec. 12, 2016
Letter, Hughes Cert. Ex. 15 [Docket No. 92-4].
Second, Edmondson points to an alleged improper ex parte
communication between counsel for Lilliston and the arbitrator.
However, the record evidence demonstrates that the arbitrator
did not have an ex parte communication with Defendant’s counsel,
See June 9, 2016 E-mail, Hughes Cert. Ex. 10
[Docket No. 92-2]; June 6, 2016 E-mail, Pl. Motion Ex. B [Docket
Rather, the arbitrator sent an e-mail to counsel and
Plaintiff explaining that in, “accordance with AAA Rules and
procedures, I am afraid I cannot deal directly with you
[counsel] to avoid the appearance of ex parte communication.”
June 6, 2016 E-mail, Pl. Motion Ex. B.
As the documents bear
out, and as explained by counsel for Lilliston at oral argument,
counsel attempted to reach the arbitrator to determine the
procedure for requesting adjournments in light of his
adversary’s pro se status.
There was no direct contact with the
arbitrator, and the arbitrator indicated as such.
simply no evidence of corruption or collusion.
Finally, it appears that Edmondson argues that because
Lilliston did not pay the requisite fees to the AAA, the
arbitration provision of the Agreement is unenforceable and was
not enforceable ab initio.
It is difficult to understand what
Plaintiff seeks to gain from such an argument other than a
second bite at the apple.
Plaintiff sought for years to compel
arbitration, as detailed above.
The parties’ initial efforts
were not pursuant to the rules governing the AAA and this Court,
upon becoming aware of same, ordered the arbitration to be
conducted by the AAA.
That the initial efforts at arbitration
failed prior to this lawsuit because Lilliston had failed to
maintain its fees is of no moment because, ultimately, upon
Order of this Court, Lilliston paid whatever fees it owed and
the AAA arbitration ensued.
The FAA dictates that when a party seeks to compel
arbitration, the “court shall hear the parties, and upon being
satisfied that the making of the agreement for arbitration or
the failure to comply therewith is not in issue, the court shall
make an order directing the parties to proceed to arbitration in
accordance with the terms of the agreement.”
9 U.S.C. § 4.
Court was satisfied that there was a valid and binding
arbitration provision in the parties’ Agreement that covered
Indeed, Plaintiff sought to enforce that
provision, and Defendant never argued that it was not a valid
Moreover, the scope of the arbitrable issues has
never been in dispute.
Plaintiff appears to take the words “refusal to perform”
the arbitration from the statute out of context.
As best the
Court can discern, seizing upon the statutory language out of
context, Plaintiff seems to argue that 9 U.S.C. § 4 dictates
that if a party refuses to perform under an arbitration clause,
the “Court shall proceed summarily to the trial thereof.”
it appears, Plaintiff’s argument is that, because Lilliston did
not perform by failing to pay the AAA fees, Plaintiff’s
substantive claims, as set forth in her Complaint, should have
been summarily decided by this Court.
Plaintiff is mistaken.
Section 4 governs the role a jury
(or a court if no jury is demanded) plays.
The jury must
determine whether an agreement in writing to arbitrate was made
and, if so, whether there was a “default” in proceeding under
the arbitration provision.
9 U.S.C. § 4; see also Devon
Robotics, LLC v. DeViedma, 798 F.3d 136, 144 (3d Cir. 2015)
(“where ‘the party opposing arbitration can demonstrate, by
means of citations to the record, that there is a genuine
dispute as to the enforceability of the arbitration clause, the
court may then proceed summarily to a trial regarding the making
of the arbitration agreement or the failure, neglect, or refusal
to perform the same, as Section 4 of the FAA envisions.’”)
(quoting Guidotti v. Legal Helpers Debt Resolution, LLC, 716
F.3d 764, 766 (3d Cir. 2013)) (emphasis added).
differently, Section 4 governs trial on factual issues dealing
with arbitrability only, i.e., whether an agreement to arbitrate
was made that covers the claims in question or whether there is
a dispute as to which party is refusing arbitrate.
those issues was in dispute in this case and, as a result, the
Court was not required to have a jury resolve them.
Edmondson’s apparent argument that the Arbitration Award should
be vacated because she should have been allowed to go to trial
(or even granted summary judgment) before this Court on her
underlying claims given Lilliston’s “refusal” to arbitrate has
Ultimately, Edmondson and Lilliston proceeded to
arbitration before the AAA and the arbitrator issued an award.
