McKee v. Whitman & Meyers, LLC et al
-CLERK TO FOLLOW UP---DECISION AND ORDER granting Plaintiff's 11 MOTION for Default Judgment. Plaintiff is awarded $500.00 for Defendants' violations of the FDCPA, $1,736.25 in attorney's fees, and $402.00 in costs. The Clerk is directed to enter judgment accordingly, and to close this case. Signed by Hon. John T. Curtin on 9/17/2014. (JEC)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
WHITMAN & MEYERS, LLC,
JOSEPH M. GOHO,
On July 31, 2013, plaintiff Brandi McKee filed a complaint alleging various violations
of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA” or “Act”), 15 U.S.C. § 1692, et seq.
Defendants Whitman & Meyers, LLC and Joseph M. Goho failed to appear and defend this
action, which resulted in entry of default by the Clerk of the Court, pursuant to Rule 55(a)
of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, on July 3, 2014. Item 9. Presently before the
court is plaintiff's motion for default judgment pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2). Item
11. For the following reasons, plaintiff's motion is granted.
Default Judgment Standard
Before obtaining default judgment, a party must first secure a Clerk's entry of default
by demonstrating, by affidavit or otherwise, that the opposing party is in default. Fed. R.
Civ. P. 55(a). Once default has been entered, the allegations of the complaint establishing
the defendant's liability are accepted as true, except for those relating to the amount of
damages. Greyhound Exhibitgroup, Inc. v. E.L.U.L. Realty Corp., 973 F.2d 155, 158 (2d
Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1080 (1993).
In considering whether to enter default judgment, the court must determine whether
the facts alleged in the complaint are sufficient to state a claim for relief as to each cause
of action for which the plaintiff seeks default judgment. Further, where the damages
sought are not for a sum certain, the court must determine the propriety and amount of the
default judgment. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(b)(2). Damages must be established by proof,
unless the damages are liquidated or “susceptible of mathematical computation.” Flaks
v. Koegel, 504 F.2d 702, 707 (2d Cir. 1974). All reasonable inferences from the evidence
presented are drawn in the moving party's favor. See Au Bon Pain Corp. v. Artect, Inc.,
653 F.2d 61, 65 (2d Cir. 1981).
As set forth in the complaint, the facts are relatively straightforward. At all times
relative to the claims asserted, defendants Whitman & Meyers, LLC and Joseph M. Goho
were acting in the capacity of a business entity or person engaged in the business of debt
collection, within the meaning of 15 U.S.C. § 1692a(6) (definition of “debt collector”).
Plaintiff alleges that, on or about July 22, 2013, defendant commenced collection activities
to recover an alleged debt.
Those activities included multiple telephone calls and
messages to plaintiff’s brother, sister-in-law, former brother-in-law, and former mother-inlaw, informing them that plaintiff was wanted by police for check fraud, demanding
payment of plaintiff’s debt, and threatening to have plaintiff arrested, all in violation of a
number of the provisions of the FDCPA. Item 1, ¶¶ 15-23.1 Accordingly, for the purposes
of this motion, plaintiff has sufficiently alleged facts to establish defendant’s liability under
Section 1692k(a)(2)(A) authorizes the court to award up to $1,000 in statutory
damages per plaintiff for any violation of the FDCPA. The specific amount of statutory
damages, not to exceed $1,000, falls within the court's discretion. See Savino v. Computer
Credit, Inc., 164 F.3d 81, 86 (2d Cir. 1998). Factors to be considered by the court in
determining an appropriate statutory damages award include the frequency, persistence,
and nature of the debt collector's noncompliance with the Act; the debt collector's
resources; the number of individuals adversely affected; and the extent to which the debt
collector's non-compliance was intentional. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(b)(1). Awards of the
$1,000 statutory maximum are typically reserved for cases where the defendants' violations
are “particularly egregious or intimidating.” Cordero v. Collection Co., 2012 WL 1118210,
*2 (E.D.N.Y. Apr. 3, 2012).
By virtue of the entry of default, defendant is deemed to have admitted the wellpleaded allegations of the complaint (including, among other things, numerous telephone
Specifically, plaintiff alleges that defendant’s debt collection activity violated sections 1692b(2)
and 1692c(b) (prohibiting communications regarding the alleged debt with persons other than the
consumer); 1692d(2) (prohibiting engaging in conduct the natural consequence of which is to harass,
oppress, or abuse any person in connection with the collection of a debt, including the use of abusive
language); 1692e (prohibiting the use of false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in
connection with the collection of a debt); 1692e(2) (prohibiting the misrepresentation of the character,
amount, or legal status of a debt); 1692e(4) (prohibiting the implication that nonpayment of the debt will
result in the arrest or imprisonment of any person); 1692e(5) (prohibiting the threat of any action that
cannot legally be taken or is not intended to be taken); and 1692g (requiring proper written notice within
five days of the initial communication).
