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Arneault v. O'Toole

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

April 17, 2014

EDSON R. ARNEAULT, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
KEVIN F. O'TOOLE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

ROBERT C. MITCHELL, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before the Court are Defendants', Leonard G. Ambrose, III, Nicholas C. Scott, Scott's Bayfront Development, Inc., ("Scott Defendants") Vincent Azzarello, John Bittner, Robert Griffin, David Hughes, MTR Gaming Group, Inc., Presque Isle Downs, Inc., Narciso Rodriguez-Cayro, and James V. Stanton's ("MTR Defendants") motions for attorney's fees and costs. [ECF Nos. 172, 174, 175]. For the reasons set forth below, Defendants' motions are granted in part and denied in part.

II. BACKGROUND

The instant matter was originally filed by Plaintiffs on April 15, 2011 under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 against twenty-six separate Defendants alleging wrongdoing during the licensing process of Presque Isle Downs, a casino located in Erie, Pennsylvania. After Defendants moved to miss Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, the court dismissed all of Plaintiffs' federal claims with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim, and declined to exercise jurisdiction over the remaining state law claims without prejudice to Plaintiffs' right to assert them in state court. See Memo. Op. and Order [ECF No. 84]. Subsequently, Defendants moved for an award of attorneys' fees, which the court referred to a special master to issue a Report and Recommendation as to the amount of fees, if any, to be awarded to Defendants. The special master recommended that Defendants' motions be granted, but did not set forth the amount of attorneys' fees due. The court adopted the Report and Recommendation and entered an order granting Defendants attorneys' fees but did not set forth the amount owed. Accordingly, the court referred this issue to the undersigned and a settlement conference was held regarding the amounts of attorneys' fees to be awarded to Defendants. We found that Plaintiffs stymied any legitimate settlement discussions and participated in the settlement conference in bad faith. We also found sanctions in the form of attorneys' fees and costs for bad faith participation in the settlement conference appropriate, and issued a memorandum order consistent therewith. See 3/20/2014 Memo. Order [ECF No. 164]. Plaintiffs' objections to the imposition of sanctions were overruled. See 3/27/2014 Order [ECF No. 169]. Defendants filed their fee petitions for their participation in the settlement conference, to which Plaintiffs responded.

Defendant Ambrose requests fees in the amount of $3, 650 and costs in the amount of $593.33. The Scott Defendants request fees in the amount of $1, 716 and costs in the amount of $2, 074.75. The MTR Defendants request fees in the amount of $23, 509.00 and costs in the amount of $3, 131.38.

III. ANALYSIS

An "initial estimate of a reasonable attorney's fee is properly calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on litigation times a reasonable hourly rate." Blum v. Stetson, 465 U.S. 886, 888 (1984). This estimate is referred to as the "lodestar" figure, and is presumed reasonable. Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Counsel, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986). To calculate the reasonable rate, the district court must consider the prevailing market rates in the relevant community, the experience and skill of the attorney, and compare the rates to those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation. Lohman v. Duryea Borough, 2008 WL 2951070, at *6 (M.D.Pa. July 30, 2008) (citing Loughner v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 260 F.3d 173, 180 (3d Cir. 2001); Maldonado v. Houstoun, 256 F.3d 181, 184 (3d Cir. 2001)).

The district court must also determine whether the number of hours spent by the attorney is reasonable. In doing so, the court "should review the time charges, decided whether the hours claimed were reasonably expended for each of the particular purposes described, and then exclude those that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.'" Pub. Interest Research Grp. of N.J., Inc. v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1188 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). See also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983).

Here, Defendant Ambrose suggests a rate of $200.00 per hour for a total of 18.25 hours. The Scott Defendants suggest a rate of $220.00 per hour for a total of 7.8 hours. The MTR Defendants suggest a rate of $480.00 for Henry F. Siedzikowski, Esq., for a total of 19.0 hours, $480.00 an hour for Frederick P. Santarelli, Esq. for a total of 21.7 hours, and $290.00 an hour for Krista K. Beatty, Esq., for a total of 11.2 hours.

a. Hours

Defendant Ambrose indicates that a total of 18.25 hours were spent in preparation for the settlement conference, including preparing a confidential statement relevant to settlement, drafting various motions and responses to motions in contemplation of the settlement conference, preparing a confidentiality agreement regarding its legal bills submitted to Plaintiff, drafting and responding to various emails between counsel. The hours spent by Defendant Ambrose in preparing for and attending the settlement conference are reasonable.

The Scott Defendants indicate that a total of 7.8 hours were spent drafting a statement relative to settlement, for telephone conferences, and preparing for and attending the settlement conference. The hours spent by the Scott Defendants in preparing for and attending the settlement conference are also reasonable.

Lastly, the MTR Defendants claim that three attorneys worked for a total of 51.9 hours in preparing for and attending the settlement conference. This amount of time is unreasonable and excessive. Specifically, the MTR Defendants allege that it took 20.6 hours and three separate attorneys to draft the confidential settlement statement. The other defendants each took 6.9 hours and 1.8 hours to draft their statements. While it is noted that the MTR Defendants consist of eight separate defendants, taking 20.6 hours to draft an eleven-paged settlement statement that outlines the background of the case and the party's proposition for settlement is not ...


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