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SPIGNESI v. WARNER-JENKINSON

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania


January 29, 2004.

GENNARO ANTHONY SPIGNESI
v.
WARNER-JENKINSON d/b/a SENSIENT TECHNICAL COLORS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: RICHARD B. SURRICK, District Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Presently before the Court is the Motion of Gennaro Anthony Spignesi to Amend the Judgment (Doc. No. 32) and Plaintiff's Motion for Counsel Fees Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54 (Doc. No. 37). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Amend will be granted, and Plaintiff's Motion for Counsel Fees will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

  Plaintiff Gennaro Anthony Spignesi, filed a complaint for breach of his employment agreement (the "Agreement") against his former employer, Defendant Warner-Jenkinson d/b/a Sensient Technical Colors. Plaintiff alleged breach of contract, violation of the Wage Payment and Collection Law, 43 PA. CONS. STAT. § 260.1, et seq. (the "WPCL"), and requested specific performance. On December 8, 2003, this case proceeded to trial. At the close of the evidence, the parties stipulated that if the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff, he would be entitled to $141,981.00 in damages. That amount represented the salary due Plaintiff under the Agreement, prorated from the date he was fired, plus the value of his full benefits under the Agreement. On December 10, 2003, after deliberating, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff. Accordingly, on December 18, 2003, we entered judgment in favor of Plaintiff (Doc. No. 29). On December 31, 2003, we amended that judgment to include the stipulated amount of Page 2 damages, namely, $141,981.00 (Doc. No. 39). Plaintiff now asks that we further amend the judgment to include the appropriate prejudgment interest, and that we award Plaintiff his attorneys' fees.

 II. Prejudgment Interest

  In breach of contract actions in Pennsylvania, prejudgment interest is allowable at the legal rate of six percent from the date payment was wrongfully withheld. See Girard Bank v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 524 F. Supp. 884, 897 (E.D. Pa. 1981). Defendant concedes that Plaintiff is entitled to prejudgment interest, but disputes the amount of prejudgment interest claimed by Plaintiff. The parties' dispute is over the date on which payment was wrongfully withheld from Plaintiff, which obviously affects the amount of prejudgment interest due. Plaintiff claims that under the Agreement, he was entitled to the full damage amount the day he resigned his employment. Defendant argues that Plaintiff was only entitled to be paid his salary and benefits at such times as if the Agreement had not been terminated. In other words, Defendant claims that a portion of Plaintiff's salary and benefits was wrongfully withheld from Plaintiff on each scheduled "payday" over the duration of the Agreement. If Plaintiff was entitled to the full damage amount the day he resigned, Plaintiff is owed prejudgment interest in the amount of $13,746.87. If Plaintiff was only entitled to be paid his salary and benefits at such times as if the Agreement had not been terminated, then Plaintiff is owed prejudgment interest in the amount of $9,504.57.

  The damages recovered by Plaintiff were based on the following clause in the Agreement:

  In the event the employment of the Employee is terminated by mutual consent prior to January 31, 2003, the employee would receive a prorated amount equivalent to $121,000/yr. plus full benefits through January 31, 2003. Page 3

 (Doc. No. 14, Ex. H at 4.) There is no dispute that Plaintiff was terminated by mutual consent on April 30, 2002, his last day of employment. We conclude that the plain meaning of the foregoing clause is that "[i]n the event" Plaintiff were terminated by mutual consent, he would be immediately owed a "prorated amount" of his full salary and benefits. There is no language in the clause suggesting that Plaintiff would be paid the prorated amount over the length of the Agreement. The parties could have agreed that were Plaintiff terminated by mutual consent, he would continue to receive his salary and benefits through January 31, 2003. Instead, they agreed that Plaintiff would receive a "prorated amount" of his salary and benefits "[i]n the event" he were terminated by mutual consent. Accordingly, we agree that payment was wrongfully withheld from Plaintiff on his last day of employment, meaning Plaintiff is owed prejudgment interest in the amount of $13,746.87. We will amend the judgment accordingly.

