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Rumreich v. Good Shepherd Day School of Charlotte County, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Fort Myers Division

April 23, 2019

MARIAH RUMREICH, on behalf of herself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
GOOD SHEPHERD DAY SCHOOL OF CHARLOTTE, INC., Defendant.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION [1]

          MAC R. MCCOY, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs filed on September 27, 2018. (Doc. 58). Defendant responded to Plaintiff's Motion on October 31, 2018. (Doc. 63). With leave of court, Plaintiff filed a Reply to Defendant's Response. (Doc. 66). Accordingly, this matter is ripe for review. For the reasons set forth below, the Undersigned recommends that Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs (Doc. 58) be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         I. Background

         On May 30, 2017, Plaintiff Mariah Rumreich brought this Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) action for an alleged overtime compensation violation pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 207 against The Church of the Good Shepherd, Inc. (Doc. 1). On August 8, 2017, Plaintiff amended her Complaint by substituting Defendant Good Shepherd Day School of Charlotte County, Inc., for the Church of the Good Shepherd, Inc. (Doc. 15; see alsoDoc. 16).

         As alleged in the Amended Complaint, Plaintiff worked for Defendant as a preschool teacher from April 2015 to March 2017. (Doc. 15 at 3). Plaintiff alleged Defendant failed to properly compensate her for the time she worked in excess of forty hours per week. (Id. at 5). In addition to overtime compensation and liquidated damages, Plaintiff requested “reasonable attorney's fees and costs and expenses of the litigation pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).” (Id. at 6). On August 29, 2017, Defendant filed an Answer, denying all liability for the alleged overtime compensation violation and asserting that Plaintiff was exempt from entitlement to overtime compensation. (Doc. 20). Ultimately, the parties reached a settlement wherein Plaintiff accepted Defendant's Offer of Judgment in the amount of $500.00. (Doc. 46).

         On September 18, 2018, the Court granted Plaintiff's Notice of Acceptance of Rule 68 Offer and Notice of Filing Offer of Judgment. (Doc. 57). Moreover, the Court retained “jurisdiction for the limited purpose of determining an appropriate award for fees and costs.” (Id. at 5-6). The Court also directed the parties to confer on attorney's fees and costs prior to filing any motions. (Id. at 6).

         Plaintiff filed the Motion sub judice on September 27, 2018. (Doc. 58). She contends that reasonable attorney's fees and costs are “mandatory under the FLSA” when a plaintiff is the prevailing party. (Id. at 3). Plaintiff requests fees in the amount of $11, 900.00 and costs in the amount of $472.59. (Id.). Plaintiff's attorney requests an hourly rate of $500.00. (Id. at 9). While Defendant does not dispute that “the FLSA permits the recovery of reasonable attorney's fees and costs, ” it contests the requested hourly rate and the number of hours expended in this action as excessive and unreasonable. (Doc. 63 at 4-17). The Court must now determine whether Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs is reasonable.

         II. Analysis

         Under the FLSA, courts “shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). “A reasonable attorneys' fee is ‘properly calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate'” to obtain the “lodestar.” Wales v. Jack M. Berry, Inc., 192 F.Supp.2d 1313, 1317 (M.D. Fla. 2001) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888 (1984)); see also Lawrence v. Berkley Grp., Inc., No. 10-61069-civ-KMW, 2013 WL 12239477, at *1 (S.D. Fla. Feb. 20, 2013).

         The party seeking fees “bears the burden of establishing entitlement and documenting the appropriate hours and hourly rates.” Norman v. Housing Auth. of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1303 (11th Cir. 1988). “[A]n applicant may meet this burden by producing either direct evidence of rates charged under similar circumstances, or opinion evidence of reasonable rates.” Wales, 192 F.Supp.2d at 1317 (citing Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299). A court may, however, rely on its own expertise and judgment in assessing the value of counsel's services. Id. (citing Norman, 836 F.2d at 1303).

         a. Hourly Rate

         The first step in reaching the lodestar is to determine a reasonable hourly rate, which “is the prevailing market rate in the relevant legal community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skills, experience, and reputation.” Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299 (citing Blum, 465 U.S. at 895-96 n.11). Generally, the “‘relevant market' for purposes of determining the reasonable hourly rate for an attorney's services is ‘the place where the case is filed.'” Wales, 192 F.Supp.2d at 1318 (quoting ACLU of Ga. v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 437 (11th Cir. 1999)); see also United States v. Central Fla. Reg'l Workforce Dev. Bd., Inc., No. 6:04-cv-93-Orl-9DABC, 2007 WL 1601747, at *5 (M.D. Fla. June 1, 2007). Thus, the relevant market is the Fort Myers Division of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida. Isaac v. Classic Cleaners of Pelican Landing, Inc., No. 2:16-cv-171-FtM-29CM, 2017 WL 632510, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Feb. 16, 2017) (citing Olesen-Frayne v. Olesen, 2:09-cv-49-FtM-29DNF, 2009 WL 3048451, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 21, 2009)).

