TEAMSTERS HEALTH AND WELFARE FUND OF PHILADELPHIA AND VICINITY et al v. COURIER-POST COMPANY
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER granting in part and denying in part 48 Motion for Attorney Fees; plaintiffs are awarded attorney's fees in the amount of $8,452.50, costs in the amount of $1,180.33, interest in the amount of $995.67, and liquidated damages in the amount of $619.77. These amounts shall be deemed to be included in the Judgment entered in the case. Signed by Magistrate Judge Joel Schneider on 7/18/16. (js)
[Doc. No. 48]
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
TEAMSTERS HEALTH AND WELFARE
FUND OF PHILADELPHIA AND
VICINITY, et al.,
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs’ “Motion for
Damages.” [Doc. No. 48]. 1 The Court received defendant’s response
[Doc. No. 49] and plaintiffs’ reply [Doc. No. 50]. The Court
exercises its discretion not to hold oral argument. Fed. R. Civ.
plaintiffs’ motion is granted in part and denied in part. Although
the Court will not award plaintiffs the full amount they requested,
$1,180.33 in costs, $995.67 in interest, and $619.77 in liquidated
The plaintiffs are Teamsters Health and Welfare Fund
Philadelphia and Vicinity, Teamsters Pension Trust Fund
Philadelphia and Vicinity, and Adam Garner, Administrator.
The parties are already familiar with the background of this
matter so a detailed summary will not be provided. On December 30,
2015, the Court issued its Memorandum Opinion with Findings of
Fact and Conclusions of Law after holding a non-jury trial on
December 14 and 15, 2015. See Teamsters Health and Welfare Fund of
Philadelphia v. Courier-Post, Co., C.A. No. 15-844 (JS), 2015 WL
9587661 (D.N.J. Dec. 30, 2015). 2 Judgment was entered in favor of
plaintiffs and against defendant in the amount of $6,891.72, plus
At trial plaintiffs sought an award of $30,041.14 in damages.
Although not the only issue in dispute, the primary focus at trial,
and the major portion of plaintiffs’ damage claim, involved whether
pension fund payments had to be paid for Local 628’s “personal
holidays.” The resolution of this issue depended upon how the term
“holiday shift” was interpreted. Id. at *2. The Court ultimately
ruled in defendant’s favor on the issue. After deducting the
“personal holidays” claim ($23,149.92) from the total damage claim
($30,041.14), the Court awarded plaintiffs $6,891.72. This sum
represented miscellaneous contributions including $2,824.93 in
Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. '636(c), the parties consented to the
jurisdiction of this Court to hear this matter.
Plaintiffs argue they are prevailing parties and are entitled
to $21,217.50 in attorney’s fees and $1,430.48 in costs, pursuant
to 29 U.S.C. '1132(g)(2)(D). Plaintiffs also request interest and
liquidated damages pursuant to 29 U.S.C. '1132(g)(2)(B) and (C)(i).
Plaintiffs ask for $619.77 in interest for the Pension Fund and
$375.90 in interest for the H&W Fund, for a total interest award
of $995.67. Plaintiffs also ask for $619.77 in liquidated damages
representing “double interest” under 29 U.S.C. '1132(g)(2)(C)(i).
Defendant objects to plaintiffs’ requests on several grounds.
Defendant points out that fifty-four (54) days after the complaint
was filed it offered to settle for $6,891.72, the same amount the
Court awarded plaintiffs. And, defendant points out, on November
25, 2015, it extended plaintiffs a Fed. R. Civ. P. 68 Offer of
Judgment in the amount of $6,891.72, plus reasonable attorney’s
fees, interest and costs. Defendant argues plaintiffs’ low degree
of success warrants a substantially reduced fee award. In addition,
reasonableness of their claimed hourly rate, the hours spent on
several tasks were unreasonable, and certain claimed costs are not
supported by adequate documentation. In addition, defendant argues
plaintiffs must pay defendant’s post-Offer of Judgment costs.
Pursuant to 29 U.S.C. '1132(g)(2), plaintiffs are entitled to
an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs of this action
since they are prevailing parties. Pursuant to applicable Third
succeeded on any “significant issue in litigation which achieve[d]
some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.”
2006)(citation and quotation omitted).
As noted in Clementon,
plaintiffs succeeded on a significant issue they are entitled to
prevailing party status.” Id. at 856. There is no serious dispute
that plaintiffs are prevailing parties.
Plaintiffs are seeking attorney’s fees in the total amount of
$21,217.50. This amount was reached by computing the lodestar,
hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably expended on the
Interfaith Community Org. v. Honeywell Int’l., Inc., 426 F.3d 694,
703 n.5 (3d Cir. 2005). The lodestar is presumptively reasonable
but may require subsequent adjustment. United Automobile Workers
Local 259 Social Security Dept. v. Metro Auto Center, 501 F.3d
283, 290 (3d Cir. 2007). Plaintiffs contend Susan Murray, Esquire,
spent a total of 55.2 hours on the case at a billing rate of
$325.00, for a total claim of $17,797.50. Plaintiffs contend a
Senior Paralegal spent 22.8 hours on the case at a billing rate of
$150.00 for a total claim of $3,420.00. As noted, the total fee
claim is $21,217.50.
