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Finnegan v. Smith

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

October 17, 2019



          Robert D. Mariani United States District Judge


         Here the Court considers "Plaintiffs Motion for Reconsideration of the Court's March 5, 2019 Order (Doc. 72) Pursuant to Court Order Dated March 20, 2019 (Doc. 75)" filed on March 25, 2019 (Doc. 78) ("Motion" or "Motion for Reconsideration"). On March 5, 2019, the Court awarded Plaintiff attorney's fees of $41, 437.50 based on 100.5 hours at the rate of $375 per hour and costs of $8, 442.05 for a total award of $42, 279.55. (Doc. 72.) In so doing, the Court reduced Plaintiff's requested hourly rate from $400 per hour to $375 per hour for reasons set out in the March 5, 2019, Memorandum Opinion. (Doc. 71.) With the Motion for Reconsideration, Plaintiff seeks an additional award of costs and attorney fees to include the costs and fees generated in securing the initial award of costs and fees. (Doc. 78 at 7.)

         At the time Plaintiff filed the Motion, she identified the amount of unreimbursed fees and costs generated from March 13, 2017, to March 25, 2019, to be $32, 418.45. (Id. at 7 (citing Exs. 8, 20, 21 (Docs. 51, 65-1, 78-3)).) She seeks reimbursement for attorney's fees at the rate of $375 per hour, the rate the Court previously determined to be appropriate. (Doc. 78 at 5 ¶ 17.) Plaintiffs averment that she is entitled to all fees incurred in litigating the fee petition includes fees incurred after the filing of the Motion for Reconsideration. (Id.) In briefs and Exhibits subsequently filed, Plaintiff claims an additional $6, 787.50 in fees. (See, e.g., Doc. 94 at 2.) Thus, Plaintiff seeks a total award of $39, 205.95 in additional fees and costs. (Id.)

         II. ANALYSIS

         In the award of fees, the Court did not consider fees beyond what was requested in the original fee petition. The initial award included attorney's fees for 12.5 hours expended in preparation and filing of the March 9, 2017, fee petition (Doc. 29). (See Doc. 32-1 at 15-16 (Ex. 1, Itemized Statement ending on March 9, 2017, March 6th through March 9thentries).) Plaintiff alleges that the Court erred in not awarding fees incurred after the March 9, 2017, filing in litigating the fee application as such fees are recoverable pursuant to Planned Parenthood of Central N.J. v. Attorney General of N.J., 297 F.3d 253, 268 (3d Cir. 2002). (Doc. 79 at 5.)

         The Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the principle that a litigant is entitled to the fees incurred in litigating a fee petition in United States ex rel. Palmer v. C&D Technologies, Inc., 897 F.3d 128, 141 (3d Cir. 2018) (citing Prandini v. Nat'l Tea Co., 585 F.2d 47, 53 (3d Cir. 1978) ("[T]he time expended by attorneys in obtaining a reasonable fee is justifiably included in the attorneys' fee application, and in the court's fee award.")). Palmer directed the District Court to consider the request for fees incurred in litigating the fee petition as follows:

The District Court should proceed in two steps: (1) as with all fee petitions, it must first determine whether the fees on fees are reasonable; and (2) once the reasonability analysis is complete, the Court must consider the success of the original fee petition and determine whether the fees on fees should be reduced based on the results obtained. See Maldonado [v. Houstoun, 256 F.3d 181, 188 (3d Cir. 2001)] (applying the limited success fee reduction rationale to the court's consideration of fees generated in the litigation of a fee petition). Notably, the reduction analysis for the fees generated from litigating the fee petition is independent from the reduction analysis applied to the underlying litigation. See Institutionalized Juveniles v. Sec'y of Pub. Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 924 (3d Cir. 1985) ("[T]he fee reduction rationale of Hensley [v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983)], because it is intended to ensure the award of a reasonable fee in light of the results obtained, applies by force of the Court's reasoning to fees generated in the litigation of a fee petition, and compels us to treat the fee petition litigation as a separate entity subject to lodestar and Hensley reduction analysis.").

Palmer, 897 F.3d at 142.

         Defendant Michael Smith ("Defendant') does not dispute the authority cited or oppose the basic premise that Plaintiff is entitled to fees and costs generated to prepare and support the fee petition. [See Docs. 82, 93.) Rather, Defendant's argument goes to the reasonableness of the amount requested: Defendant requests that the Court reduce the "fee on fee demand consistent with what the Court should determine to be reasonable hours for Plaintiff's counsel and award Finnegan only those recoverable fees that this Court can properly analyze and deem reasonable." (Doc. 82 at 4.) With his specific objections to Plaintiffs itemized statements, Defendant objects to many entries on the basis that the task identified is not relevant to the fee petition or the entry is incapable of intelligent review. (Docs. 81, 81-1, 81-2.) In addition to alleging that numerous entries contained in Plaintiffs itemized fees on fees request are specifically objectionable, Defendant maintains that "the entire request should be viewed as per se objectionable." (Id. at 14.)

         As to specific objections, both parties recognize the specificity requirement explained in Washington v. Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, 89 F.3d 1031 (3d Cir. 1996), (Doc. 46 at 12; Doc. 96 at 2) where the Circuit Court explained that "our jurisprudence has established that a fee petition is required to be specific enough to allow the district court to determine if the hours claimed are unreasonable for the work performed." Washington, 89 F.3d at 1037 (internal quotation and citation omitted).

"[A] a fee petition should include "some fairly definite information as to the hours devoted to various general activities, e.g., pretrial discovery, settlement negotiations, and the hours spent by various classes of attorneys, e.g., senior partners, junior partners, associates." However, "it is not necessary to know the exact number of minutes spent nor the precise activity to which each hour was devoted nor the specific attainments of each attorney."

Washington, 89 F.3d at 1037-38 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1190 (3d Cir. 1990)).

         The Court is satisfied that Plaintiff's itemized statements which are the subject of the objections (Docs. 51, 65-1, 78-3) identify the task and time expended with adequate specificity. While some early entries relate to the securing of Plaintiffs settlement award from Defendant Smith (see, e.g., Doc. 81 at 1-3), the time is compensable. More importantly, the Court's knowledge of the underlying litigation allows the Court to ascertain the adequacy of entries which Defendant characterizes as "incapable of intelligent review" and/or "irrelevant to fee petition." (See, e.g., Doc. 81 at 2.) For example, Defendant's objection to time related to Plaintiff's Motion for Clarification filed on April 5, 2017 (Doc. 40) on the basis that the motion was not needed and not relevant to the fee petition (Doc. 81 at 2) is without merit in that the motion seeks to clarify that the action remained open as to Defendant Smith with the Motion for Costs and Attorney's Fees (Doc. 29) pending (Doc. 40 at 2 ¶¶ 3, 4) despite the Court's Order of April 3, 2017, dismissing the case (Doc. 38). Thus, the April 5th motion and related activity are clearly relevant to Plaintiffs fee petition.[1] By way of further example, entries related to Defendant Oswald (see, e.g., Doc. 81 at 3) which may at first appear irrelevant to the fee petition which addresses time related to ...

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