The Court notes that a party’s failure to arbitrate when
ordered to do so faces contempt proceedings, not a summary trial
as Plaintiff contends. See F.T.C. v. Lane Labs-USA, Inc., 624
F.3d 575, 582 (3d Cir. 2010) (contempt finding appropriate where
party knowingly disobeys valid court order); see also Evans v.
Affiliated Computer Servs. Inc., --- F. App’x ----, 2017 WL
1020365, at *1 (9th Cir. Mar. 16, 2017) (affirming district
court’s decision to hold party in contempt where party violated
court’s order to arbitrate); InterGen N.V. v. Grina, 344 F.3d
134, 142 (1st Cir. 2003) (noting that district court may
“adjudge a recalcitrant party in contempt” for failure to comply
with order to arbitrate).
The Court sees no basis to vacate that award.
Court denies Plaintiff’s Motion to Vacate the Arbitration Award
and grants Defendant’s Motion to Confirm the Arbitration Award.
ATTORNEYS’ FEES REQUEST
The Arbitration Award provides that “Respondent [Edmondson]
shall be responsible to reimburse Claimant for reasonable
attorney’s fees and costs of Court incurred on account of
enforcement of this Final Award to obtain clear title to the
2004 Lincoln and any other necessary enforcement [of] this Final
Arbitration Award, Hughes Cert. Ex. 18 at 2.
21, 2017, Defendant’s counsel submitted a certification setting
forth Defendant’s request for attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant
to this section of the Arbitration Award.
Hughes Cert. [Docket
On March 23, 2017, the Court directed Plaintiff to respond
to counsel’s certification by setting forth any specific
objections to the reasonableness of Defendant’s requested
attorneys’ fees and costs [Docket No. 104].
Plaintiff failed to
Instead, Plaintiff wrote: “I disagree with any and all
certifications made by Defendant for costs or fees associated
with defending an arbitration award that was arbitrary and
capricious and secured through fraudulent, corrupt and collusive
Mar. 30, 2017 Pl. Letter [Docket No. 108].8
In support of its application for attorneys’ fees and
costs, Defendant has provided a sworn Certification from its
attorney at the time, Mr. Hughes, as well as all relevant time
records and invoices.
For the reasons set forth in further
detail below, the Court finds that the fees and costs requested
are adequately supported.
“[O]nce the fee petitioner ‘submit[s]
evidence supporting the hour worked and rates claimed,’ the
party opposing the fee application has the burden to challenge
the reasonableness of the requested fee.”
McKenna v. City of
Philadelphia, 582 F.3d 447, 459 (3d Cir. 2009) (quoting Hensley
v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); citing Rode v.
Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990)) (addressing
attorneys’ fees in statutory fee-shifting context).
this burden, the party opposing the fee award must set forth its
Plaintiff captioned this response “PLAINTIFF RESPONSE TO
COURT’S MARCH 23, 2017 ORDER & MOTION FOR STAY PENDING APPEAL”.
It is unclear what Plaintiff requests from this Court. In any
case, Plaintiff’s appeal was dismissed by the Third Circuit
Court of Appeals on April 7, 2017 for lack of appellate
jurisdiction as this Court had not yet entered an order and
final judgment following oral argument on March 10, 2017.
3d Cir. Order [Docket No. 109]. As Plaintiff’s appeal has been
dismissed, to the extent Plaintiff’s request may be construed as
a motion to stay the case or the Arbitration Award pending
appeal, the Court denies Plaintiff’s request as moot. If
appropriate, Plaintiff may renew her motion at a later date.
Any such motion should be properly supported with references to
the relevant legal standards.
challenges, “by affidavit or brief with sufficient specificity
to give fee applicants notice, [to] the reasonableness of the
Eichenlaub v. Twp. of Indiana, 214 F. App’x
218, 223 (3d Cir. 2007) (citing Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183).
“Once the adverse party raises sufficiently specific
objections to the fee request, a district court ‘has a great
deal of discretion to adjust the fee award in light of those
Taylor v. USF-Red Star Exp., Inc., 212 F. App’x
101, 111 (3d Cir. 2006) (quoting Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183).
However, this Court may not reduce the attorneys’ fees and costs
requested by Defendant sua sponte based on factors not raised by
Id. (“But a district court may not make sua sponte
reductions to fee requests based on material facts not raised at
all by the adverse party, because that would deprive the fee
petitioner of notice of the need to offer evidence of
reasonableness . . . .”); accord McCutcheon v. Am.’s Servicing
Co., 560 F.3d 143, 150 (3d Cir. 2009) (“The district court
cannot decrease a fee award based on factors not raised at all
by the adverse party.”).
