United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
the Court is a Petition filed by Plaintiff Blair Jones for an
award of attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $12,
964.50, pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3) of the Fair
Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”), a
federal law enacted to protect consumers from abusive and
unfair debt collection practices. (Doc. No. 29 ¶ 5.) The
FDCPA is a fee-shifting statute; section 1692k(a)(3) allows a
prevailing party to recover costs and attorney's fees in
addition to damages.
Southwest Credit Systems, L.P. challenges the Petition,
arguing that Plaintiff should either be awarded no
attorney's fees or a reduced amount. (Doc. No. 31 ¶
4.) Plaintiff responds that because he prevailed on a FDCPA
claim, he is entitled to the full amount of attorney's
fees and costs. (Doc. No. 33 at 5.) Further, Plaintiff
argues that his counsel exercised proper billing judgment,
and therefore the amount requested is reasonable.
(Id. at 9.) For the reasons stated below, the Court
will grant the fee petition in part, awarding a modified
amount of $6, 605.
FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND
February 2, 2017, Plaintiff Blair Jones filed a Complaint
against Defendant Southwest Credit Systems, L.P., alleging
that Defendant violated the Telephone Consumer Protection Act
(“TCPA”), 47 U.S.C. § 227, and three
sections of the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692d,
1692d(5), and 1692g(a). (Doc. No. 1 ¶¶ 25-34.)
Plaintiff alleged that Defendant repeatedly harassed him
through telephone calls regarding collection of a
debt. (Id.) On November 9, 2017, this
Court referred the case to arbitration. (Doc. No. 24.) On
November 30, 2017, a panel of three arbitrators found in
favor of Plaintiff only on the § 1692d claim and awarded
Plaintiff $750 in statutory damages plus reasonable
attorney's fees. (Doc. No. 27.)
December 18, 2017, Plaintiff filed the instant Petition for
Attorney's Fees. (Doc. No. 29.) Plaintiff requests $12,
964.50 in attorney's fees and costs, asserting that, as
the prevailing party, he is entitled to this award under 15
U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3), a fee-shifting statute.
(Id. at 1.) He argues that the actual time
expended-not the amount of recovery-dictates the award of
attorney's fees and costs under the FDCPA. (Doc. No. 29-1
at 6.) The fee Petition states that Plaintiff's counsel
and staff spent on this case 48.2 hours, from February 22,
2016, the date of counsel's initial interview with
Plaintiff, to December 14, 2017, the date that counsel
prepared the current fee Petition. (Doc. No. 29-3.) Plaintiff
asserts that the time expended and the hourly rates of
counsel and staff are reasonable. Thus, according to
Plaintiff, $12, 964.50 in attorney's fees should be
awarded. (Doc. No. 29-1.)
January 8, 2018, Defendant filed its Response to
Plaintiff's fee Petition. (Doc. No. 31.) Defendant argues
that the $750 in statutory damages awarded by the arbitration
panel constitute nominal damages, rendering Plaintiff's
victory as technical or de minimis. (Id.
¶ 11.) Thus, according to Defendant, Plaintiff is not
entitled to any attorney's fees and only $470 in
costs. (Id.) Alternatively, Defendant
argues that if the Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to
attorney's fees, any award to Plaintiff should be reduced
because the amount requested by Plaintiff is unreasonable.
(Id. ¶ 12.)
regard, Defendant contends that Plaintiff failed to exercise
proper billing judgment by including costs for administrative
and clerical work and by failing to segregate work done on
the prevailing FDCPA claim from the three unsuccessful
claims. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 22.) Furthermore,
Defendant argues that the 48.2 hours Plaintiff billed was an
unreasonable amount of time spent “on a case that
resulted in no more than a single, de minimis
violation out of all claims asserted.” (Id.
¶ 32.) Defendant offers two alternative amounts: $2,
or $2, 090.57,  which it agrees would be a proper award if
the Court did not find its argument meritorious that no fee
should be awarded. (Id. ¶ 39.)
January 15, 2018, Plaintiff filed his Reply to
Defendant's Response. (Doc. No. 33.) Plaintiff asserts
that because the FDCPA and TCPA claims stemmed from the same
nucleus of facts, the work billed by counsel was necessary
for the single, prevailing FDCPA claim. (Id. at
6-7.) Due to the integrated nature of the claims and the work
completed, Plaintiff submits that a reduction in fees based
on the lack of segregation is neither necessary nor
appropriate. (Id.) Additionally, Plaintiff asserts
that counsel exercised billing judgment by providing an
itemized, descriptive bill that properly included the work of
counsel and counsel's staff. (Id. at 8-9.)
award a plaintiff attorney's fees and costs under a
fee-shifting statute, the Court conducts a two-step inquiry.
Pub. Interest Research Grp. of N.J., Inc. v.
Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1184 (3d Cir. 1995). First, the
party seeking the award must be deemed a “prevailing
party.” Id. Second, any fees awarded must be
“reasonable, ” meaning they “are the
product of the hours reasonably expended and the applicable
hourly rate for the legal services.” Id. at
1185 (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433
Plaintiff Is the Prevailing Party Because He Was Awarded
Damages Based on the Merits of His § 1692d
define “prevailing party” broadly. To become a
“prevailing party” and cross the threshold for
statutory fee-shifting, a plaintiff must “succeed on
any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of
the benefit the parties sought in bringing the suit.”
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433 (quoting Nadeau v.
Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978)); see
also Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12 (1992)
(“In short, a plaintiff ‘prevails' when
actual relief on the merits of his claim materially alters
the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the
defendant's behavior in a way that directly benefits the
contends that Plaintiff is not the prevailing party because
his victory is technical or de minimis and his
damages are nominal. The Court finds these arguments
unpersuasive. Although Plaintiff only succeeded on one of his
three FDCPA claims, he is considered a prevailing party for
the purposes of § 1692k(a)(3).
Plaintiff's victory is not technical or de
minimis. In Nelson v. Select Financial Services,
Inc., the court held that the plaintiff's victory
was “neither de minimis nor technical”
because she demonstrated on summary judgment that the
defendant had violated provisions of the FDCPA. No. 05-3473,
2006 WL 1672889, at *3 n.5 (E.D. Pa. June 9, 2006). Here, the
arbitrators determined that Defendant violated § 1692d
of the FDCPA. (Doc. No. 27.) Therefore, Plaintiff's
victory is neither technical nor de minimis.
Plaintiff's damages are not nominal. In Hensley v.
Berks Credit & Collections, the court held that the
plaintiff was the prevailing party under the FDCPA although
she only succeeded on two of her three claims at arbitration
and did not receive the full amount of damages available. No.
97-790, 1997 WL 725367, at *4 n.8 (E.D. Pa. Nov. 18, 1997).
Here, the arbitrators awarded Plaintiff $750 in statutory
damages out of the maximum $1, 000 possible award he could
have received under 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(1). (Doc. No.
27.) This award is an enforceable judgment against Defendant.
It affects Defendant's behavior toward Plaintiff in a way
that directly benefits him-by requiring Defendant to pay $750
to Plaintiff-and therefore, meets the standard set out in
Farrar. 506 U.S. at 112. Thus, Plaintiff has
prevailed in this case.
Plaintiff Is Entitled to a Reduced Award of Attorney's
Fees and Costs
Plaintiff is entitled to reasonable attorney's fees as
the prevailing party, the Court does not find the requested
amount to be reasonable and will reduce the award.
United States Supreme Court has provided guidance on how to
make an initial calculation of ...