Joung v. Oral Prosthetics Laboratory, LLC et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by District Judge James C. Cacheris on 10/11/2016. (dvanm, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
EASTERN DISTRICT OF VIRGINIA
SU KEN JOUNG,
ORAL PROSTHETICS LABORATORY,
LLC, et al.,
M E M O R A N D U M
O P I N I O N
This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff’s Motion
for Attorney’s Fees [Dkt. 16].
For the reasons that follow, the
Court will grant Plaintiff’s Motion in part and deny it in part,
awarding Plaintiff $23,875.36 in attorney’s fees and $733.36 in
Plaintiff formerly worked as a technician for
Defendants making oral prosthetic devices.
On July 3, 2015,
Plaintiff notified Defendants through counsel that he believed
he had a claim for unpaid overtime wages pursuant to the Fair
Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 207 (FLSA).
He offered to
settle his claim for $19,790.00, but received no response.
On July 30, 2015, Plaintiff brought suit against
Defendants under the FLSA, alleging that Defendants failed to
pay him overtime wages at a rate not less than one and a half
times his normal pay.
The case progressed through limited
discovery before settlement negotiations resumed.
settled the case on February 10, 2016 for $10,000 plus
reasonable attorney’s fees to be agreed upon or submitted to the
Court in the absence of an agreement.
Plaintiff now moves for an award of fees totaling
$31,372.06, representing 70.499 hours of work at a rate of $445
an hour, as well as litigation costs in the amount of $733.36.
II. Legal Standard
The FLSA provides that courts “shall, in addition to
any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a
reasonable attorney’s fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs
of the action.”
29 U.S.C. § 216(b).
The parties’ settlement
agreement expressly allows for recovery of fees and costs
pursuant to this provision in an amount to be determined by the
Court unless otherwise agreed by the parties.
See Joint Mot.
for Approval of Settlement Exh. 1 [Dkt. 13-1] at 2-3.
In evaluating a fee petition, “[t]he most useful
starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is
the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation
multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Hensley v. Eckerhart,
461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).
In conjunction with this calculation,
(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) attorneys’ fees awards in similar
Barber v. Kimbrell’s, Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 n.28 (4th Cir.
1978). Generally, “[t]he Court need not address all twelve
Kimbrell’s factors independently” as they are “subsumed” into
the initial evaluation of what constitutes a reasonable rate and
number of hours expended.
Wells Fargo Bank, Nat. Ass’n v.
Walls, No. 1:12-CV-664 LMB/IDD, 2013 WL 869902, at *2 (E.D. Va.
Mar. 4, 2013), aff’d 543 F. App’x 350 (4th Cir. 2013).
A. Time and Labor Required
The Court begins by assessing the reasonableness of
the number of hours Plaintiff’s counsel — Matthew B. Kaplan —
expended on this litigation.
Counsel’s billing records show
that he spent a total of 70.499 hours on this case.
Exh. 2 [Dkt. 21-1] at 12.
As an initial matter, the Court notes that tasks
related to recovering attorney’s fees account for much of that
Roughly 27 hours — or nearly 40% of the hours billed in
this case — were expended in pursuit of attorney’s fees.
Indeed, Plaintiff’s counsel spent over 16 hours on his reply
brief alone — a filing that largely reflects information
apparent from his previous submissions.
See Rep. [Dkt. 21] at
While time spent preparing a fee petition is
compensable, courts have expressed concern when it becomes
disproportionate relative to time spent litigating the case’s
For example, in Ustrak v. Fairman, 851 F.2d 983, 987–88
(7th Cir. 1988), the Seventh Circuit reduced by two thirds the
amount awarded for time spent on a fee petition where “[f]or
every hour spent litigating the merits the plaintiff’s attorneys
devoted almost 15 minutes to preparing a petition requesting
fees for that hour.”