Thus, in assessing Defendant’s fee
application, this Court “may not award less in fees than
requested unless the opposing party makes specific objections to
the fee request.”
United States v. Eleven Vehicles, Their
Equip. & Accessories, 200 F.3d 203, 211 (3d Cir. 2000); accord
McKenna, 582 F.3d at 459 (“A district court should not ‘decrease
a fee award based on factors not raised at all by the adverse
party.’”) (quoting Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc.,
884 F.2d 713, 720 (3d Cir. 1989)).
Despite being explicitly afforded an opportunity to do so,
Plaintiff has not presented any specific objections or
challenges to the requested fees and costs.
Order [Docket No. 104].
See Mar. 23, 2017
Nonetheless, the Court is cognizant of
the fact that “the awarding of an attorney’s fee is a judicial
action and, regardless of the parties’ indifference to it, a
court need not lend its imprimatur to an inappropriate order
merely because there was no objection to its entry.”
582 F.3d at 459.
Accordingly, even though Plaintiff did not
articulate any specific objections or challenges to Defendant’s
fee request, the Court reviews the request for reasonableness
and appropriateness before awarding Defendant attorneys’ fees
and costs incurred in connection with enforcement of the
Arbitration Award, as provided by the arbitrator.
Defendant seeks $10,597.50 in attorney’s fees and $111.89
in costs incurred in connection with enforcing the Arbitration
Award, for a total of $10,709.39.
Hughes Cert. ¶¶ 12, 14.9
Mr. Hughes’s hourly rate on this matter is $450.00 and his
partner Robert E. Salad’s hourly rate is $750.00.
Id. ¶ 9.
time records also reveal one entry from Laura Krah Newton billed
at a rate of $195 per hour.
Mar. 8, 2017 Invoice, Hughes Cert.
Ex. A at 12 [Docket No. 103].
According to the time records submitted, on January 5,
2017, Mr. Salad billed 0.20 hours for analyzing issues related
to enforcement of the Arbitration Award.
The same day,
Mr. Hughes billed 0.70 hours drafting a letter to Plaintiff and
reviewing the Arbitration Award.
The following day, Mr. Hughes
billed 0.90 hours reviewing and analyzing Plaintiff’s Motion to
Vacate the Arbitration Award and preparing his notice of
On January 11, 2017, Mr. Hughes billed 0.80 hours
reviewing Plaintiff’s supplemental submission, titled “PLAINTIFF
RESPONSE TO DEFENDANT OPPOSITION TO MOTION TO VACATE ARBIRTAION
AWARD” [Docket No. 90].
On January 18, 2017, Mr. Hughes billed
a total of 3.00 hours, consisting of 2.20 hours reviewing and
analyzing Plaintiff’s submissions and conducting legal research
In his Certification, Mr. Hughes states that the total
amount of attorney’s fees and costs incurred by Defendant in
connection with enforcement of the Arbitration Award is
$11,934.39. Hughes Cert. ¶ 8. This total amount appears to
erroneously include an additional $1,225 entry, which counsel
wrote off his time records. See Feb. 3, 2017 Account Summary,
Hughes Cert. Ex. A at 13 [Docket No. 103].
for Defendant’s cross-motion; 0.20 hours for a telephone
conference with Plaintiff; 0.30 hours drafting a letter to the
Clerk of the Court requesting an automatic extension of the
return date of a dispositive motion; and 0.30 hours reviewing
the status of the return date and documents for inclusion in
Defendant’s opposition brief.
Plaintiff has not set forth any
specific objections to these billing entries.
Court has independently reviewed counsel’s time records and any
corresponding submissions to the Court and finds the time billed
to be reasonable and adequately supported.
In connection with the preparation and submission of
Defendant’s opposition to Plaintiff’s motion and Defendant’s
cross-motion, counsel billed an additional 9.9 hours.
Specifically, on February 6, 2017, Mr. Hughes billed 5.40 hours
conducting legal research and drafting Defendant’s opposition to
Plaintiff’s Motion to Vacate the Arbitration Award and
Defendant’s Cross-Motion to Confirm the Arbitration Award and
for an Order to Show Cause, as well as drafting the
corresponding notice of motion.
Mr. Hughes also billed 3.20
hours reviewing and analyzing the exhibits attached to
Defendant’s opposition brief and preparing his certification in
support of Defendant’s opposition brief.
Ms. Newton also billed
0.50 hours researching how to obtain corporate status reports.
The following day, on February 7, 2017, Mr. Hughes billed 0.80
hours corresponding with the Clerk of the Court and reformatting
Defendant’s cross-motion to conform to the Clerk’s instructions.
