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Stockport Mountain Corporation, LLC v. Norcross Wildlife Foundation, Inc.

United States District Court, Third Circuit

January 13, 2014

STOCKPORT MOUNTAIN CORPORATION, LLC, Plaintiff
v.
NORCROSS WILDLIFE FOUNDATION, INC., Defendant

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

JAMES M. MUNLEY, District Judge.

Before the court for disposition is Defendant Norcross Wildlife Foundation, Inc.'s (hereinafter "Norcross") application for reasonable costs and attorneys' fees. (Doc. 65). Plaintiff Stockport Mountain Corporation, LLC (hereinafter "Stockport") filed objections to Norcross' fee request (Doc. 69) making this matter ripe for disposition.

Background

The underlying case arose from a dispute over the interpretation of a Conservation Easement (hereinafter "the Easement"). On March 18, 2011, Stockport filed a complaint against Norcross seeking a declaratory judgment that the Easement permitted oil and natural gas exploration and drilling. Norcross countered with a request for a declaration that the Easement prohibited such activities. After carefully considering the parties' arguments, the court granted Norcross summary judgment, declaring that the Easement prohibited Stockport's proposed natural gas activities. (Doc. 61, Mem. & Order dated Aug. 27, 2013).

The court also granted Norcross' request for reasonable costs and attorneys' fees pursuant to Section 7.2 of the Easement.[1] (Id. at 38-39). On September 24, 2013, Norcross submitted a timely application for reasonable costs and attorneys' fees. (Doc. 65, Appl. for Reasonable Costs & Atty's Fees). On October 8, 2013, Stockport objected to Norcross' fee request, bringing the case to its present posture.

Discussion

The Supreme Court has held that costs, attorneys' fees and expenses may be awarded to a prevailing party in a federal litigation where authorized by statute or enforceable contract. See Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc'y , 421 U.S. 240, 257 (1975); Hall v. Cole , 412 U.S. 1, 4 (1973). Here, the Easement, which constitutes an enforceable contract between Norcross and Stockport, expressly provides for an award of attorneys' fees and costs to the prevailing party in the event of legal action taken to enforce the Easement's terms. Norcross, the prevailing party in the underlying action, now seeks a total award of $184, 775.66 in attorneys' fees, costs and expert witness fees. (Doc. 65, Appl. for Reasonable Costs & Atty's Fees ΒΆ 12). Norcross' fee request is comprised of the following: (1) $3, 582.06 in costs; (2) $142, 776.50 in Rosenn, Jenkins & Greenwald, LLP's (hereinafter "RJ&G") attorneys fees; (3) $19, 799.10 in expert witness fees; and (4) $18, 618.00 in Attorney R. Anthony Waldron's fees. Stockport does not object to Norcross' request for costs, RJ&G's fees and expert witness fees but objects to Attorney Waldron's fees. Thus, the court will first address Norcross' costs, RJ&G's fees and expert witness fees and then address Waldron's fees.

A. No Objections-Costs, RJ&G's Fees and Expert Witness Fees

As previously stated, Norcross seeks $3, 582.06 in costs, $142, 776.50 in RJ&G's fees and $19, 799.10 in expert witness fees. Stockport does not object to this portion of Norcross' fee request. Where the opposing party fails to object to a fee request, the court is prohibited from reducing, sua sponte, the fee award. As the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has stated:

[W]hen an opposing party has been afforded the opportunity to raise a material fact issue as to the accuracy of representations as to hours spent, or the necessity for their expenditure, and declines to do so, no reason occurs to us for permitting the trial court to disregard uncontested affidavits filed by a fee applicant.

Cunningham v. City of McKeesport , 753 F.2d 262, 267 (3d Cir. 1985), vacated on other grounds, 478 U.S. 1015 (1986), and reinstated, 807 F.2d 49 (3d Cir. 1986); see also United States v. Eleven Vehicles, Their Equip. & Accessories , 200 F.3d 203, 211-12 (3d Cir. 2000) (stating that "in this circuit, a court may not reduce counsel fees sua sponte as excessive, redundant or otherwise unnecessary in the absence of a sufficiently specific objection to the amount of fees requested."). Therefore, the court will award Norcross $146, 358.06 in RJ&G's fees and costs and $19, 799.10 in expert witness fees.

B. Objection to Attorney Waldron's Fees

Next, the court addresses Stockport's objection to Attorney Waldron's fees.[2] Where the opposing party objects to the requesting party's calculation of its reasonable costs and attorneys' fees, courts within the Third Circuit first calculate the "lodestar" which is the "number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate" to determine a reasonable fee. McKenna v. City of Phila. , 582 F.3d 447, 455 (3d Cir. 2009) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart , 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). To the extent the opposing party seeks to challenge the fees sought, "the opposing party must then object with sufficient specificity' to the request." Id . (quoting Rode v. Dellarciprete , 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990)). A district court has wide discretion to decrease attorneys' fees in light of the objections presented. Rode , 892 F.2d at 1183.

Norcross submitted a request for Attorney Waldron's fees in the amount of $18, 618.00, which Norcross argues is reasonable given the complexity of the case and the fact that it excluded time billed for matters unrelated to the enforcement of the Easement. Stockport argues that Waldron's fees should be excluded from Norcross' total award as excessive or unnecessary because they were not incurred in "enforcing" the terms of ...


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