Degree of Success
As to the lodestar amount, defendant argues the claim of
$21,217.50 should be reduced because of plaintiffs’ low degree of
success. Defendant contends rather than making adjustments from
the lodestar, the fee analysis should start with the sum of
$8,452.50, which is plaintiffs’ accrued fees as of November 25,
2015, the date defendant served plaintiffs with its Offer of
To be clear, the Third Circuit has rejected a proportionality
rule for attorney’s fees awarded under ERISA. Hahnemann Univ. Hosp.
v. All Shore, Inc., 514 F.3d 300, 311 (3d Cir. 2008). Thus,
plaintiffs’ fee award does not necessarily have to be proportional
to the $6,891.72 Judgment. Rather than proportionality, however,
“[i]t is the degree of success, rather than the amount of recovery,
that drives the fee analysis.” Tomasko v. Ira H. Weinstock, P.C.,
357 Fed. Appx. 472, 478 (3d Cir. 2009)(affirming the lower court’s
holding reducing by two-thirds the plaintiff’s fees through trial
to account for plaintiff’s limited success).
Although plaintiffs are prevailing parties, the Court finds
that a downward adjustment from the lodestar will be imposed. This
Plaintiffs do not challenge this calculation.
is appropriate because plaintiffs had a limited degree of success
at trial. This is aptly demonstrated by the fact that plaintiffs’
award was the same amount defendant offered to settle shortly after
the complaint was filed. Also, plaintiffs’ award was the same
amount as defendant’s Offer of Judgment. In addition, plaintiffs
did not prevail on the “personal holidays” issue that was the focus
of discovery and trial. Thus, the Court deems it appropriate to
impose a downward adjustment to plaintiffs’ lodestar to reflect
plaintiffs’ limited degree of success. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 43536 (the lodestar may need to be reduced even where the plaintiff’s
unsuccessful claims were interrelated, non-frivolous, and raised
in good faith).
As to the amount of the downward adjustment to impose, there
discretion to determine whether and by how much fees should be
reduced for lack of success. Id. at 436-37. The Court agrees with
plaintiffs that defendant has not provided any persuasive support
for its argument that its Rule 68 Offer of Judgment mandates that
plaintiffs’ attorney’s fee claim be reduced. Nevertheless, the
fact that defendant’s Offer of Judgment was the same amount as
plaintiffs’ award is relevant to the downward adjustment to be
imposed. It is hard to argue with the notion that fees incurred
after a party rejects a settlement offer are of limited benefit
when the offer is the same amount as the final award. United
Automotive Workers, 501 F.3d at 291; see also McDonnell v. United
States, 870 F. Supp. 576, 589 (D.N.J. 1994)(holding that when the
amount of time spent on successful and unsuccessful claims is not
available, courts “must consider the relief plaintiff achieved in
relation to the relief which he sought but did not receive in
determining the appropriate size of the fee award”); Deptford
Township School District v. H.B., No. 01-784 (JBS), 2006 WL 3779820
(D.N.J. Dec. 21, 2006)(denying plaintiff’s application for fees
after March 27, 2003, because after this date plaintiff enjoyed no
After considering all relevant factors, the Court decides
that a downward adjustment of plaintiffs’ loadstar to $8,452.50 is
fair, reasonable and appropriate. This is an approximate 60%
adjustment of plaintiffs’ fee claim. This adjustment properly
reflects plaintiffs’ limited degree of success and the fact that
plaintiffs could have settled for the same amount as the eventual
award. Further, the Court’s downward adjustment is not out of line
with adjustments granted in other cases.
Tomasko, 357 Fed. Appx.
at 479 (affirming lower court’s downward adjustment of fee claim
to two-thirds of amount claimed). 4
Typically, the hourly rate and number of hours worked is analyzed
before deciding if the lodestar should be adjusted. The Court
deemed it appropriate to switch the order in this case.
The Court is not unsympathetic to plaintiffs’ argument that
the lodestar should not be reduced because of their lack of
success. Plaintiffs argue a reduction will have a “chilling effect”
on future viable cases. Nevertheless, there is no case law holding
that in ERISA cases all attorney’s fees should be awarded even if
a plaintiff achieves some but not predominant success. Further, it
is not insignificant that the Court’s fee award is not de minimis
and, in fact, is larger than the amount of the Judgment. In
addition, it is not an accident that although plaintiffs’ recovery
was only 23% of what they sought, the Court awarded plaintiffs 40%
of their attorney’s fee claim. This should mollify plaintiffs’
concerns about the Court’s fee award having a “chilling effect”.
The Court’s award strikes a fair balance between the parties’
A reasonable hourly rate is calculated according to the
prevailing market rate in the community.
