Flores v. Steinway Dental Laboratory Inc. et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum and Order, the parties joint motion to approve the settlement of this action ( See Doc. No. 18 ), is granted. The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to close this case. Ordered by Judge Roslynn R. Mauskopf on 2/2/2017. (Taronji, Robert)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
15-CV-4364 (RRM) (LB)
- against STEINWAY DENTAL LABORATORY INC.,
ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF, United States District Judge.
Plaintiff Iris Flores brings this action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”)
and the New York Labor Law (the “NYLL”). (Compl. (Doc. No. 1).) The parties have entered
into a settlement agreement, and they now ask that the Court approve the agreement as “a
reasonable compromise of disputed issues . . . .” Le v. SITA Info. Networking Computing, USA,
Inc., No. 07-CV-86 (JS), 2008 WL 724155, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 13, 2008) (internal quotation
marks omitted); see also Cheeks v. Freeport Pancake House, Inc., 796 F.3d 199, 206 (2d Cir.
2015) (“[S]tipulated dismissals settling FLSA claims with prejudice require the approval of the
district court . . . .”).
The settlement agreement provides for a total payment of $42,500 in settlement, with
$21,500 payable to Flores and $21,000 payable to Flores’ counsel as fees and costs. (Settlement
Agreement and Release (“Settlement Agreement”) (Doc. No. 18-1) at ¶ 2.) The settlement
amount of $21,500 in wages and liquid damages is comparable to the $16,325 in unpaid wages
that Flores calculated she is owed, and is to be paid in installments to ensure compliance. (Mot.
Settlement Approval (Doc. No. 18) at 1–2.)
In short, the settlement amount of $21,500 is a reasonable compromise of the disputed
issues between the parties. It is the result of arms-length negotiations and reflects the “desire to
avoid the costs, risks, and delays associated with litigation and to put to rest any and all possible
disputes between the parties.” (Id. at 1.)
When approving the settlement amount of attorney’s fees, a district court must determine
whether the fees are reasonable. See Goldberger v. Integrated Res., Inc. 209 F.3d 43, 47 (2d Cir.
2000). Under a fee-shifting statute like the FLSA, an award of legal fees goes to the plaintiff;
however, the attorney’s right to legal fees comes from the retainer agreement – the private
contract between an attorney and client. See Venegas v. Mitchell, 495 U.S. 82, 87–88 (1990).
To support the settlement component of $21,000 in legal fees, Flores’s attorney, Adbul
Hassan, cites Venegas v. Mitchell, 495 U.S. 82 (1990). In Venegas, the court noted that an award
of legal fees under a fee-shifting statute like the FLSA goes to the plaintiff; however, an attorney
has a right to those legal fees as a result of the retainer agreement – the private contract between
an attorney and client. See Venegas, 495 U.S. at 87–88. An attorney’s fees pursuant to a retainer
agreement may exceed the lodestar due to the client under a fee-shifting statute. Venegas, 495
U.S. at 89–90. Here, Hassan’s contingent fee contract with Flores allows for:
[T]he greater of:
(a) A reasonable percentage fee which is one-third (1/3) of all sums recovered on
Client’s behalf; or
(b) A reasonable hourly fee which is the amount of Attorney’s hourly rates as laid
out below times the number of hours spent by the Attorney on Client’s behalf;
(c) A separate recovery of fees such as where a court or other tribunal awards
attorney’s fees or where a defendant(s) settles a demand for fees.
(Suppl. Mot. (Doc. No. 19) at 2–3.) Nevertheless, “a fee award must balance the public policy of
enforcing the FLSA with the ‘overarching concern for moderation.’” Monserrate v. Tequipment,
Inc., No. 11-CV-6090 (RML), 2012 WL 5830557, at *4 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 16, 2012) (quoting
Goldberger v. Integrated Res., Inc. 209 F.3d 43, 53 (2d Cir. 2000)); see also Dajbabic v. Rick’s
Cafe, 995 F. Supp. 2d 210, 212 (E.D.N.Y. 2014) (“Congress’s intent was decidedly not . . . to
create an incentive for counsel to prioritize their interests above those of their clients . . . .”).
“The defendant is not . . . required to pay the amount called for in a contingent-fee contract if it
is more than a reasonable fee calculated in the usual way.” Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87,
93 (1989); see also Osterweil v. Bartlett, 92 F. Supp. 3d 14, 26 (N.D.N.Y. 2015) (reducing the
$1,100/hour fee of Paul Clement, a well-respected Supreme Court litigator, because “[t]he nonprevailing party should not be required to pay for a limousine when a sedan could have done the
job”) (quoting Simmons v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., 575 F.3d 170, 177 (2d Cir. 2009)).
The lodestar method, which requires taking the product of a reasonable hourly rate and
the reasonable number of hours required by the case, “yields a fee that is presumptively
sufficient” to “induce a capable attorney to undertake the representation of a meritorious civil
rights case.” Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 552 (2010). Hassan represents that
a $450 per hour lodestar rate is appropriate, given his expertise, experience, and reputation.
(Suppl. Mot. at 3.) Hassan further represents that he has fifteen years of experience as a solo
practitioner and has litigated more than 300 employment or wage cases in federal courts in New
York. (Mot. Settlement Approval at 2.) Attorneys with similar levels of experience are typically
awarded between $300 and $400 per hour. See Jean v. Auto & Tire Spot Corp., No. 09-CV-5394
(ARR) (RLM), 2013 WL 2322834, at *6 (E.D.N.Y. May 28, 2013) (finding that the request for
an hourly rate of $450 from an attorney with more than 15 years’ experience as a litigator was
higher than the rates typically awarded to experienced attorneys handling FLSA cases, which
usually range from $300 to $400 per hour) (citations omitted).
Here, at the hourly rate of $450, the lodestar figure appropriate for Hassan’s 94 hours of
labor is $42,300. If Hassan’s lodestar figure were to be calculated at the low-end hourly rate of
$300, it would come to $28,200. As requested in the settlement agreement, the $21,000 in legal
fees – reduced by $1,129.50 in costs – comes to the equivalent of an hourly rate of $211.38.
This hourly rate of $211.38 is below the accepted range for experienced practitioners in Hassan’s
position, is far below the suggested lodestar rate, and shows a significant discount in Flores’s
favor. Accordingly, the Court finds the $21,000 in legal fees to be fair and reasonable.
For the reasons set forth in this Memorandum and Order, the parties’ joint motion to
approve the settlement of this action, (Mot. Settlement Approval (Doc. No. 18)), is granted.
The Clerk of Court is respectfully directed to close this case.
s/Roslynn R. Mauskopf
ROSLYNN R. MAUSKOPF
United States District Judge
Dated: Brooklyn, New York
February 2, 2017
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