 III. Attorneys' Fees

  As the prevailing party in this case, Plaintiff is entitled to an award of his reasonable attorneys' fees under the WPCL. 43 PA. CONS. STAT. § 260.9a(f). Plaintiff asks that we award $57,628.50 in attorneys' fees. Plaintiff calculates his fees using the lodestar method, which is a computation of the reasonable hourly rate for legal services multiplied by the number of hours reasonably expended by the attorney. See Hensley v. Eckherdart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Defendant does not challenge the hourly rate billed by Plaintiff's attorneys, but does argue that some of the hours they billed were unnecessary. See Ezekian v. Anacomp, Inc., C.A. No. 02-8471, 2003 WL 22518566, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 9, 2003) (holding that a court may reduce the lodestar calculation on the grounds that some of the hours expended were "excessive, redundant, or unnecessary") (quoting Clarke v. Whitney, 3 F. Supp.2d 631, 633-34 (E.D. Pa. 1998)). When Page 4 Defendant subtracts the purported unnecessary hours, it finds that Plaintiff's reasonable attorneys' fees amount to $40,230.50.

  Defendant raises three issues with respect to the hours that Plaintiff's attorneys billed. First, it claims that Plaintiff is not entitled to recover his attorneys' fees for the time they spent preparing the motion for summary judgment that Plaintiff filed. We denied Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment on November 6, 2003. (Doc. No. 16.) Defendant claims that Plaintiff's motion was frivolous, and, therefore, any fees incurred in its preparation were unnecessary. We do not agree. As Plaintiff points out, when he filed his motion for summary judgment, there was no record evidence disputing Barry Dobinsky's deposition testimony that Dobinsky had express authority from John Mudd to sign the Agreement. Whether or not Dobinsky had express authority determined whether or not the Agreement was binding on Defendant. In response to Plaintiff's motion, Defendant produced an affidavit from Mudd in which Mudd denied that he approved the Agreement. We held that Mudd's affidavit created a genuine issue of material fact for a jury, and, for that reason, denied Plaintiff's motion. (See id.) This does not mean that Plaintiff's motion was frivolous. It was not. Accordingly, we conclude that Plaintiff is entitled to recover his reasonable attorneys' fees incurred in preparing his motion for summary judgment.

  Next, Defendant claims that some of the hours billed by one of Plaintiff's attorneys were unnecessary and excessive. Two attorneys billed time on behalf of Plaintiff, a first-year associate, Samantha Peirce, Esq., and a more experienced attorney, Andrew Howe, Esq. Defendant claims that some of the hours billed by Peirce were unnecessary. Specifically, Defendant argues that because Peirce played no visible role during either the pre-trial conference or trial, Plaintiff should not be reimbursed for the time Peirce billed for attending either Page 5 proceeding. Furthermore, Defendant claims that because this was a "fairly straightforward employment contract dispute," Plaintiff should only be reimbursed for the time Peirce billed for preparing pretrial filings.

  We agree that some of the hours billed by Peirce were excessive. Specifically, we do not think it was reasonable for Peirce to bill time for attending the pre-trial conference and trial when she played no visible role in either proceeding. Therefore, we will reduce Plaintiff's fee award appropriately.*fn1 Cf. Clarke, 3 F. Supp.2d at 636 (reducing fees awarded to prevailing plaintiff by number of hours billed by plaintiff's attorney for a deposition the attorney attended, but did not participate in). We do not agree with Defendant that the other time billed by Peirce was unreasonable. After reviewing her time, we can find nothing unreasonable about either the amount of other time she billed or how she described that time. Thus, Plaintiff will be reimbursed for all of Peirce's time, with the exception of the time she billed for attending the pre-trial conference and trial.

  Last, Defendant disputes the fees requested by Plaintiff for the time his attorneys spent preparing for the deposition of Mudd because the Mudd deposition was ultimately cancelled. As Plaintiff points out, however, Mudd's deposition was not cancelled until after Plaintiff's attorneys had prepared for it. Moreover, that preparation was useful to Plaintiff when Mudd Page 6 testified at trial. Under the circumstances, we conclude that the time Plaintiff's attorneys spent preparing for Mudd's deposition was reasonable, even though that deposition ultimately was cancelled.

  An appropriate order follows.

  ORDER

  AND NOW, this ___ day of January, 2004, upon consideration of Motion of Gennaro Anthony Spignesi to Amend the Judgment (Doc. No. 32) and Plaintiff's Motion for Counsel Fees Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54 (Doc. No. 37). For the following reasons, Plaintiff's Motion to Amend will be GRANTED. The judgment in this civil action shall be amended to include prejudgment interest in the amount of $13,746.87. Plaintiff's Motion for Counsel Fees will be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. Plaintiff is awarded counsel fees in the amount of $52,958.50.

  IT IS SO ORDERED.


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