United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
ELIZABETH A. KOVACHEVICH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
cause comes before the Court for further proceedings pursuant
to the Court's Order Granting Insureds' Motions
for Determination of Entitlement to Reasonable Attorney's
Fees under Section 627.428 of the Florida Statutes (Doc.
No. 229) (the "Order"). Through
the Order, the Court (1) determined that the Defendants, All
Florida Weatherproofing & Construction, Inc.
("All Florida"), Richard Fulford
("Fulford"), and Robert Mendenhall
("Mendenhall") (collectively, the
"Defendants"), were entitled to an award of
reasonable attorney's fees under Section 627.428 of the
Florida Statutes, and (2) deferred ruling on the amount of
fees to be awarded, as well as All Florida's entitlement
to any contingency fee multiplier, pending discovery and a
final evidentiary hearing. The parties subsequently engaged
in and completed discovery, and on December 19, 2017 the
Court conducted an evidentiary hearing. After consideration,
and for the reasons set forth below, the Defendants'
motions for attorney's fees (Doc. Nos. 204, 207, &
218) are GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART.
explained in the Order, the Defendants are the prevailing
parties in this case by virtue of the declaratory judgment
(Doc. No. 201) (the "Declaratory
Judgment") entered in favor of the Defendants
and Enoch Vaughn ("Vaughn"), and
against the Plaintiff, Houston Specialty Insurance Company
"Plaintiff), on February 3, 2017. (Doc.
No. 229, at 2-3). Through the Declaratory Judgment, the Court
determined that the Plaintiff was not excused of any
obligation to defend or indemnify the Defendants in a related
state court action commenced against them by Vaughn. (Doc.
No. 229, at 3). Because Section 627.428 of the Florida
Statutes entitles insureds to a "reasonable sum" of
attorney's fees "[u]pon the rendition of a judgment.
. . against an insurer and in favor of any . . . insured . .
. under a policy or contract executed by the insurer, "
the Court determined that the Defendants were entitled to a
reasonable award of attorney's fees in this case. (Doc.
No. 229, at 6-10). The Court then conducted an evidentiary
hearing on December 19, 2017, at which both parties presented
expert testimony regarding the prevailing market rates, the
reasonableness of the hours worked, and the Defendants'
entitlement to a multiplier. As a result, the motions for
attorney's fees are now ripe for determination.
the reasonable amount of Court-awarded attorney's fees
entails a three step process: first, the Court must
calculate the reasonable hourly rate for the professionals
involved in the case, second, the Court must
determine the number of hours reasonably expended, and
third, after calculating the lodestar, i.e. the
number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by the
reasonable hourly rate, the Court must make any necessary
adjustments to the lodestar, including (if applicable)
application of a contingency fee multiplier. See,
e.g., Norman v. Hous. Auth, of City of Montgomery,
836 F.2d 1292, 1298-1303 (11th Cir. 1988) (providing a
comprehensive overview of the legal framework applicable to
requests for prevailing party attorney's fees in federal
respect to the first step of the lodestar, the
"reasonable hourly rate is the prevailing market rate in
the relevant legal community for similar services by lawyers
of reasonably comparable skills, experience, and
reputation." Id. at 1299 (citing Blum v.
Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 995-96 n. 11 (1984)). In
calculating the reasonable hourly rate, the Florida Supreme
Court instructs trial courts applying Florida law to consider
all eight of the so-called Rowe factors: "(1)
The time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of
the question involved, and the skill requisite to perform the
legal service properly, " "(2) The likelihood, if
apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular
employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer,
" "(3) The fee customarily charged in the locality
for similar legal services, " "(4) The amount
involved and the results obtained, " "(5) The time
limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances,
" "(6) The nature and length of the professional
relationship with the client, " "(7) The
experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers
performing the services, " and "(8) Whether the fee
is fixed or contingent, " less"the time and labor
required, the novelty and difficult of the question involved,
the results obtained, and whether the fee is fixed or
contingent." Joyce v. Federated Nat Ins. Co.,
228 So.3d 1122, 1126 (Fla. 2017).
next step in the computation of the lodestar is the
ascertainment of reasonable hours." Norman, 836
F.2d at 1301. In so doing, the Court must eliminate any hours
that are "excessive, redundant or otherwise
unnecessary." Id. Excessive hours refer to
"hours spent on activities for which the lawyer would
not bill a client of means who was seriously intent on
vindicating similar rights." Id. Redundant
hours refer to hours incurred where "more than one
attorney represents a client." Id. at 1301-02.
