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Bowers v. Foto-Wear

November 15, 2007

LORIE R. BOWERS, PLAINTIFF
v.
FOTO-WEAR, INC., DONALD S. HARE, D. TROY SECHRIST, LORRAINE L. HARE, PAUL D. JETTER, MARK S. SAWCHAK, EACH INDIVIDUALLY AND AS AN OFFICER OF FOTO-WEAR, INC., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Vanaskie

MEMORANDUM

Plaintiff Lorie Bowers initiated this action against her former employer, Foto-Wear, Inc., and its officers, claiming that the company breached its employment contract with her by failing to pay her monies due under that agreement. After a jury trial, Ms. Bowers secured a verdict in her favor, with compensatory damages of $97,500, plus a liquidated damages award of $24,375. Ms. Bowers now moves for attorney fees, costs, and prejudgment interest pursuant to the Pennsylvania Wage Payment and Collection Law (the "WPCL"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 260.1, et seq., and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d). (Pl.'s Mot. Att'y Fees, Dkt. Entry 158, at p. 2-8.) Specifically, Ms. Bowers requests the following: (1) attorney fees for the legal services provided by Mr. Neil Grover in the amount of $123,054.75; (2) a separate award of $2,750 in attorney fees for the legal services provided by Mr. Richard M. Schall before litigation; (3) costs in the amount of $10,869.08, or in the alternative, $5,549.49; (4) prejudgment interest of $25,418.25 on the breach of contract compensatory damage award; and (5) prejudgment interest of $6,230.25 on the liquidated damages. (Id.) In sum, Ms. Bowers requests that $168,322.33 be added to the monetary judgment entered in her favor. (Id. ¶ 32.)

For the reasons discussed below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Ms. Bowers' motion. Ms. Bowers will be entitled to collect from Defendants $123,054.75 in attorney fees and $5,627.93 in costs, for a total of $128,682.68. The request for prejudgment interest is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On July 9, 2003, Ms. Bowers filed a five-count complaint. (Dkt. Entry 1.) She subsequently amended her complaint on May 19, 2004. (Dkt. Entry 27.) Ms. Bowers asserted the following claims against Foto-Wear, Inc. and its officers: (1) breach of employment contract for failing to pay monies; (2) violation of the WPCL, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 260.1, et seq., for failing to pay her commission and benefits due at termination; (3) violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (the "FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., and the Pennsylvania Minimum Wage Act (the "Pa. MWA"), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 333.102, et seq., for failing to pay her overtime wages; (4) unlawful retaliation against her for making complaints about Defendants' noncompliance with wage laws; and (5) violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act (the "CEPA"), N.J. Stat. Ann. 34:19-1, et seq., for terminating her employment in response to complaints about Defendants' noncompliance with wage laws. (Dkt. Entry 27.)

On March 22, 2007, in response to cross-motions for summary judgment, this Court denied both parties' motions for summary judgment on the breach of contract and WPCL claims, and granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Ms. Bowers' FLSA, Pa. MWA, CEPA, and retaliation claims. (Dkt. Entry 105.) The case then proceeded to trial on the contract and WPCL claims.*fn1

On July 17, 2007, a jury returned a verdict in favor of Ms. Bowers, finding that Foto-Wear, Inc. had breached the employment contract. (Dkt. Entry 147.) The Court then entered judgment in favor of Ms. Bowers and against Defendant Foto-Wear, Inc., on Count I of the amended complaint (breach of contract) in the principal amount of $97,500, with any award of prejudgment interest to be decided in a post-judgment decision. (Dkt. Entry 153, ¶ 1.) The Court also entered judgment in favor of Ms. Bowers and against Defendants Foto-Wear, Inc. and Loraine L. Hare, Executrix of the Estate of Donald S. Hare, on Count II of the amended complaint for the principal amount of unpaid salary and benefits in the amount of $97,500 plus liquidated damages of $24,375, pursuant to 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 260.10.*fn2 (Id. ¶ 2.)

II. DISCUSSION

Plaintiff has requested attorney fees of $125,804.75, costs in the amount of $10,869.08, or in the alternative $5,549.49, and prejudgment interest totaling $31,648.50. These requests will be addressed seriatim.

A. Attorney Fees

Plaintiff seeks to recover fees for the two attorneys that represented her before and during litigation. (Pl.'s Mot. Att'y Fees, Dkt. Entry 158, ¶ 8.) In particular, she seeks $123,054.75 for the services rendered by her trial counsel, Neil A. Grover, and $2,750 for her pre-litigation counsel, Richard M. Schall. (Id. ¶¶ 7, 8.)

According to the WPCL, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 260.9a(f), a court "shall . . . allow costs for reasonable attorney fees of any nature to be paid by the defendant." Courts have held that "an award of attorney fees to a prevailing employee in an action brought under the Wage and Payment Collection Law is mandatory, but the Court retains discretion to determine the amount." Bair v. Purcell, 500 F. Supp. 2d 468, 494 (M.D. Pa. 2007) (citing Oberneder v. Link Computer Corp., 548 Pa. 201, 206 (Pa. 1997); see also Hensley v. Echerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (emphasizing the discretion allotted to the district court in determining the amount of a fee award).

In the instant case, Plaintiff has employed the lodestar method to calculate her counsel fees. The lodestar method is typically employed in the statutory fee shifting framework. In re General Motors Corp. Pick-up Truck Fuel Tank Products Liability Litig., 55 F.3d 768, 821 (3d Cir. 1995). The lodestar multiplies the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. The result of the computation is the lodestar, which is strongly presumed to yield a reasonable fee. Washington v. Phila. County Court of Common Pleas, 89 F. 3d 1031, 1035 (1996) (citing City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 562 (1992)). The two factors of the lodestar, the number of hours and hourly rate, are to be assessed, and then a court may exercise its discretion to adjust the results obtained. Public Interest Research Group of N. J., Inc. v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1190 (1995).

A reasonable hourly rate is calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the community. Blum v. Sentson, 465 U.S. 886, 895-96 n.11 (1984). The prevailing party bears the burden of establishing by way of satisfactory evidence, "in addition to the attorney's own affidavits," that ...


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