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HINES v. CHRYSLER CORP.

August 1, 1997

LANA HINES, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRYSLER CORPORATION, Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCGLYNN

 Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's Petition for Counsel Fees and All Court Costs, Defendant's Response thereto, and Plaintiff's Supplemental Memorandum of Law in support of her petition. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff's petition is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

 I. Factual Background

 This claim for counsel fees arises from a breach of warranty action. In November of 1995, plaintiff Lana Hines purchased a 1995 Dodge Neon for approximately $ 24,060.80. Soon thereafter, plaintiff's vehicle experienced problems with its braking system. Despite Chrysler's efforts to repair the braking system, the vehicle still exhibited the same problems. In August of 1996, plaintiff filed a three count complaint in which she sought relief under: (1) the Magnuson-Moss Federal Warranty Act, 15 U.S.C. §§ 2301-12 ("the Magnuson-Moss Act"); (2) the Pennsylvania Uniform Commercial Code, 13 Pa. Cons.Stat. Ann. §§ 1101 et seq. (West 1984); and (3) the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, 73 PA. STAT. ANN. §§ 201-1 to 201-9.2 (West 1993) ("the Unfair Trade Practices Law"). Plaintiff sought to have Chrysler repurchase her vehicle and refund all of her purchase money plus interest paid to date, tax, title, and registration fees and other collateral charges. Plaintiff also sought judgment under the Unfair Trade Practices Law in an amount equal to three times the purchase price of the vehicle. Finally, plaintiff sought attorney fees.

 Pursuant to Local Rule 53.2, this case was referred to an arbitration panel which awarded the plaintiff $ 2,500 on the breach of warranty claim in plaintiff's complaint. On March 31, 1997, this award became the final judgment of this Court in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 654(a) and Local Rule 53.2. Since the parties have failed to agree on the amount of reasonable attorneys' fees and costs due to plaintiff, this remaining issue must be decided by the Court.

 Plaintiff's counsel now moves pursuant to the Magnuson-Moss Act and the Unfair Trade Practices Law for an award of $ 4,770.50 (including the 3.2 hours expended in drafting plaintiff's supplemental memorandum of law) in attorneys' fees and $ 662.50 in costs. Of the ninety-five billing entries in plaintiff's original fee petition, Chrysler objects to forty-five entries as unreasonable in light of this uncomplicated, "garden variety" breach of warranty claim. See Def. Resp. at 4. Chrysler also objects to the portion of plaintiff's requested costs which represents the amount of expert fees incurred in plaintiff's case.

 After careful scrutiny of plaintiff's fee petition and defendant's specific objections thereto, this Court will grant plaintiff's petition to the extent that plaintiff will receive $ 3,663.63 in attorneys' fees and costs from defendant.

 II. Discussion

 Although plaintiff only achieved limited success at the arbitration of this matter, she is still considered a "prevailing party" for purposes of the Magnuson-Moss Act, and may be entitled to attorneys' fees. The Magnuson-Moss Act provides:

 
if a consumer finally prevails in any action brought under paragraph (1) of this subsection, she may be allowed by the court to recover as part of the judgment a sum equal to the aggregate amount of costs and expenses (including attorneys' fees based on actual time expended) determined by the court to have been reasonably incurred by the plaintiff for or in connection with the commencement and prosecution of such action unless the court in its discretion shall determine that such an award of attorneys' fees would be inappropriate.

 15 U.S.C. § 2310(d)(2). In addition, the Unfair Trade Practices Law protects consumers against unfair methods of competition or unfair acts in the conduct of any trade. Pursuant to this statute, the court may, in its discretion, award additional relief "as it deems necessary or proper." 73 PA. STAT. ANN. § 201-9.2(a).

 As suggested by the statutes, an award of attorneys' fees is not automatic; rather, the party seeking fees bears the burden of proving that the fee request is reasonable by submitting evidence to support the hours worked and the rates charged. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983); Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). Opposing counsel may challenge the reasonableness of the fee requested with specific objections. Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183. The Court has a "great deal of discretion to adjust the fees in light of those objections." Id.; Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 721 (3d Cir. 1989).

 Once the Court reduces or eliminates billable hours and expenses that are "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary," the Court determines the amount of reasonable fees by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. This calculation yields the "lodestar," which can then be further adjusted upward or downward by the Court. Id.

 In her petition, plaintiff claims that two partners, one associate, and two paralegals from Kimmel & Silverman, P.C. spent a total of 36.1 hours on this matter from March 25, 1996 through June 11, 1997. Plaintiff also asserts that the two partners should be compensated at an hourly rate of $ 150, the associate at an hourly rate of $ 125, and the two paralegals at an hourly rate of $ 60. In light of Kimmel & Silverman's form-based, standardized approach to litigation, defendant ...


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