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Pollara v. Ocean View Investment Holding LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

May 21, 2015

FRANK POLLARA, Plaintiff,
v.
OCEAN VIEW INVESTMENT HOLDING LLC, et al., Defendant.

OPINION AND ORDER

DONETTA W. AMBROSE, Senior District Judge.

Pending before the Court are Motions for costs and attorney fees filed by Plaintiff's counsel, as well as a Motion for prejudgment interest. Attorney Cameron, who represented Plaintiff early in this proceeding, has filed a Motion for fees and costs. Plaintiff's Motions for fees and costs, as well as Attorney Cameron's Motion, will be granted, on a modified basis. Plaintiff's Motion for prejudgment interest will be denied.

I. ATTORNEY FEES

Title 5 of the Virgin Islands Code, Section 541(b), governs the award of attorney's fees, which are defined by statute as awardable costs, in the Virgin Islands. The decision to award costs or attorney's fees is entirely discretionary. Addie v. Kjaer, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 134500, at *8 (D.V.I. Sept. 24, 2014).

In this action, Plaintiff prevailed on claims of unjust enrichment, and intentional and negligent misrepresentation. The jury awarded Plaintiffs $391, 626.00 on those claims. Presently, Plaintiff asserts that Attorney Rohn bills between $400 and $900 per hour, and in this case, seeks a rate of $500 per hour, totaling $285, 975.00. Attorney Fenster, an associate with eight years of experience, seeks a rate of $350 per hour. Fees claimed for Ms. Fenster total $44, 450.00. Moreover, Plaintiff utilized unidentified "other associate attorneys and contract attorneys" (not including Attorney Cameron, apparently, who is separately invoiced). Plaintiff seeks fees at a rate of $250 per hour for these "other" attorneys, totaling $24, 875.00. Finally, Plaintiff seeks fees paid over to Attorney Cameron, in the amount of $19, 000.00. Defendant, relying on the exception to the fee-shifting statute that prohibits fee awards in personal injury cases, contends that Plaintiff is not entitled to a fee award. I disagree that this case involved personal injuries that fall within the exclusion. Nonetheless, I will reduce the fees requested for other reasons, as discussed infra.

I am to apply the "lodestar" method of assessing fees, by considering the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. In re Kool, Mann, Coffee & Co v. Crow., 2007 Bankr. LEXIS 1313, at *4 (Bankr. D.V.I. Apr. 17, 2007). Thus, the Court undertakes a two-step inquiry: First, the Court determines whether the hours billed were "reasonably expended, " excluding time billed that is "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Berne Corp. v. Gov't of the Virgin Islands, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13128, at *27 (D.V.I. Feb. 3, 2012). Second, the Court determines whether the hourly rate sought is reasonable, in comparison to prevailing market rates in the relevant community "for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990); Loughner v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 260 F.3d 173, 180 (3d Cir. 2001). The party seeking an award of fees bears the burden of proving that the request is reasonable. Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183.

"In determining whether the moving party has met its burden, [the Third Circuit has] stressed that it is necessary that the [District] Court go line, by line, by line' through the billing records supporting the fee request.'" Interfaith Cmty. Org. v. Honeywell, 426 F.3d 694, 713 (citing Evans v. Port Auth. of New York and New Jersey, 273 F.3d 346 (3d Cir. 2001)). "[T]he determination of a reasonable fee is an inherently case-specific endeavor." Polselli v. Nationwide Mut. Ins. Fire Co., 126 F.3d 524, 535-36 (3d Cir. 1997).

A. HOURS EXPENDED

An attorney must justify the expenditure of time in an efficient manner. Ursic v. Bethlehem Mines, 719 F.2d 670, 677 (3d Cir. 1983). Thus, a court may make certain reductions for time that is not so justified, based on considerations raised by the opposing party. RHJ Med. Ctr., Inc. v. City of Dubois, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 109565 (W.D. Pa. Aug. 8, 2014). For example, a court may "remove the hours billed for client conferencing and reduce the hours charged for review and preparation, some of which encompass the normal overhead costs of running and maintaining a business." Creative Minds v. Reef Broad., 2014; V.I. LEXIS 82 (V.I. Super. Ct. Aug. 12, 2014). Multiple lawyer conferences, or intra-firm conferences, if not involving opposing counsel, are duplicative and not reimbursable. M & N Aviation, Inc. v. United Parcel Service, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37382, at **25-26 (D.V.I. Mar. 21, 2014). Moreover, fees incurred for attorney work that could have been done by a paralegal or "reasonably capable secretary" may be reduced. Masterson v. Runyon, 1995 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 819, at **11-12 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 17, 1995). Preparing notices of deposition, for example, do not require an attorney's expertise. M & N Aviation, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37382, at *29.

Moreover, a court may reduce an award when the requesting party's documentation is inadequate. UAW Local 259 Soc. Sec. Dep't v. Metro Auto Ctr., 501 F.3d 283, 291 (3d Cir. 2007). A party "block bills at his own peril"; fees billed in this manner may be reduced. United States v. NCH Corp., 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 94486 (D.N.J. Sept. 10, 2010). Consistent with this principle, "[b]illing entries that are too general, in that they do not indicate the purpose for which the attorney engaged in particular work, will not be allowed. A prevailing party must provide enough specificity in its billing entries to allow a court to assess what tasks an attorney performed when examining an application for attorney's fees." M & N Aviation, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 37382, at **19-20.

Here, Defendants have identified both specific and general objections to Plaintiff's time records. The following chart reflects reductions in the hours expended, for the purpose of addressing Defendant's objections to the reasonableness of the number of hours expended (including excessive time spent), work that could have been done by a paraprofessional, block billing or inadequately descriptive billing, and duplicative work. As required, I have assessed Plaintiff's submissions line by line, in detail, against Defendant's objections. I have done so in light of the overall circumstances of this case. Reductions reflect the extent to which I agree with Defendants' objections; objections not addressed in the table have been rejected. For purposes of clarity and convenience, reductions, and the reasons therefor, are set forth herein in chart format.[1]

1. Attorney Rohn

Billing dates Reason excluded or reduced Hours excluded 3/31-4/5/11, 4/6-11/11, Block billing/inadequate 10.0, 10.0, 1.0, 7.5, 7.0, .5, 9/12/13, 9/13/11, 9/14/11, description; reasonableness of 40.0 (total: 76) 12/6/12, 5/21/13, 6/11-24/13 hours expended 9/9/13, 9/26/11, 10/19/11, Paraprofessional or secretarial.25, 2.0, .1, .5, .6, .2, .2, .15, 11/2/11, 11/14/11, 11/30/11, work; reasonableness of hours 1.0, 2.0, .25, 5.0 (total: 12.25) 12/16/11, 1/5/12, 9/26/12, expended 9/30/12, 3/4/13 ...


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