S.D. v. Manville Bd. of
Educ., 989 F. Supp. 649, 656 (D.N.J. 1998). “This burden is
normally addressed by submitting the affidavits of other attorneys
prevailing rates charged by attorneys with similar skill and
experience.” Id. A court should assess the skill and experience of
the prevailing party’s attorneys and compare their rates to the
rates prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers
of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation. Rode
v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). The party
seeking to recover attorney’s fees has the initial burden of
“producing sufficient evidence of what constitutes a reasonable
market rate for the essential character and complexity of the legal
services rendered in order to make out a prima facie case.” Lanni
v. New Jersey, 259 F.3d at 146, 149 (3d Cir. 2001).
other attorneys regarding a reasonable market hourly rate to use.
Therefore, the Court will use its discretion to determine the
market rate. Washington v. Philadelphia County Court of Common
Pleas, 89 F.3d 1031, 1036 (3d Cir. 1996)(“In absence of such a
showing, the district court must exercise its discretion in fixing
a reasonable hourly rate.”); Loughner v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 260
F.3d 173, 180 (3d Cir. 2001)(“Having rejected the prevailing
party’s evidence of rates, the District Court was free to affix an
adjusted rate.”). However, a district court should not determine
customary or proper, but rather must rely upon the record.” Hurley
v. Atlantic City Police Dep’t, 174 F.3d 95, 131-32 (3d Cir.
1999)(citation, quotation and emphasis omitted).
Plaintiffs’ request an hourly fee of $325.00 for Ms. Murray
and an hourly rate of $150 for her Senior Paralegal. To support
the claimed hourly rates plaintiffs submitted the February 11,
2016 Declaration of Ms. Murray [Doc. No. 48-3] attesting to the
experience of Ms. Murray and her paralegal. Ms. Murray graduated
from law school in 1988 and has substantial litigation experience,
especially representing Taft-Hartley Funds and litigating ERISA
cases. Ms. Becker, Ms. Murray’s paralegal, also has substantial
relevant litigation experience, having worked with Ms. Murray
comparable cases. See Chaaban v. Criscito, No. 08-1567 (SDW), 2013
WL 1737689, at *11 (D.N.J. April 3, 2013)(finding $350-$500/hr.
reasonable for partners, $225-$300/hr. reasonable for associates);
Teamsters H&W Fund of Philadelphia and Vic. v. Rock Canyon, No.
14-4425, 2015 WL 1321722, at *1 (D.N.J. March 24, 2015)($150/hr.
reasonable for a paralegal’s rate); see also Nat. Elec. Ben. Fund
v. Starko Elec. Services, Inc., No. 06-1446 (JAG), 2010 WL 1049980,
at *4 (D.N.J. March 16, 2010)(hourly billing rates of up to $650
for partners, $425 for associates, and $200 for paralegals found
to be reasonable rates in ERISA actions).
Based on the experience and expertise of Ms. Murray and Ms.
Becker, and the rulings in other relevant cases, the Court finds
that plaintiffs’ claimed hourly rates of $325 and $150 are fair,
reasonable and appropriate and will be approved. 5
sheets as unreasonable. See Brief at 13-15. The Court has reviewed
all of defendant’s challenges and finds they have no merit. In
other words, the Court finds that the hours plaintiffs’ timekeepers
spent up to the time of defendant’s Rule 68 Offer of Judgment were
reasonably spent and will not be reduced.
Defendant challenges plaintiffs’ cost claim in the total
amount of $1,430.48. Brief at 16. Defendant argues plaintiffs’
documentation. The Court disagrees. See March 10, 2016 Declaration
of Ms. Murray, with attachments [Doc. Nos. 50-2 and 3].
Defendant also argues that since plaintiffs’ final judgment
plaintiffs must pay defendant’s costs of $250.05 incurred after
its Offer of Judgment was made. The Court agrees with defendant
that this result is required under Rule 68 and will, therefore,
deduct $250.15 from plaintiffs’ cost claim of $1,430.48.
Paralegal fees are recoverable in addition to attorney’s fees.
Rock Canyon, 2015 WL 1321722, at *2 (approving $150 hourly rate
for Ms. Becker as she performed tasks equivalent to that of a law
Interest and Liquidated Damages
$995.67 in interest and $619.77 in “double interest” pursuant to
29 U.S.C. '1132(g)(2)(c)(i). Thus, these amounts will be awarded.
Conclusion and Order
Based upon the foregoing, plaintiffs’ motion will be granted
foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED this 18th day of July,
2016, that plaintiffs’ Motion for Award of Attorney’s Fees and
Costs, Interest and Liquidated Damages is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part; and it is further
ORDERED that plaintiffs are awarded attorney’s fees in the
amount of $8,452.50, costs in the amount of $1,180.33, interest in
the amount of $995.67, and liquidated damages in the amount of
$619.77. These amounts shall be deemed to be included in the
Judgment entered in the case. 6
United States Magistrate Judge
The Court agrees with plaintiffs that fees to prepare their fee
application are recoverable. Maldonado v. Houstoun, 256 F.3d 181,
187 (3d Cir. 2001). Nonetheless, for the reasons discussed herein
the Court determined that only the fees accrued as of November 25,
2015 are recoverable.
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