Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Houston Specialty Insurance Co. v. Vaughn

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

December 28, 2017

HOUSTON SPECIALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
ENOCH VAUGHN, individually, and as Parent and Natural Guardian of M.V., a minor, ALL FLORIDA WEATHERPROOFING & CONSTRUCTION, INC., RICHARD FULFORD, and ROBERT MENDENHALL, Defendants.

          ORDER

          ELIZABETH A. KOVACHEVICH, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This 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.

         I. Background

         As 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 ("HSIC" or "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.

         II. Legal Framework

         Determining 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 cases).

         With 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[1]"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).

         "The 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 claims." Id.

         "After 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.

         III. Discussion

         In this 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 professionals.

         A. AII Florida

         The 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.

         The 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 ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.