         In this case, Plaintiff requests an hourly rate of $500.00. In support, Plaintiff states that this Court previously awarded him $500.00 per hour in a FLSA matter. (Doc. 58 at 7 (citing Carruega v. Steve's Painting, Inc., No. 2:16-CV-715-FtM-29CM, Doc. 29)). Plaintiff also relies on the Laffey Matrix, which she alleges reflects an hourly rate of $826 for an attorney with over twenty years of experience. (Id.; see also Doc. 58-3 at 1). Defendant argues in turn that the Court's previous decision to award Plaintiff's counsel $500 an hour was made on an unopposed motion. (Doc. 63 at 6). Defendant further contends “the Laffey Matrix is not relevant evidence of the prevailing market rate.” (Id. at 7). Moreover, Defendant argues the requested rate is “completely unreasonable for this case, where the issues involved were simple and the litigation was not complex.” (Id. at 8).

         Defendant is correct that the Laffey Matrix is not relevant evidence of the prevailing market rate. In fact, jurists in this Court have declined to rely on the Laffey Matrix as competent evidence of a reasonable hourly rate. See, e.g., Church of Our Savior v. City of Jacksonville Beach, 108 F.Supp.3d 1259, 1273 n. 17 (M.D. Fla. 2015) (“The Laffey Matrix is not competent evidence of the prevailing market rate . . ., as one page submitted indicates that the matrix is meant to reflect an appropriate rate for attorneys in Washington D.C.”); Walker v. Ruben & Rosenthal, Inc., No. 6:13-CV-798-Orl-18DAB, 2013 WL 5720248, at *5 (M.D. Fla. Oct. 21, 2013) (declining to rely on the Laffey Matrix); Holman v. Student Loan Xpress, Inc., 778 F.Supp.2d 1306, 1312 (M.D. Fla. 2011) (same).

         Moreover, this Court has previously determined “rates in the Fort Myers area for FLSA cases range from $275.00 to $375.00.” Worthen v. Buckshot Cable, Inc., No. 2:12-CV-57-FTM-38UAM, 2013 WL 3070847, at *2 (M.D. Fla. June 17, 2013). While this Court recently awarded a rate of $400 an hour to an attorney with more than fifteen years' experience as a labor and employment attorney, the Court noted that the rate was “on the higher end of reasonable in the Fort Myers Division” and that the rate was “not disputed by defendants.” Adams v. Fritz Martin Cabinetry, LLC, No. 2:18-CV-83-FtM-99MRM, 2018 WL 4215892, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Sept. 5, 2018); see also Bishop v. VIP Transp. Grp., LLC, No. 6:15-CV-2118-ORL-22KRS, 2017 WL 1533834, at *4 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 7, 2017) (finding that $350 an hour was a reasonable hourly rate for an attorney with more than twenty years' experience as a labor and employment attorney); Wise v. Bravo Foods LLC, No. 6:15-CV-1199-Orl-41DAB, 2016 WL 4203859, at *2 (M.D. Fla. July 8, 2016) (noting that the Court generally applies a rate of $350 an hour for “experienced counsel”). Given the lack of complexity in this case and taking into account the length of counsel's experience handling cases of this nature, the Undersigned recommends that the Court find $350.00 to be a reasonable hourly rate.

         b. Number of Hours Expended

         The second step in the lodestar analysis is determining what hours were reasonably expended in pursuing the action. Fee applicants must exercise “billing judgment” and exclude hours “that would be unreasonable to bill to a client.” ACLU of Ga., 168 F.3d at 428 (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983)). “[A] court may reduce excessive, redundant or otherwise unnecessary hours in the exercise of billing judgment.” Galdames v. N & D Inv. Corp., 432 Fed. App'x 801, 806 (11th Cir. 2011) (emphasis omitted) (quoting Perkins v. Mobile Hous. Bd., 847 F.2d 735, 738 (11th Cir. 1988)). “When a district court finds the number of hours claimed is unreasonably high, the court has two choices: it may conduct an hour-by-hour analysis or it may reduce the requested hours with an across-the-board cut.” Bivins v. Wrap It Up, Inc., 548 F.3d 1348, 1350 (11th Cir. 2008).

         “‘[O]bjections and proof from fee opponents' concerning hours that should be excluded must be specific and ‘reasonably precise.'” ACLU of Ga., 168 F.3d at 428 (quoting Norman, 836 F.2d at 1301). Consequently, “a fee opponent's failure to explain exactly which hours he views as unnecessary or duplicative is generally viewed as fatal, ” and therefore, “all hours to which the [fee opponents] have not made an objection will be accepted.” Wales, 192 F.Supp.2d at 1320.

         Plaintiff alleges that counsel invested a total of 23.8 hours to reach a settlement of $500 in Plaintiff's favor. (SeeDoc. 58-1 at 3). Defendant challenges this amount of time as excessive and has identified several entries it argues should be reduced or excluded. (Doc. 63 at 10-13). The Undersigned has reviewed both the billing entries and Defendant's objections to these hours and concludes that not all hours billed are reasonable.[2] The Undersigned addresses Defendant's objections below.

         i. April 10, 2017 & August ...


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