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City of Scranton v. Davis

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

June 26, 2018

THE CITY OF SCRANTON, Plaintiff
v.
THOMAS J. DAVIS and, PATRICIA A. DAVIS, Defendants

          MEMORANDUM

          MALACHY E. MANNION, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         After the plaintiff, City of Scranton, it filed a complaint for confession of judgment, (Doc. 1), and after judgment was entered in the City's favor and against defendants Thomas J. Davis and Patricia A. Davis, (Doc. 3), the City filed a motion for attorneys' fees and costs. (Doc. 8). Defendants have not opposed the City's motion and the time within which to do so has expired. Since the City has demonstrated its entitlement to its claimed attorneys' fees and costs, and the court has determined the rates and hours are reasonable, its motion will be GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On August 18, 2016, the City filed a complaint for confession of judgment against the defendants to collect on a loan guaranty agreement executed by the defendants after they defaulted on the loan. (Doc. 1). Defendants authorized the entry of a confessed judgment against them.

         On August 23, 2016, the clerk of court entered judgment in favor of the City and against the defendants in the amount of “$322, 363.30, plus interest at the per diem rate of $34.25 through the date of entry of judgment and at the rate of 6% per annum from the date of entry, plus costs, expenses and reasonable attorneys' fees in an amount to be determined by the Court.” (Doc. 3). On April 19, 2018, the City filed a motion for attorneys' fees and costs with attached exhibits. (Doc. 8). The City's motion is unopposed.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Initially, the court finds that in this case a hearing is not necessary to determine the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees requested.[1]

         Under the loan agreement, if there is a default, the defendants are obliged to pay the City “all costs and expenses (including reasonable attorney's fees and legal expenses) which may be incurred in the enforcement of the principal debtor's liabilities to the City ....” (Doc. 1-2 at 21). As such, the City is entitled to the legal expenses it incurred, including reasonable attorneys' fees, regarding the judgment it obtained against the defendants as well as the enforcement of its judgment since there was a clear agreement by the parties regarding these costs. See De Hart v. HomEq Servicing Corp., 47 F.Supp.3d 246, 255 (E.D.Pa. 2014) (“Pennsylvania courts have ‘consistently followed the general, American rule that there can be no recovery of attorneys' fees from an adverse party, absent an express statutory authorization, a clear agreement by the parties or some other established exception.'”) (citation omitted).

         Thus, by virtue of the judgment entered in the City's favor, the City is the prevailing party and is entitled to its costs, expenses and reasonable attorneys' fees. The Third Circuit requires the court to analyze the reasonableness of the claimed fees with respect to an award of attorneys' fees. See Toshiba America Medical Systems Inc. v. Valley Open MRI, 674 Fed.Appx. 130 (3d Cir. 2016). Thus, the court must now determine the reasonableness of the requested fees.

         The Affidavit of the City's attorney, Michael R. Wright, Esq., and the records regarding his law firm's (Levene, Gouldin & Thompson, LLP) work on this case, from July 24, 2016 through April 19, 2018, are attached to its motion. The City requests $18, 132.75 for legal fees and $941.56 for costs and expenses, for a total award of $19, 074.31.[2] An exhibit attaching Wright's Affidavit in support of the City's attorneys' fee request includes detailed documentation specifying the number of hours spent by each attorney and staff involved with the case, and the rates charged, as well as other relevant billing information supporting its requested fees pursuant to McMullen v. Kutz, 603 Pa. 602, 985 A.2d 769, 774 (2009). Nonetheless, the court must still make findings as to the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees and costs requested by the City and provide a statement as to the standard governing its award. See Toshiba, 674 Fed.Appx. 130; Sec. Mut. Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 979 F.2d at 332.

         The court analyzes the reasonableness of the City's requested attorneys' fees pursuant to Pennsylvania law.[3] Under Pennsylvania law, the reasonableness of the requested attorneys' fees is within the sound discretion of the trial court. In re LaRocca's Tr. Estate, 431 Pa. 542, 246 A.2d 337, 339 (1968). However, “Pennsylvania courts have found an abuse of discretion when the trial court fails to provide ‘an explanation ... of the basis for the award [of attorneys' fees].'” Toshiba, 674 Fed.Appx. at 133 (citing Sec. Mut. Life Ins. Co. of N.Y. v. Contemporary Real Estate Assoc., 979 F.2d 329, 332 (3d Cir. 1992); Croft v. P & W Foreign Car Serv., Inc., 383 Pa.Super. 435, 557 A.2d 18, 20 (1989)).

         Specifically, as the Third Circuit indicated, the court is required to analyze “the amount and character of the [legal] services performed, the difficulty of the problems involved, the amount of money or value of property in question, the hours expended by the attorneys, [and] the rates charged to [plaintiff] for the work.” Id. (citing McMullen v. Kutz, 603 Pa. 602, 985 A.2d 769, 774 (2009)); see also In re LaRocca's Tr. Estate, 246 A.2d at 339. Thus, the court must look to the above factors discussed by Pennsylvania courts, as well as “the results [the attorney] was able to obtain, ” “the degree of responsibility incurred, ” and “the professional skill and standing of the attorney in his profession, ” in determining [the] reasonableness of the City's requested attorneys' fees. In re LaRocca's Tr. Estate, 246 A.2d at 339; see also Arches Condo. Ass'n v. Robinson, 131 A. 3d 122, 131-32 (Pa.Commw.Ct. 2015) (other factors include “the nature and length of the litigation, the responsibilities of the parties in affecting the nature and length of the litigation, and the competitiveness of the rate and time expended”). The City contends that it is entitled to an award of $19, 074.31 as the total amount of attorneys' fees and costs it reasonably incurred in this case. The City has the burden of producing evidence as to their reasonableness. Toshiba, 674 Fed.Appx. at 133.

         “The starting point for a court's determination of reasonable attorney's fees is to calculate the ‘lodestar' by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by each attorney by a reasonable hourly rate.” Borrell v. Bloomsburg University 207 F.Supp.3d 454, 506 (M.D.Pa. 2016) (citations omitted), appeal pending. “The lodestar calculation is presumed to be a reasonable calculation of attorneys' fees.” Id. (citation omitted).

         A. ...


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