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People For The Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. v. Dade City's Wild Things, Inc.

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

April 3, 2018

PEOPLE FOR THE ETHICAL TREATMENT OF ANIMALS, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
DADE CITY'S WILD THINGS, INC., STEARNS ZOOLOGICAL RESCUE & REHAB CENTER, INC., KATHRYN P. STEARNS and RANDALL E. STEARNS, Defendants.

          ORDER

          AMANDA ARNOLD SANSONE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Consistent with the undersigned's January 19, 2018 order, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, Inc. (“PETA”) seeks an award of attorneys' fees against Dade City Wild Things, Inc., Stearns Zoological Rescue & Rehab Center, Inc., Kathryn Stearns, and Randall Stearns (collectively, “DCWT”) due to discovery violations. (Docs. 177, 192). PETA specifically requests the amount of $7, 297.50 as its reasonable expenses incurred due to a discovery dispute that resulted in PETA filing a motion for sanctions (Doc. 163) and subsequent court-ordered notice (Doc. 165). (Doc. 192).

         I. BACKGROUND

         On January 19, 2018, the undersigned awarded PETA its reasonable attorney's fees incurred as a result of DCWT's failure to comply with a's November 16, 2017 Order (Doc. 161), which required DCWT to provide responses to PETA's July 2017 requests for production. (Doc. 177). The January 19th order required the parties to “confer in a good-faith effort to stipulate to the reasonable expenses [PETA] incurred.” (Id. at p. 2). The parties did not stipulate to a reasonable amount. Thus, PETA seeks reimbursement for the attorney's fees it incurred by filing a motion for sanctions for failure to comply with the court's order directing responses to PETA's requests for production (Doc. 163), and a notice of non-opposition to that motion (Doc. 165). (See Doc. 192, Ex. 2, p. 4).

         II. ANALYSIS

         PETA seeks an award for 21.35 hours of attorney's fees for three attorneys at rates ranging from $270.00 to $475.00 per hour. (Doc. 192). In response, DCWT contends that PETA's fee request should be reduced by $2, 185.00, for a total award of $5, 112.50. (Doc. 233).

         PETA's claim for attorney's fees is broken down by attorney as follows:

Attorney Hours Rate per Hour Total
Marcos Hasbun 5.6 $475 $2, 660.00
Justin Cochran 7.0 $375 $2, 275.00
Jenni James 8.75 $270 $2, 362.50
Total 21.35 $7, 297.50

         The initial burden of proof that the fee award is reasonable falls on PETA, who must submit evidence regarding the number of hours expended and the hourly rate claimed. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Norman v. Housing Authority of City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1303 (11th Cir. 1988). The starting point for setting an attorney's fee is to determine the “lodestar” figure: the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433; Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299. A 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. Gaines v. Dougherty County Board of Education, 775 F.2d 1565, 1571 (11th Cir. 1985).

         It is presumed that most or all of the following factors are subsumed in the calculation of the lodestar:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill required to perform the legal services properly; (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee in the community; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorney; (10) the “undesirability” of the case; (11) the nature and length of any professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

Norman, 836 F.2d 1292 (citing Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir.1974)).

         The reasonableness of the rate charged is determined by its congruity with “those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 896 n. 11 (1984). The going rate in the community is the most critical factor in setting the fee rate. Martin v. University of South Alabama, 911 F.2d 604, 610 (11th Cir. 1990).

         A fee applicant may meet the burden to show the reasonable rate by producing either direct evidence of rates charged under similar circumstances, or opinion evidence of reasonable rates. Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299. The court may also use its own expertise and judgment to make an appropriate ...


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