Once again, Plaintiff has not presented any challenges or
objections to these billing entries.
The Court has reviewed
these entries as well as the submissions to the Court to which
the entries correspond and finds the attorneys’ fees incurred to
be reasonable and properly documented.
In connection with the hearing on Plaintiff’s Motion to
Vacate the Arbitration Award and Defendant’s Cross-Motion to
Confirm the Arbitration, which the Court scheduled for March 10,
2017, Mr. Hughes billed a total of 7.7 hours.
March 9, 2017, Mr. Hughes billed 2.00 hours preparing for the
He then billed 4.00 hours on March 10, 2017 for
attending the oral argument before this Court, travelling to and
from Camden, New Jersey, and for a post-hearing conference with
The Court notes that the hearing lasted
approximately thirty minutes and that counsel’s office is in
Atlantic City, New Jersey, at least an hour’s drive each way
from the courthouse in Camden, New Jersey.
Minutes [Docket No. 100].
See Mar. 10, 2017
That same day, counsel billed
0.20 additional hours reviewing Plaintiff’s notice of appeal and
0.80 hours researching Defendant’s legal options in light of
Two days later, on March 12, 2017,
Mr. Hughes billed 0.70 hours preparing a response to this Court
regarding Plaintiff’s premature notice of appeal.
was submitted to the Court on March 13, 2017 [Docket No. 101].
The Court notes again that Plaintiff submitted no objections to
The Court has reviewed the time records and any
corresponding submissions to the Court and finds the time billed
to be reasonable and well-supported.
Having considered counsel’s billing records and
Certification, the Court finds the hours billed by Defendant’s
counsel in enforcing the Arbitration Award to be reasonable and
Additionally, Plaintiff has not objected to the
hourly rates charged by Mr. Hughes, Mr. Salad, or Ms. Newton.
The Court finds the hourly rates to be reasonable in light of
Mr. Hughes and Mr. Salad’s extensive experience as attorneys and
their law firm’s national presence and reputation.
Cert. ¶¶ 2-5, 9-10.
Accordingly, Defendant’s request for
$10,597.50 in attorneys’ fees is granted.
The Court does not interpret the description for the
0.2 hour entry, “RECEIPT & REVIEW – NOTICE OF APPEAL”, to mean
that counsel spent twelve minutes merely reading Plaintiff’s
notice of appeal. The Court finds that the total time billed by
counsel on March 10, 2017 for reviewing, analyzing, and
researching Defendant’s legal options in light of Plaintiff’s
notice of appeal--one hour--is reasonable.
In addition to attorneys’ fees, Defendant requests a total
of $111.89 in litigation costs.
This amount consists of $6.46
incurred on January 5, 2017 for sending Plaintiff Mr. Hughes’s
notice of appearance via certified mail; $12.50 incurred on
February 6, 2017 to obtain New Jersey business service and
corporation status reports for Tracee Edmondson’s company, Total
Envolvement, Inc.; and $31.73 in UPS costs incurred on
February 7, 2017 for sending Defendant’s opposition brief and
Cross-Motion to Confirm the Arbitration Award to Plaintiff.
See Feb. 3, 2017 Invoice and Mar. 8, 2017 Invoice, Hughes Cert.
Ex. A at 12, 14.
As with the attorneys’ fees, Plaintiff has not
set forth any specific objections to these costs.
finds that the costs requested by Defendant are reasonable and
appropriate, especially in light of Plaintiff’s pro se status.
Defendant’s request for $111.89 in costs is granted.
In sum, for the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that
Defendant’s request for attorneys’ fees and costs is reasonable
and properly supported.
As the Arbitration Award provides that
Defendant shall be awarded any attorneys’ fees and costs
incurred in connection with enforcement of the Arbitration
Award, the Court grants Defendant’s application for attorneys’
fees and costs.
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above, Plaintiff’s
Motion to Vacate the Arbitration Award is DENIED and Defendant’s
Cross-Motion to Confirm the Arbitration Award is GRANTED.
December 27, 2016 Arbitration Award is CONFIRMED.
application for attorneys’ fees and costs, as provided in the
Arbitration Award, is GRANTED.
Finally, to the extent that
Plaintiff’s “RESPONSE TO COURT’S MARCH 23, 2017 ORDER & MOTION
FOR STAY PENDING APPEAL” may be construed as a motion to stay
this action or the Arbitration Award pending appeal, the motion
is denied as moot.
An appropriate Order shall issue on this
s/Renée Marie Bumb
RENÉE MARIE BUMB
United States District Judge
Dated: April 26, 2017
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