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Gonzalez v. Bustleton Services

August 18, 2010

WALTER GONZALEZ, EDER MORALES AND LUIS ALBERTO ROBLERO
v.
BUSTLETON SERVICES, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elizabeth T. Hey Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

After a bench trial, I entered judgment in favor of Plaintiffs including prejudgment interest in the following amounts: Mr. Gonzalez - $5,012.44; Mr. Morales - $6,254.75; and Mr. Roblero - $7,228.49. Plaintiffs have now filed a Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs see Doc. 50, to which Defendant has responded, see Doc. 53, asking for reductions to counsels' hours and rates. Defendant has also sought further reduction of the fees and costs based on a Rule 68 Offer of Judgment made before trial. Plaintiffs have filed a Reply. See Doc. 55. For the reasons that follow, I will award the Plaintiffs a total of $73,195 for attorneys fees and $2,871.78 for costs.

I. LODESTAR

Although the calculation of attorneys' fees is complicated in this case by the Defendant's Offer of Judgment, I will begin by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). This calculation results in the "lodestar," which is presumptively correct, but which may be adjusted as the court finds appropriate. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). The burden is on the plaintiff to show that the fee request is proper and supported by evidence. Id. "Once the adverse party raises objections to the fee request, the district court has a great deal of discretion to adjust the fee award in light of those objections." Id.

A. Number of Hours

Plaintiffs have submitted a petition for fees totaling 331.7 hours, for a total of $104,357.50. See Doc. 30 at 13. Defendant challenges a significant portion of these hours.

1. Clerical Tasks

Defendant challenges several entries that are ordinarily performed by a paralegal or administrative assistant.*fn1 I agree that counsel are not entitled to compensation for purely administrative activities. Entering a case in the management system, mailing letters, preparing a cover letter, and talking with a process server or a court clerk to order a transcript are tasks which fall within the ambit of an administrative assistant. Specifically I find that Mr. Santillo's entries on lines 3, 8, 11, 17, 22, 23, 26, 86, 88, 144, 148, 149, 174, 192, 208 for a total of 3.4 hours, are purely administrative or clerical duties.*fn2 Similarly, I find that Mr. Winebrake's entries on lines 146 and 169, submitting an opinion to Lexis for publication and inquiring about the status of a transcript, for .2 hours, are administrative.*fn3

Several of the judges of our court have concluded that clerical tasks should not be billed at an hourly rate. See In re Unisys Corp. Retiree Med. Benefits Erisa Litig., No. 03-3924, 2008 WL 2600364, at *13 (E.D. Pa. Jun. 26, 2008). "Since the costs of clerical work, such as filing and copying, are ordinarily considered to be part of an attorney's rate as office overhead, they will not be compensated." Sheffer v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc., 290 F.Supp.2d 538, 549 (E.D. Pa. 2003) (citing Doe v. Ward, No. 98-1746, 2003 WL 22187170, at *10 (W.D.Pa. Sept.16, 2003) (finding that clerical tasks are office overhead and therefore incorporated into attorney's rate)); see also Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 285-88 (1989) ("purely clerical or secretarial tasks should not be billed at a paralegal rate, regardless of who performs them"); Halderman v. Pennhurst State Sch. & Hosp., 49 F.3d 939, 942 (3d Cir.1995) (it is not appropriate to allow "the wasteful use of highly skilled and highly priced talent for matters easily delegable to non-professionals"). Thus, these hours will not be compensated.

2. Time Drafting the Complaint

Defendant objects to the 6.7 hours Mr. Santillo spent drafting the Complaint. Defendant points out that the Complaint was six pages, only one of which was dedicated to the facts of the case. The other pages identify the parties to the case and contain boilerplate conclusions of law. Having reviewed the Complaint again, I must agree. Of the 33 numbered paragraphs, only 7 relate to the facts of the case. While I recognize that this case was record intensive and required counsel to review a substantial amount of paperwork, 6.7 hours is excessive considering the bare-bones nature of the Complaint. I will reduce the hours spent on preparing the Complaint to 4.5, resulting in a reduction of 2.2 hours.

3. Hours between October 9, 2008 and March 18, 2009

a. New Jersey Legal Services

Defendant next objects to substantial hours spent by Plaintiffs' counsel in preparing a damages analysis and preparing for the arbitration hearing. Specifically, Defendant objects to the plethora of hours billed for discussions with New Jersey Legal Services. During this time, Mr. Santillo spent 4.9 hours contacting or discussing the case with New Jersey Legal Services. (Time Entries, lines 1, 12, 14, 16, 19, 27, 30, 31, 33, 39, 42, 46, 55, and 59).*fn4 The court finds essential the original discussions with New Jersey Legal Services, when the case was referred. However, I question the necessity of the ongoing updates. In an effort to explain this time, Plaintiffs' counsel states that the ongoing calls were necessary because New Jersey Legal Services was providing translation services. See Doc. 50 at 1 n.1. Counsel would discuss specifics with New Jersey Legal Services, who would then convey the information to Plaintiffs. The court does not find this an efficient mechanism of communication. Moreover, the fee petition reflects that at some point after the arbitration, counsel began communicating directly with the clients, obviating the need for communication through New Jersey Legal Services. See Time Entries, lines 69, 89, 101, 113. Therefore, I will eliminate all but the first .6 hours when the case was original referred, resulting in a reduction of 4.3 hours.

b. Remaining Hours of Damages Analysis and Settlement

In addition to the hours noted above spent in communication with New Jersey Legal Services, Defendant also takes issue with the time Plaintiffs' counsel spent preparing a damages estimate and settlement. As previously mentioned, the court is well- aware that this was a record intensive case. Thus, the ...


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