calls and messages to plaintiff’s relatives that demanded payment of plaintiff’s debt,
threatened her arrest, and represented that plaintiff was wanted for check fraud in another
However, considering the relative infrequency of pleaded instances of
noncompliance (five telephone calls on one day and one additional call on a different day),
the limited number of individuals adversely affected (four), and the absence of any further
information regarding the debt collector's resources or intent, the court finds that these
violations of the FDCPA do not amount to the level of “particularly egregious or
intimidating” conduct warranting an award of maximum statutory damages. The court
therefore awards plaintiff a total of $500.00 in statutory damages pursuant to 15 U.S.C.
§ 1692k(a)(2)(A). See Hance v. Premier Recovery Group, Inc., 2013 WL 85068, *2
(W.D.N.Y. Jan. 7, 2013) (awarding $500 in statutory damages where defendant called
plaintiff's home on a number of occasions, totaling more than 20 times per month); Fajer
v. Kaufman, Burns & Assocs., 2011 WL 334311, *3 (W.D.N.Y. Jan. 28, 2011) (awarding
$500 where defendant made numerous calls to home and workplace and made empty
threats of litigation); see also Bonafede v. Advanced Credit Solutions, LLC, 2012 WL
400789, *3 (W.D.N.Y. Feb. 7, 2012) (finding demand of $1,000 “excessive” where plaintiff
presented no evidence that communications with collector were persistent).
Attorneys’ Fees and Costs
The FDCPA also provides for the recovery of reasonable attorney's fees and costs
by successful litigants. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3) (permitting recovery of, “in the case
of any successful motion to enforce the foregoing liability, the costs of the action, together
with a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court”). In determining a reasonable
fee, district courts should set a reasonable hourly rate, bearing in mind case-specific
variables, and then use the reasonable hourly rate to calculate a “presumptively
reasonable fee.” Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass'n v. County of Albany,
522 F.3d 182, 190 (2d Cir. 2008). There is a presumption in favor of the hourly rates
employed in the district in which the case is litigated. Simmons v. New York City Transit
Auth., 575 F.3d 170, 174–75 (2d Cir. 2009). Thus, the court must consider the prevailing
market rate in the Western District of New York for “similar services by lawyers of
reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886,
896 n. 11 (1984).
Here, plaintiff’s counsel has submitted an affirmation documenting a total of 9.85
hours of work on the case for which compensation is sought, including a combined 5.7
hours by two attorneys at different hourly rates, and 4.15 hours by paralegal staff. An
attorney admitted to practice in 2009 worked 1.25 hours on the case, charging $295/hr and
an attorney admitted in 2011 worked 4.45 hours on the case, charging $250/hr. The hourly
rate sought for paralegal work is $145. See Item 11-1.
The court finds the number of attorney hours expended on the case to be
reasonable, but the requested hourly rates excessive, compared to the prevailing market
rates in this district for FDCPA cases. See, e.g., Ortez v. First Asset Recovery Group, LLC,
2014 WL 1338835, at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Apr. 2, 2014) (granting motion for default judgment and
awarding fees at hourly rates of $250 for experienced attorneys, $175 for newer attorneys,
and $75 for paralegal staff); Carbin v. Northern Resolution Group, LLC, 2013 WL 4779231,
at *3 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 5, 2013) (same); Halecki v. Empire Portfolios, Inc., 952 F. Supp. 2d
519, 521-22 (W.D.N.Y. 2013) (awarding hourly rate of $250 for experienced attorney, $140
for new attorney); Hance, 2013 WL 85068, at *2 (awarding hourly rate of $225 for
experienced attorney, $200 for newer attorney, and $50 for paralegal staff).
Based upon its review of these and other FDCPA cases litigated in the Western
District of New York, the court finds that the prevailing local hourly rates of $250 for
experienced attorneys and $75 for paralegal staff provide a reasonable basis for
calculation of the award of fees in this case. Accordingly, the court awards attorneys’ fees
5.7 hrs. @ $250.00 =
4.15 hrs. @ $ 75.00 =
The court also grants plaintiff’s request for an award of $402.00 in costs.
Based on the foregoing, plaintiff’s motion for default judgment (Item 11) is
Plaintiff is awarded $500.00 for defendants’ violations of the FDCPA,
$1736.25 in attorney’s fees, and $402.00 in costs.
The Clerk of the Court is directed to enter judgment accordingly, and to close this
\s\ John T. Curtin
JOHN T. CURTIN
United States District Judge
Dated: September 17, 2014
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