United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
For JEN GSELL, Plaintiff: JASON RETTIG, LEAD ATTORNEY, HATBORO, PA.
EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.
This case raises the question of whether a lawyer, who is not admitted to practice in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (" E.D. Pa." ), generally or pro hac vice, may recover attorney's fees as a " consulting" attorney, under a fee-shifting statute, for work performed in a case in the E.D. Pa. in which his client was the prevailing party. The answer is that, under the circumstances of this case, he may not.
a. The Underlying Action
Plaintiff Jen Gsell (" Plaintiff" ) filed a one-count complaint against Defendant Rubin & Yates, LLC (" Defendant" ), a debt collection firm doing business in Pennsylvania. Plaintiff asserts that during a February 2013 collection call, Defendant communicated information to third parties regarding a debt owed by Plaintiff, used false, deceptive, or misleading representations or means in connection with the collection of a debt, and threatened to take legal action where no such action was actually intended, all in violation of the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 (" FDCPA" ). See Complaint ¶ ¶ 14-17, ECF No. 1.
Plaintiff asserts no actual damages caused by Defendant's FDCPA violations. However, the FDCPA provides for an award of up to $1,000.00 in civil damages for a plaintiff suing a debt collector for statutory violations, exclusive of any actual damages sustained. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(2). In addition to $1,000.00 in statutory damages, Plaintiff seeks $2,690.10 in attorney's fees and $400.00 in costs. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3) (providing for an award of reasonable attorney's fees and costs to a prevailing party in a successful FDCPA enforcement action).
The underlying action resulted in a default judgment being entered against Defendant, as Defendant, although properly served and thus aware of the Complaint, chose not to respond. As prevailing party, Plaintiff is thus entitled to an award of $1,000.00 in statutory damages, plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Whether the attorney's fees sought by Plaintiff are recoverable in this case raises a separate matter which the Court must now address.
b. The Motion for Attorney's Fees and Breakdown of Work Performed
Plaintiff is ostensibly represented by Jason Rettig, Esq., a solo practitioner admitted to practice in both Pennsylvania and the E.D. Pa. Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees reveals that Ryan Lee, Esq., a California-based attorney admitted to the state bars of California and Arizona but not Pennsylvania or the E.D. __ Pa. __, performed substantial work in this case on behalf of Plaintiff. Mr. Lee is an associate of Krohn & Moss, Ltd., a national law firm which specializes in bringing FDCPA and similar consumer actions in different jurisdictions throughout the country. Mr. Lee did not seek pro hac vice admission, nor did he enter an appearance in the case. Regardless, Mr. Lee now seeks compensation as a " consulting" attorney in the case.
Plaintiff's underlying case apparently was initiated on February 18, 2013, when Mr. Lee received an inquiry from Plaintiff (an apparent visitor to Krohn & Moss's website), spoke with Plaintiff, and researched the initial viability of Plaintiff's FDCPA claim. See Pl. Mot. Default Judgment, Ex. 6, Statement of Services 2, ECF No. 9-6. Between February 18, and February 22, 2013, Mr. Lee spent 4 hours interviewing Plaintiff, organizing the underlying facts of Plaintiff's claim, and drafting a complaint. Id. at 1-2. On February 22, 2013, Mr. Rettig billed .2 hours for reviewing and approving the Complaint drafted by Mr. Lee. Id. at 1.
On March 29, 2013, Mr. Lee prepared a pre-litigation demand, billing .2 hours, and Mr. Rettig reviewed and approved this demand, billing .1 hour. Id.
On September 20, 2013, a Krohn & Moss paralegal prepared the Complaint for filing, and the Complaint was filed on September 30, 2013. Id. Service on Defendant was carried out by a process server on October 17, 2013. Id.
On December 4, 2013, Mr. Lee prepared a " Request for Entry of Default," billing .6 hours, and Mr. Rettig reviewed and approved this request, billing .2 hours. Id. On February 12, 2014, Mr. Lee drafted a second request for entry of default, which Mr. Rettig again reviewed and approved, each apparently billing .2 hours. Id.
On February 28, 2014, Mr. Lee spent 1 hour preparing a Motion for Default Judgment, which Mr. Rettig spent .3 hours reviewing and approving. Id.
Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees is limited to the described work performed between February 18, 2013, and February 28, 2014, and thus seeks recovery for work performed by:
(i) Mr. Rettig, for 1 hour, at a rate of $290.00 per hour--totaling $290.00;
(ii) Mr. Lee, for 6.3 hours, at a rate of $387.00 per hour--totaling $2,438.10 ; and
(iii) a Krohn & Moss paralegal, for 1.6 hours, at a rate of $145.00 per hour--totaling $232.00.
See Statement of Services 4. Plaintiff thus seeks recovery of $2,960.10 in attorney's fees, plus $400.00 for costs incurred in filing and service of the Complaint, for a total of $3,360.10.
II. RULES OF ADMISSION
a. Purpose of the Rules
The Court has a duty to maintain the integrity of proceedings and the confidence of the public. These obligations cannot be upheld without a means of restricting admission to practice to individuals who are familiar with and are committed to the ethical and procedural standards required of officers of the Court. See Tolchin v. Supreme Court of N.J.,111 F.3d 1099, 1110-11 (1997) (upholding a New Jersey state rule mandating that attorneys practicing in the state maintain a " bona fide" office, noting that state courts " have a substantial interest in assuring the availability of and overseeing attorneys practicing within their borders" ); see also Leis v. Flynt, 439 U.S. 438, 445 n. 5, 99 S.Ct. 698, 58 L.Ed.2d 717 (1979) (recognizing, in a case upholding a state court's right to restrict pro hac vice admission of out-of-state attorneys, the " traditional authority of state courts to control who may be admitted to practice before them" );
Goldfarb v. Va. State Bar, 421 U.S. 773, 792, 95 S.Ct. 2004, 44 L.Ed.2d 572 ...