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Dixon-Rollins v. Experian Information Solutions

September 23, 2010

CARMEN DIXON-ROLLINS
v.
EXPERIAN INFORMATION SOLUTIONS, INC., ET AL



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Savage, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

After a jury verdict in her favor, Carmen Dixon-Rollins ("Dixon-Rollins") seeks attorneys' fees and costs from the defendant, Trans Union, LLC ("Trans Union"), pursuant to the fee shifting provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act ("FCRA"), 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681-1681x. Trans Union does not challenge the entitlement to attorneys' fees, but does object to the amount as unreasonable. It contends that Dixon-Rollins has failed to provide adequate support for Geoffrey Baskerville's hourly rate; has disproportionately allocated to Trans Union attorneys' fees that should be borne equally by all defendants; and has unjustifiably included a fee enhancement. Trans Union also objects to specific litigation fees and costs and fees for post-trial practice.

After a thorough review of the record, including the time recording sheets maintained by Dixon-Rollins's counsel, we shall award plaintiff $104,852.50 in legal fees and $5,278.71 in costs.*fn1

Background

Dixon-Rollins sued Trans Union, Experian Information Solutions, Inc. ("Experian"), Associate Credit and Collection Bureau, Inc. ("ACCB") and Chancellor Properties ("Chancellor"), for violations of the FCRA. The plaintiff settled with Experian on September 8, 2009, and ACCB and Chancellor on February 18, 2010.

On March 4, 2010, a jury trial commenced with Trans Union as the sole remaining defendant. After a two day trial, a jury found Trans Union liable for violating its duties under the FCRA. The jury awarded Dixon-Rollins actual damages and punitive damages. Trans Union filed a timely post verdict motion, which we have denied.

Dixon-Rollins has moved to collect attorneys' fees and costs for prevailing in the action against Trans Union and for fees and costs associated with her attorneys' post-trial practice.

Standard of Review

A prevailing party under the FCRA is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. See 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681n(a)(3), 1681o(a)(2). The prevailing party bears the burden of demonstrating that the fee request is reasonable. See Maldonado v. Houstoun, 256 F.3d 181, 184 (3d Cir. 2001); Sheffer v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc., 290 F. Supp. 2d 538, 543 (E.D. Pa. 2003). Determining the amount of a reasonable fee requires a two-part analysis. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Maldonado, 256 F.3d at 184; Sheffer, 290 F. Supp. 2d at 543. First, we must review the number of hours to assess whether they were reasonably expended. Id. Second, we must decide whether the attorney's hourly rate is reasonable. Id. Once these two numbers are established, they are multiplied to yield the lodestar, which is presumed to be a reasonable fee. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). After the lodestar is established, the burden then shifts to the adverse party to demonstrate that it is unreasonable. Id.

A district court cannot decrease an award based on factors not raised by the adverse party. Id. (quoting Cunningham v. City of McKeesport, 753 F.2d 262, 267 (3d Cir. 1985)). Objections mustbe specific. See U.S. v. Eleven Vehicles, 200 F.3d 203, 211-12 (3d Cir. 2000); Scheffer, 290 F.Supp.2d at 544. Nevertheless, once the adverse party objects to a fee request, we have considerable discretion to "adjust the fee award in light of those objections." Rode, 892 F.2d 1177.

Discussion

Hourly Rate

A reasonable hourly rate is generally calculated according to the prevailing market rate in the community for similar service by lawyers of "reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S 886, 896 n.11 (1984); Smith v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 107 F.3d 223, 225 (3d Cir. 1997). The prevailing party bears the burden of establishing that its requested hourly rates are in line with comparable market rates for legal services. Smith, 107 F.3d at 225.

Trans Union only disputes Geoffrey Baskerville's rate, arguing that his $340 per hour rate is excessive and unsupported. Trans Union points out that in Morris & Posner v. I.C. Systems, Inc., No. 06-2133, 2009 WL 1362594, at *3 (E.D. Pa. May 15, 2009), a consumer protection action decided approximately one year ago, Baskerville's hourly rate was approved at $290 per hour. It argues that Dixon-Rollins has failed to justify a 17 percent increase in the hourly rate in such a short period of time.

In response, Dixon-Rollins submitted the declaration of Patrick Gibbons, an attorney practicing in Philadelphia, and a list of the consumer protection cases in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on which Baskerville worked. She contends that Baskerville's hourly rate is justified by his eighteen years of general litigation experience and the increase in his specific experience and skill in handling consumer litigation matters since the Morris & Posner case.

Although Baskerville may have gained more consumer protection experience, there is no justification for the rate requested in the fee petition. Even considering his increased experience, we find it unreasonable that his hourly rate grew 17 percent in one year. In determining a reasonable rate, we are guided by the Community Legal Services, Inc. ("CLS") schedule of hourly rates. See Maldonado, 256 F.3d at 187 (holding that the attorneys' fee schedule composed by CLS is "a fair reflection of the prevailing market rates in Philadelphia"). The CLS schedule suggests that attorneys with sixteen to twenty years' experience, Baskerville's range, should ...


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