Likewise here, for every hour spent on the merits of
this case, Plaintiff’s counsel spent over 20 minutes preparing a
While this is in part due to Defendants’
opposition to the present Motion, the response of Plaintiff’s
counsel — spending more than 16 hours on a reply — was
Accordingly, the Court will reduce the award
for hours spent on fee-related matters by roughly two thirds,
reducing the total number of compensable hours to 54.5.
The Court is not able to say that the time Plaintiff’s
counsel billed was otherwise unreasonable.
fault Plaintiff’s counsel for not working quickly enough at a
variety of tasks, see Opp. [Dkt. 19] at 6-9, a review of
Plaintiff’s billing records indicates that Plaintiff’s counsel
worked with reasonable diligence and speed.
Defendants argue further that Plaintiff’s attorney’s
fees should be reduced in light of the degree of recovery.
support of this contention, Defendants point out that while
Plaintiff initially demanded $19,790.00, the case ultimately
settled for $10,000.00.
The Court finds that this recovery does not merit
reducing Plaintiff’s attorney’s fees.
Plaintiff brought a
single claim against Defendants alleging that he was owed
$8,957.50 in overtime wages under the FLSA.
was able to prove every hour he worked, demonstrate that
Defendants acted in bad faith, overcome any other defenses, and
collect the judgment, Plaintiff could have recovered at most
$17,915.00 after dedicating substantial time and energy to
The Court cannot fault Plaintiff for handicapping
his risk and avoiding the burdens of litigation. See, e.g.,
Quintanilla v. A & R Demolition Inc., No. CIV.A. H-04-1965, 2008
WL 9410399, at *5 (S.D. Tex. May 7, 2008) (noting that in
assessing a settlement’s reasonableness courts may account for
the risks and costs of litigation).
Indeed, it appears that in
recovering what Plaintiff was owed and avoiding the stress of
continued litigation, Plaintiff’s counsel achieved precisely the
result his client desired.
See Rep. [Dkt. 20] at 4.
In light of the above, the Court finds that
Plaintiff’s counsel is entitled to remuneration for 54.5 hours
of services rendered.
B. Plaintiff’s Counsel’s Hourly Rate
Plaintiff’s counsel claims an hourly rate of $445.00.
In support of the reasonableness of this rate, Plaintiff’s
counsel submits that he has practiced law for approximately 13
years and previously worked with two major national law firms
before starting his solo practice.
The Court notes as well that
he has substantial experience litigating FLSA claims.
The proposed billing rate is lower than common
Under the Laffey matrix — which “is used as
a guideline for reasonable attorneys’ fees” in the Washington,
DC metro area, Galvez v. Am. Servs. Corp., No. 1:11cv1351
(JCC/TCB), 2012 WL 2522814, at *5 n.6 (E.D. Va. June 29, 2012) —
an attorney with Plaintiff’s experience could reasonably bill as
much as $520–770 per hour.
See Taylor v. Republic Servs., Inc.,
No. 1:12-CV-00523-GBL, 2014 WL 325169, at *5 (E.D. Va. Jan. 29,
The Declaration of J. Thomas Spiggle [Dkt. 17-2],
submitted with Plaintiff’s Motion, further supports a finding
that the proposed billing rate is reasonable.
Plaintiff’s counsel points out, see Notice [Dkt. 21], this Court
has recently found his proposed hourly rate of $445.00
reasonable in another FLSA case.
See Order [Dkt. 34], Mendoza
et al. v. Uriona Cabrera et al., 1:15-cv-00142-AJT-IDD (E.D. Va.
June 24, 2016).
Defendants’ arguments to the contrary are
In support of the claim that Plaintiff’s
counsel’s billing rate should be capped at $325.00 per hour,
Defendants submit the Declaration of Ilryong Moon [Dkt. 19-4].
Mr. Moon, however, is Defendant’s counsel’s law partner.
financial interest in this case diminishes the probative value
of his opinion.
Cf. Grissom v. The Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313,
322 (4th Cir. 2008) (suggesting that affidavits from associated
counsel are entitled to less weight than affidavits from
“attorneys outside the firm” in evaluating the reasonableness of
proposed billing rates).
