United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
January 29, 2004.
GENNARO ANTHONY SPIGNESI
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
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
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
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.
(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
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
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
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
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.
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.