Barton et al v. Columbia Farms Inc
ORDER granting (160) Motion for Attorney Fees in case 6:09-cv-01901-JMC; granting (125) Motion for Attorney Fees in case 6:09-cv-03137-JMC as set out. Signed by Honorable J Michelle Childs on 7/18/12.Associated Cases: 6:09-cv-01901-JMC, 6:09-cv-03137-JMC(awil)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF SOUTH CAROLINA
Natasha Atkinson, Shirley Baisey,
Calvin Barton, Quashonda Chapman,
Shamika Cureton, Anna Edens,
Billy Harris, LaToya Jamison, Lisa
Jamison, Stacey Johnson, Terrance
Johnson, Antonio Miller, Constance
Neal, Kelly Pardue, Sherry Peralta,
Pamela Vaughn and Pauline Warren,
House of Raeford Farms, Inc. d/b/a
Samantha Earle and Shiren Johnson,
House of Raeford Farms, Inc. d/b/a
Civil Action No.: 6:09-cv-01901-JMC
ORDER AND OPINION
Civil Action No.: 6:09-cv-03137-JMC
This matter1 is before the court upon Plaintiffs’ Verified Motion for Attorney Fees, Costs,
and Interest [Doc. 160] seeking $243,989.25 in attorney and paralegal fees and $4,650.55 in
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
Defendant House of Raeford, Inc. d/b/a Columbia Farms (“Columbia Farms”) operates a
chicken processing plant located in Greenville, South Carolina. Plaintiffs are a group of current and
former employees of Columbia Farms’ Greenville plant who worked on a production line, cutting
and de-boning chickens. At the time of Plaintiffs’ employment with Columbia Farms, the Columbia
Farms’ Greenville plant was covered by a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). The CBA
applied to all production and maintenance employees at the Greenville plant, whether they were
union members or not.
Plaintiffs brought a collective action against Columbia Farms under the Fair Labor Standards
Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. 201, et. seq., and the South Carolina Payment of Wages Act (“SCPWA”),
S.C. Code Ann. §§ 41-10-30 and 40, for Columbia Farms’ failure to pay compensation which
Plaintiffs alleged they were due.2 Each Plaintiff alleged that he or she was required to work more
than nine hours each work day, but was only paid for eight hours because employees were routinely
Civil Action No.: 6:09-cv-01901-JMC and 6:09-cv-03137-JMC were consolidated by order of the
Certain individual Plaintiffs also alleged that Columbia Farms committed retaliatory acts against
them in response to those Plaintiffs’ assertions of workers’ compensation claims. Plaintiffs’
workers’ compensation retaliation claims were tried before the court during a bench trial held in
November 2011. Additionally, one Plaintiff asserted a cause of action for invasion of privacy. The
court granted summary judgment in favor of Columbia Farms on the invasion of privacy claim. [Doc.
88]. Plaintiffs’ Verified Motion for Attorney Fees, Costs, and Interest does not seek attorneys’ fees
and costs associated with Plaintiffs’ workers’ compensation retaliation claims or the claim for
invasion of privacy.
not paid for lunch breaks that were only several minutes long and were not paid while donning and
doffing required protective gear. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that Columbia Farms’ management:
(a) failed to keep accurate records of Plaintiffs’ work time; (b) failed to properly notify Plaintiffs in
writing of their hours worked; (c) failed to provide Plaintiffs with itemized payroll statements; (d)
required Plaintiffs to spend in excess of fifteen minutes each day donning and doffing protective gear
and preparing for work before clocking in; (e) deducted from Plaintiffs’ wages thirty minute meal
breaks when such breaks were actually less than twenty minutes in length; (f) regularly failed to pay
Plaintiffs for non-meal breaks that were less than twenty minutes in length; (g) failed to pay
Plaintiffs overtime when Plaintiffs worked more than forty hours per week; (h) and failed to pay
Plaintiffs their wages due on the day of their termination.
Columbia Farms filed a Motion for Summary Judgment [Doc. 55] as to each of the causes
of action asserted in Plaintiffs’ Amended Complaint [Doc. 27]. The court granted summary
judgment in favor of Columbia Farms as to Plaintiffs’ FLSA wage and overtime claims related to
time spent donning and doffing sanitary and protective gear and Plaintiffs’ SCPWA claims to the
extent that they were based on Columbia Farms’ alleged failure to pay overtime for Plaintiffs’ time
donning and doffing sanitary and protective gear. A jury trial was held in November 2011, in which
the jury delivered a verdict in favor of sixteen of the seventeen Plaintiffs and an award of damages
totaling $16,583.00. Subsequently, Plaintiffs filed Plaintiffs’ Motion for Treble Damages [Doc.
159], requesting an award of treble damages and prejudgment interest. The court granted Plaintiffs’
Motion for Treble Damages and amended the judgment to award treble damages totaling $49,749.00
and prejudgment interest as to the sixteen prevailing plaintiffs.
Plaintiffs seek attorneys’ fees and costs under the SCPWA. Section 41-10-80(c) of the
South Carolina Code of Laws provides in pertinent part:
In case of any failure to pay wages due to an employee as required by Section 41-1040 or 41-10-50, the employee may recover in a civil action an amount equal to three
times the full amount of the unpaid wages, plus costs and reasonable attorney’s fees
as the court may allow.