Defendants argue that the Laffey matrix should not be
used to determine the reasonableness of hourly rates in FLSA
cases because FLSA litigation is not sufficiently “complex.”
The Court disagrees. See, e.g., Galvez, No. 1:11CV1351 JCC/TCB,
2012 WL 2522814, at *5 (referring to the Laffey matrix in
assessing the reasonableness of attorney’s fees in an FLSA
case); Order [Dkt. 37], Ramirez-Ramos et al. v. Donna, 1:09-cv00541-GBL-TRJ (E.D. Va. Mar. 22, 2010) (same).
Moreover, while Defendants point out that Plaintiff’s
counsel proposed a billing rate of $300.00 per hour in another
case several years ago, Plaintiff’s counsel explains that his
decision to do so resulted from the unique circumstances of that
He has since requested and received higher billing
rates from this Court.
Finally, the Court will not, as Defendants request,
disregard the Declaration of J. Thomas Spiggle.
Spiggle does not regularly bring FLSA cases, the Court finds his
relatively extensive experience with plaintiff-side civil rights
matters sufficient to render him a credible source with respect
to Plaintiff’s counsel’s billing rate.
Accordingly, in light of Plaintiff’s experience, the
prevailing billing rates in this district, and the specific
circumstances of this case, the Court finds the proposed rate of
$445.00 per hour to be reasonable — with one minor exception.
It appears that Plaintiff’s counsel billed at his full rate for
1.13 hours of travel to and from the Court in connection with
the initial pretrial conference.
Kaplan [Dkt. 17-1] at 9.
See Declaration of Matthew B.
This Court has stated that it is
inappropriate for attorneys to bill for travel at their full
See Project Vote/Voting for Am., Inc. v. Long, 887
F. Supp. 2d 704, 716 (E.D. Va. 2012).
Accordingly, the Court
will award fees for this time spent on travel at a rate reduced
by 75%, or $111.25 per hour.
C. Litigation Costs
In addition to attorney’s fees, Plaintiff seeks to
recover $733.36 in litigation expenses, including court fees,
postage, and legal research costs.
Defendants contend that Plaintiff is not entitled to
recover the litigation expenses he seeks under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 54 or Local Civil Rule 54.
does not rely upon those rules in seeking costs.
Plaintiff seeks costs under the fee shifting provisions of the
“[T]he Fourth Circuit has held that district courts
have discretion to determine the costs that will be assessed
against losing defendants in FLSA cases.” Andrade v. Aerotek,
Inc., 852 F. Supp. 2d 637, 644 (D. Md. 2012).
This Court and
others have permitted plaintiffs to recover precisely the sorts
of costs Plaintiff seeks here.
See, e.g., Order [Dkt. 34],
Mendoza et al. v. Uriona Cabrera et al., 1:15-cv-00142-AJT-IDD
(E.D. Va. June 24, 2016); Alvarez v. ReadyClean Indus. Servs.,
Inc., No. 1:14-CV-00490-GBL, 2015 WL 5793605, at *4 (E.D. Va.
Sept. 29, 2015); Hargrove v. Ryla Teleservices, Inc., No. 2:11cv-344, 2013 WL 1897027, at *7 (E.D. Va. Apr. 12, 2013), report
and recommendation adopted, No. 2:11-cv-344, 2013 WL 1897110
(E.D. Va. May 3, 2013); Andrade, 852 F. Supp. 2d at 644.
Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff’s claimed costs are
For the reasons stated above, Plaintiff shall be
awarded $23,875.36 in attorney’s fees, comprising remuneration
for 53.37 hours of work at a rate of $445.00 per hour
($23,749.65) and 1.13 hours of travel at a rate of $111.25 per
Plaintiff shall further be awarded $733.36 in
An appropriate order shall issue.
October 11, 2016
James C. Cacheris
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?