While "[t]here is nothing inherently unreasonable about
a client having multiple attorneys, " to be entitled to
full compensation the attorneys must not be
"unreasonably doing the same work" and must be
"compensated for the distinct contribution of each
lawyer." Id. at 1302. Finally, unnecessary
hours refer to "time spent on discrete and unsuccessful
the lodestar is determined by multiplication of a reasonable
hourly rate times hours reasonably expended, "
Norman, 836 F.2d at 1302, "[t]he trial court
may then adjust the lodestar amount based upon a contingency
risk factor and the results obtained." Joyce,
228 So.3d at 1126 (internal quotations omitted). In tort and
contract cases, the Court should consider the following
factors in determining whether a multiplier is necessary:
"(1) whether the relevant market requires a contingency
fee multiplier to obtain competent counsel; (2) whether the
attorney was able to mitigate the risk of nonpayment in any
way; and (3) whether any of the factors set forth in Rowe
are applicable, especially, the amount involved, the
results obtained, and the type of fee arrangement between the
attorney and his client." Id. at 1128. If the
Court determines a multiplier is warranted and that success
was more likely than not at the outset of the case, it may
apply a multiplier of 1 to 1.5; if the likelihood of success
was approximately even, the Court may apply a multiplier of
1.5 to 2.0; and if success was unlikely at the outset of the
case, it may apply a multiplier of between 2.0 to 2.5.
Id. at 1125.
case, the Defendants seek an award of reasonable
attorney's fees for the work performed by their
professionals: Daniel A. Martinez, Weslee L. Ferron, Ben
Thomas, Carrie Ashton, and Lori Lamoureux, who represented
All Florida; Scott K. Hewitt, who represented Fulford and
Mendenhall; and Raymond Seaford, who served as the
Defendants' expert fee witness in this case. For ease of
reference the Court will perform the lodestar calculation
separately for each of the foregoing categories of
bulk of the work performed on behalf of All Florida was done
by attorneys Martinez and Ferron. Martinez, who has 23 years
of experience and is a board certified trial lawyer, seeks an
hourly rate of $550/hr. See (Doc. No. 235-3, at
1-2). Ferron, who has 16 years of experience and specializes
in written advocacy, case management, and strategy, requests
a rate of $450/hr. See (Doc. No. 235-4, 1-2). In
support of their fee applications, Martinez and Ferron attach
numerous orders awarding fees in comparable cases, which
range from $650.00/hr for attorneys with between 24 and 36
years of experience, on the high end, to $250/hr for an
attorney with 3 years of experience, on the low end.
See (Doc. No. 235-56, at 1-7). The Court is
personally familiar with the skills, experience, and
reputation of comparator attorneys Wardell, Medina, Hadaway,
and Elligett, who have been awarded rates ranging from
$475/hr to $550/hr, and finds that Martinez and, to a lesser
extent, Ferron are entitled to the prevailing rates awarded
to those attorneys.
Court has also considered the eight Rowe factors,
less those that are duplicative of step two of the lodestar,
and concludes that $550/hr and $450/hr are reasonable hourly
rates for Martinez and Ferron. In particular, the Court notes
that given the scale and complexity of this litigation,
accepting this representation placed significant time
limitations on attorneys Martinez and Ferron. Those
limitations undoubtedly monopolized much of their time, and
prevent Martinez and Ferron from accepting other engagements.
Stated simply, this case represented a major undertaking and
investment on the part of attorneys Martinez and Ferron and,
having prevailed, they are entitled to the rates requested in
the motions. Moreover, given that the fees charged by Thomas,
Ashton, and Lamoureux are de minimis and supported by the
range of ...