WU v. JULIE ROBIN AROUH, DMD, PC et al
MEMORANDUM SIGNED BY MAGISTRATE JUDGE RICHARD A. LLORET ON 6/7/16. 6/7/16 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED. (va, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
KATHLEEN WU, DMD
JULIE ROBIN AROUH, DMD, PC, et al :
MEMORANDUM OF LAW
Before me are Plaintiff Kathleen Wu’s (“Dr. Wu”) request for attorney’s fees and
supporting memorandum of law (Doc. Nos. 98 and 98-1), Defendants Julie Robin
Arouh, DMD, PC and Julie Robin Arouh Fried’s (collectively “Dr. Arouh”) response in
opposition (Doc. No. 103), Dr. Wu’s reply in further support (Doc. No. 104), and Dr.
Arouh’s sur-reply (Doc. No. 110). After a trial and an award of damages under the
Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law (“WPCL”), 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. §§ 260.5
et seq. (1992), Dr. Wu seeks the award of $57,045 in attorney’s fees and $3,865.46 in
costs. 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 260.9a(f). The WPCL provides that attorney’s fees “shall” be
awarded to the prevailing party. Id.; see Signora v. Liberty Travel, Inc., 886 A.2d 284,
292 (Pa. Super. 2005) (“An award of attorneys’ fees to a prevailing plaintiff is
mandatory under the WPCL, but the trial court has discretion with respect to
determining the appropriate amount of the fee award.”) Dr. Arouh argues that Dr. Wu
has failed to establish the time her attorney reasonably spent on the WPCL claim, failed
to establish the market billing rate for her attorneys, and improperly seeks costs that are
not recoverable. (Doc. No. 103). Dr. Wu is entitled to attorney’s fees under the WPCL,
although not in the amount that she requests.
The WPCL provides for the award of attorney’s fees to a prevailing party.
Specifically, the WPCL states that the court “shall, in addition to any judgment awarded
to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow costs for reasonable attorneys’ fees of any nature to be
paid by the defendant.” 43 Pa. Stat. Ann. § 260.9a(f). This provision has been
interpreted to provide for the mandatory payment of attorneys’ fees related to the WPCL
claim, as well as the fees from any other claims or counterclaims that flow from a
common set of facts. See Signora, 886 A.2d at 292; Ambrose v. Citizens Nat’l Bank of
Evans City, 5 A.3d 413, 421 (Pa. Super. 2010). Courts have found the attorneys’ fee
provision to be integral to carrying out the legislative purpose of the WPCL. See, e.g.
Oberneder v. Link Computer Corp., 674 A.2d 720, 722 (Pa. Super. 2010) (noting that
mandatory award of fees to a prevailing WPCL plaintiff “goes to the very ‘essence’ of [the
WPCL’s] goal of making the employee whole again[,]” and of ensuring their entire award
is not used to pay attorney fees); Voracek v. Crown Castle, USA Inc., 907 A.2d 1105,
1109 (Pa. Super. 2006) (WPCL mandates award of attorneys’ fees to ensure prevailing
plaintiff is made whole again).
While noting that the WPCL does not describe how a court should go about
determining a reasonable attorneys’ fee award, the Pennsylvania Superior Court has
looked to the factors articulated in 41 P.S. § 503 to guide that determination . See
Ambrose, 5 A.3d at 416 and n.1. Section 503 provides in pertinent part that:
In determining the amount of the fee, the court may consider:
(1) The time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the
questions involved and the skill requisite properly to conduct the
case [;] (2) The customary charges of the members of the bar for
similar services [;] (3) The amount involved in the controversy and
the benefits resulting to the client or clients from the services [;] (4)
The contingency or the certainty of compensation.
Id. (quoting 41 P.S. § 503). With regard to costs, “[b]ecause recovery of costs other than
attorneys’ fees are not a matter of substantive state law . . . recovery of costs other than
attorneys’ fees are governed . . . by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) and 28 U.S.C. §
1920.” Regier v. Rhone-Poulenc Rorer, Inc., No. 93-cv-4821, 1995 WL 395948, at *9
(E.D. Pa. June 30, 1995).
With this framework in mind, I turn to Dr. Wu’s fee petition. Dr. Wu has
requested that I award $57,045 in attorneys’ fees, (Doc. No. 104, at Ex. C, p. 8), and has
presented evidence to support her claim as to the hours worked and the billing rates of
the attorneys. (Doc. No. 104, Exhibits A –F). See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424,
433 (1983) (party seeking attorney’s fees has burden to come forward with evidence
“supporting the hours worked and rates claimed”). Dr. Arouh, consistent with her
burden, has challenged the reasonableness of the requested fee. See Bell v. United
Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713 (3d Cir. 1989). “Once the adverse party raises
objections to the fee request, the district court has a great deal of discretion to adjust the
fee award in light of those objections.” Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d
Cir. 1990). I will address Dr. Arouh’s objections below in the context of determining the
proper award of attorneys’ fees.
A. Dr. Wu has come forward with evidence to support her request for
Dr. Arouh argues that Dr. Wu has failed to carry her burden to come forward with
evidence in support of her request for attorneys’ fees. Specifically, Dr. Arouh contends
that Dr. Wu has failed to come forward with contemporaneously recorded time sheets,
and that the information she has provided is so lacking in necessary detail that the
“deficiencies prevent any meaningful analysis by the Court or by Defendants who are
thereby left without any opportunity to state specific objections.” (Doc. No. 103, at 3).
