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HALL v. HARLEYSVILLE INS. CO.

October 24, 1996

THOMAS HALL AND DENISE HALL, Plaintiffs,
v.
HARLEYSVILLE INSURANCE CO., et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOYNER

 JOYNER, J.

 OCTOBER 24, 1996

 Before the Court are Plaintiffs' Petition and Supplemental Petition for Attorney's Fees pursuant to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681n and 1681o. For the reasons that follow, we award Plaintiffs $ 87,821.48 of the $ 114,524.23 in fees and costs that they request.

 BACKGROUND

 We have previously recited the events that gave rise to this action, see Hall v. Harleysville Ins. Co., 896 F. Supp. 478 (E.D.Pa. 1996), so we very briefly summarize them here. Plaintiff Thomas Hall filed a claim for workers' compensation benefits with Defendant Harleysville *fn1" in 1992. Plaintiffs allege that, as part of its claims investigation, Harleysville requested Plaintiffs' credit reports from the detective agency Loss Prevention Consultants, Inc., (LCPI), paid for these reports upon receipt, and then forwarded them to its attorneys for defense of Mr. Hall's claims. As a result, Plaintiffs instituted this action against Harleysville for willful and negligent noncompliance with the Fair Credit Reporting Act and for an invasion of privacy under Pennsylvania common law. Plaintiffs also named LCPI, its principals, John Ciaccio and Philip A. Olshevski, and its affiliated company, COD Associates, Inc., as Co-Defendants (collectively the "Detective Defendants").

 After significant pre-trial motion practice, Plaintiffs reached a confidential settlement with Detective Defendants in January 1996. Plaintiffs' case against Harleysville was called to trial on May 13, 1996, but with the aid of the Court the parties settled that day. Plaintiffs and Harleysville agreed that the financial terms of their settlement would also remain confidential, and that attorney's fees would be determined by this Court. Plaintiffs have submitted petitions claiming total fees and expenses incurred in this litigation in the amount of $ 114,524.23. We now address Harleysville's numerous objections to this figure.

 DISCUSSION

 I. PLAINTIFFS' ELIGIBILITY FOR FEES AND COSTS UNDER THE STATUTE

 The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) provides in relevant part that:

 15 U.S.C. § 1681n. *fn2" Harleysville does not dispute that the language "is liable" entitles Plaintiffs as a matter of right to attorney's fees because their action was "successful" within the meaning of the statute. *fn3" Rather, Harleysville argues that Plaintiffs' petitions for fees and costs should be denied, or in the alternative significantly reduced, because the evidence does not support the award that Plaintiffs request.

 II. REASONABLENESS OF FEES AND COSTS CLAIMED BY PLAINTIFFS

 The Third Circuit has clearly articulated the legal principles that govern our disposition of Plaintiffs' petitions. As the party seeking attorney's fees, Plaintiffs have "the burden to prove that [their] request for attorney's fees is reasonable." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). Plaintiffs "must 'submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed'" to meet this burden. Id. (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983)). Harleysville then has "the burden to challenge, by affidavit or brief with sufficient specificity to give fee applicants notice, the reasonableness of the requested fee." Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183 (citing Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713 (3d Cir. 1989)). We have considerable discretion to fix the fee amount in the light of these objections, but may not make reductions on our own. Bell, 884 F.2d at 721.

 A. THE LODESTAR CALCULATION

 The parties agree that our analysis begins with the so-called "lodestar" formula. The Supreme Court has held that "the 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, 461 U.S. at 433. The product of this calculation is the lodestar, and it "is strongly presumed to yield a reasonable fee." Washington v. Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, 89 F.3d 1031 (3d Cir. 1996)(citing City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 120 L. Ed. 2d 449, 112 S. Ct. 2638 (1992)).

 Plaintiffs claim a lodestar in the amount of $ 96,519.00 for fees incurred through August 6, 1996. *fn4" Harleysville vigorously contests this figure, however, and argues that Plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden of establishing either element of the lodestar formula. 1. Reasonable Rate

 In general, the rule is that a reasonable hourly rate is calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the community. Washington, 89 F.3d at 1035 (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n. 11, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984)); see also Student P.I.R.G. v. AT & T Bell Laboratories, 842 F.2d 1436 (3d Cir. 1988)(adopting this rule). As the Court explained in Blum,

 
to inform and assist the court in the exercise of its discretion, the burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory evidence-- in addition to the attorney's own affidavits-- that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill.

 Id.

 Plaintiffs submit that two attorneys, a legal assistant, a law student, and several paralegals billed time to this case. They request hourly rates of $ 190.00 for Cary Flitter, ("Flitter"), a partner in the Montgomery County, Pa. firm of Lundy, Flitter & Beldecos, P.C., and lead counsel in this case, $ 100 per hour for Flitter's associate Beth Schulman ("Schulman"), and $ 50 per hour for the support staff. The only evidence Plaintiffs submit in support of the rates requested for Schulman and the support staff is an affidavit in which Flitter himself attests that, given the qualifications and skill of these individuals, the fees requested represent appropriate and reasonable market rates. In support of Flitter's $ 190.00 hourly fee, Flitter submits his own affidavit *fn5" and two opinions of District Courts in this Circuit approving prior Flitter fee petitions. In Lake v. First Nationwide Bank, the court approved a fee of $ 200 per hour for Flitter's services in a RESPA class action suit, though the court qualified its ruling by stating that "while the rates appear on the 'high side' ... , they are not out of line with the market rate in the community for counsel of similar experience and skill." 900 F. Supp. 726, 735 (E.D.Pa. 1995) (Robreno, J.). Plaintiffs also direct us to a seven-year old unpublished opinion in Linan-Faye Construction v. Housing Authority of the City of Camden, No. 88-CV-5410, slip op. at 4 (D.N.J. June 22, 1989)(Brotman, J.), in which the court approved an hourly fee for Flitter of $ 125.

 Harleysville submits no evidence suggesting that these rates are unreasonable, but argues instead that the Flitter affidavit and opinions in Lake and Linan-Faye are insufficient evidence to support the fees requested in this case. Harleysville relies on the Third Circuit's decision in Washington, 89 F.3d at 1035-37, for its argument that without "evidence in the form of affidavits regarding the reasonable market rates from other attorneys in the area ... the 'Lodestar' cannot ...


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