Id. This provision is not mandatory. Rice v. Multimedia, Inc., 318 S.C. 95, 99, 456 S.E.2d 381, 384
(1995). In using “may” rather than “shall,” the South Carolina Legislature has provided that
discretion in allowing treble damages or attorney’s fees rests with the judge. Id. at 98, 456 S.E.2d
at 383. An employee is not entitled to treble damages or attorney’s fees under the SCPWA where
a bona fide dispute existed as to the wages allegedly due. See Futch v. McAllister Towing of
Georgetown, Inc., 335 S.C. 598, 518 S.E.2d 591 (1999). In its Order [Doc. 172], the court held that
to the extent that the jury found that Columbia Farms did not pay all wages due to Plaintiffs, no bona
fide dispute existed as to the payment of those wages. Accordingly, an award of attorneys’ fees in
favor of Plaintiffs is appropriate.
Upon finding that an award of attorneys’ fees is appropriate, the court is charged with
determining the reasonable amount of fees to award to the petitioning party. See In re Abrams &
Abrams, P.A., 605 F.3d 238, 243 (4th Cir. 2010). The court’s determination of the reasonableness
of a fee award begins with the court’s calculation of the lodestar figure. See Robinson v. Equifax
Information Srvs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243 (4th Cir. 2009). The lodestar amount is calculated by
multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably expended. Id. The Fourth
Circuit has adopted a 12-factor test for making a lodestar determination. These factors include:
(1) the time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised;
(3) the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the
attorney’s opportunity costs in pressing the instant litigation; (5) the customary fee
for like work; (6) the attorney’s expectations at the outset of the litigation; (7) the
time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount in
controversy and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the
attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the legal community in which the
suit arose; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship between
attorney and client; and (12) attorney’s fees awards in similar cases.
Robinson, 560 F.3d at 243 (citing Barber v. Kimbrell’s Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 n.28 (4th Cir. 1978)).
The court may find that some of the factors are inapplicable; as such, these factors need not be
strictly applied. See E.E.O.C. v. Service News Co., 898 F.2d 958, 965 (4th Cir. 1990).
Plaintiffs’ counsel contend that they expended approximately 891.09 hours of labor in
relation to prosecuting Plaintiffs’ SCPWA claims. This includes727.45 hours of attorney labor at
a rate of $300.00 per hour, 107.85 hours of attorney labor at a rate of $200.00 per hour, and 55.79
hours of paralegal labor at a rate of $75.00 per hour. In addition, Plaintiffs’ seek $4,650.55 in
litigation costs. Plaintiffs’ counsel have submitted to the court their itemized fees and costs, which
Plaintiffs’ counsel assert have been reduced to reflect only the fees and costs associated with
Plaintiffs’ SCPWA claim.
The court notes that this case involved multiple plaintiffs and over two and one-half years
of litigation resulting in approximately five days of trial before a jury and numerous post-trial
motions. In expending time in relation to pursuing Plaintiffs’ claims, Plaintiffs’ counsel were
precluded from devoting such time to work for other existing clients or potential clients. While the
litigation of SCPWA claims did not generally present novel issues that would be unfamiliar to
attorneys seasoned in the practice of this area of law, a notable amount of counsels’ argument before
the court related to the issue of preemption of Plaintiffs’ claims, an issue highly contested between
Columbia Farms does not dispute the experience, reputation, or ability of Plaintiffs’ counsel
or that Plaintiffs’ counsel has the skill required to perform the legal service necessary for prosecuting
Plaintiff’s SCPWA claims. Furthermore, Columbia Farms does not dispute that Plaintiffs’ counsel’s
hourly rates reflect customary charges for such services. Rather, Columbia Farms argues that the
requested fees do not accurately represent time spent in relation to Plaintiffs’ SCPWA claims.
It appears to the court that Plaintiffs’ counsel reduced hours billed to reflect time spent only
in relation to Plaintiffs’ SCPWA claims. However, a careful review of Plaintiffs’ counsel’s time
records indicates some duplication of efforts by counsel, as over $7,000.00 of the fees requested
relate to communication between co-counsel by way of emails, telephone calls, and conferences.
In addition, it appears that Plaintiffs’ counsel dedicated over $35,000.00 in fees to Plaintiffs’ Motion
for Partial Summary Judgment as to their South Carolina Payment of Wages Act Claim (“Plaintiffs’
Motion for Partial Summary Judgment”) [Doc. 54], on which Plaintiffs did not prevail.
Based on the court’s evaluation above, the court determines that the factors weigh in favor
of reducing the court’s award of attorneys’ fees requested by $21,000.00 to reflect an approximate
fifty percent reduction in the requested fees associated with communication between co-counsel and
Plaintiffs’ Motion for Partial Summary Judgment.
For the foregoing reasons, the court hereby GRANTS Plaintiffs’ Verified Motion for
Attorney Fees, Costs, and Interest [Doc. 160] as follows. The court awards attorney and paralegal
fees in the amount of $222,989.25. Furthermore, the court awards litigation costs in the amount of
IT IS SO ORDERED.
United States District Judge
July 18, 2012
Greenville, South Carolina
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