Notwithstanding this argument, Dr. Arouh has made a number of specific objections to
the evidence submitted by Dr. Wu. (See, e.g., id. at 3-6). While Dr. Arouh’s points are
well taken as to lack of detail that one might hope for in legal billing records, I find that
Dr. Wu’s submissions are sufficient to allow me to craft an attorneys’ fee award.
Additionally, with regard to Dr. Arouh’s ability to make specific objections, I find that
the objections that have been raised by Dr. Arouh are sufficiently specific to be useful to
me in crafting the attorneys’ fee award. Dr. Arouh’s broad argument that Dr. Wu failed
to meet her burden of presenting evidence to support the award of attorneys’ fees is
B. Determination of amount of attorneys’ fees to be awarded to Dr.
To determine the amount of attorneys’ fees appropriately due to Dr. Wu, I must
first determine which portions of the litigation are factually intertwined with the WPCL
claim, and the number of hours reasonably expended on those portions of the litigation.
See 41 P.S. § 503; see also Rode, 892 F.3d at 1183. Dr. Wu’s WPCL claim (Doc. No. 12,
unnumbered Count II) and her breach of contract claim (Doc. No. 12, unnumbered
Count I) are sufficiently factually intertwined that work related to either claim should be
covered by the fee award. Similarly, Dr. Wu’s successful defense of four counterclaims
also should be covered by the fee award. See Ambrose, 5 A.3d at 421 (“[T]o the extent
that WPCL claimants overcome an employer’s counterclaims, the statute supports an
award of attorneys’ fees regardless of the nature of those counterclaims.”) Because of the
lack of detail in the fee request submitted by Dr. Wu, I have erred on the side of
including only those charges that clearly relate to unnumbered Counts I and II of the
amended complaint or the defense of counterclaims. (See Doc. No. 12).
Based upon my review of the billing statement, (Doc. No. 104, Ex. C), Dr. Wu’s
attorneys contend that they spent $21,450 on work that I find to be related to
unnumbered Counts I and II of the amended complaint. I agree with Dr. Arouh’s
objection that fees related to the defamation claim and the summary judgment motion
are not compensable, and those fees are not reflected in the $21,450 figure above. While
there is some merit to Dr. Arouh’s assertion that the two components of Dr. Wu’s WPCL
claim – one related to failure to provide adequate notice of termination, and the other
relating to not being paid all of the fees due to her – are “completely distinct, both
legally and factually[,]”(Doc. No. 103 at 4), I find that the $21,450 figure nonetheless
represents a reasonable attorneys’ fee for the amount of work one would anticipate here
for the claims relating to the failure to provide the required 60-days’ notice prior to
termination. Accordingly, I have not further adjusted the award pursuant to that
This case was tried without a jury over two days. The issues in this case were
neither novel, nor complex. Discovery, motions practice, and trial preparation in this
matter were likewise routine and non-complex, and should not have demanded a
tremendous amount of attorney time. Dr. Wu’s attorney, Doug Grannan, billed at a rate
of $350 per hour, and attorney Seungbeom Kim billed at a rate of $250 per hour. Dr.
Wu has submitted the verification of Walter Weir, Jr., Esquire and the affidavit of Jack
Meyerson in support of the reasonableness of those billing rate. (Doc. No. 98, Ex. 5
(Weir); Doc. No. 100 (Meyerson)). I find the billing rates to be reasonable for attorneys
with commensurate experience, in this geographic region, trying this type of case. As Dr.
Wu prevailed upon her WPCL claim, I find that she did receive a benefit based upon the
services of her attorneys. Accordingly, I find that $21,450 is a reasonable amount to
award for attorneys’ fees.
Dr. Arouh has argued that I should further discount the fee award because Dr.
Wu’s husband served as her attorney. In support of this, Dr. Arouh cites Cohen v.
American Credit Bureau, Inc., 2012 WL 847429, *12-13 (D.N.J. 2012). Cohen, legal
authority by which I am not bound by in any event, is not persuasive. The case involved
the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), and a husband representing his wife
alleging FDCPA violations related to the collection of a $150 debt. The
husband/attorney acknowledged that he filed the lawsuit in an attempt to “make law.”
Id. at *2. In determining whether to award attorneys’ fees, the fact that the plaintiff’s
husband was her lawyer was one of seven factors that influenced the court’s decision to
substantially discount the award of fees. Id. at *6. Other factors included the attorney’s
threat/strategy to bring successive lawsuits with the court characterized as “border[ing]
on bad faith[,]” and the fact that the plaintiff failed to succeed on her claim for actual
damages. Id. The court ultimately awarded damages at a substantially discounted rate. I
do not find Cohen to be relevant or persuasive.
An award of attorneys’ fees to the prevailing plaintiff in a WPCL case is
mandatory. Signora, 886 A.2d at 292. I find that an award of $21,450 in attorneys’ fees
reflects the amount of attorney time reasonably spent on pressing the WPCL and related
breach of contract claims in this case. It also represents a significant discount of the
amount requested, $57,045, based the objections of Dr. Arouh with which I agreed.
With regard to costs, I find that Dr. Wu should be awarded $1,732.75. This figure
reflects the cost of the Wu deposition transcript, the Bisaquino subpoena, and the trial
transcript. Such an award is consistent with Rule 54 of the Federal Rules of Civil
Procedure, and 28 U.S.C. 1920. See Reiger, 1995 WL 395948, at *9-10. Dr. Wu is
entitled to a total award of $23,182.75 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
BY THE COURT:
_s/Richard A. Lloret______
RICHARD A. LLORET
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Dated: June 7, 2016
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