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Rizzo-Alderson v. Tawfik

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

July 1, 2019

PAMELA RIZZO-ALDERSON, DEENA BENEHALEY, EVELYN SARNO, NICOLE RICHARDSON, TAMI YOUNG, TAMMY REED and MURPHY BLACK, Plaintiffs,
v.
EIHAB H. TAWFIK and EIHAB H. TAWFIK Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION[1]

          PHILIP R. LAMMENS, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' motions for attorney's fees and costs (Docs. 55 and 56), which were referred by the District Judge for preparation of a Report and Recommendation. After consideration of the papers and applicable law, and in the absence of any objection filed by Defendant, Eihab H. Tawfik, I submit that Plaintiffs' motions should be granted in part and that they should be awarded attorney's fees in the amount of $15, 106.00 and costs in the amount of $530.00.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In July 2017, Plaintiffs initiated this proposed class action alleging minimum wage violations under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and the Florida Constitution against Defendants Eihab H. Tawfik, M.D., P.A., d/b/a/ Christ Medical Center (“Christ Medical Center”) and Eihab H. Tawfik.[2] On April 16, 2018, the Court stayed this action as to Defendant Christ Medical Center based on the filing of a Suggestion of Bankruptcy. (Doc. 36). The case proceeded against Defendant Tawfik. On May 21, 2019, the Court entered final default judgment as to Plaintiffs Tami Young, Murphy Black, and Deena Benehaley and awarded each damages in the amount of $648.00, plus an equal amount of liquidated damages, for a total amount of $1, 296.00; and final default judgment as to Plaintiff Pamela Rizzo-Alderson and awarded damages in the amount of $259.20, plus liquidated damages, for a total amount of $518.00. (Doc. 51, 53).[3] Now, these prevailing Plaintiffs have filed motions for attorney's fees and costs. Defendant Tawfik has filed no response.

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Attorney's Fees

         Plaintiffs' entitlement to recover attorney's fees arose by virtue of their claims brought under the FLSA. The FLSA requires a court to award prevailing employees reasonable attorney's fees and costs in unpaid overtime wages cases. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         In determining a reasonable attorney's fee, the Court applies the federal lodestar approach which is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by the reasonable hourly rate for the services provided by counsel for the prevailing party. Loranger v. Stierheim, 10 F.3d 776, 781 (11th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). “[T]he fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983). Once the court has determined the lodestar, it may adjust the amount upward or downward based upon a number of factors, including the results obtained. Norman v. Housing Authority of the City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1302 (11th Cir. 1988)

         “Ultimately, the computation of a fee award is necessarily an exercise of judgment, because ‘[t]here is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations.'” Villano v. City of Boynton Beach, 254 F.3d 1302, 1305 (11th Cir. 2001) (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436). Additionally, the Court is “an expert on the question [of attorney's fees] and may consider its own knowledge and experience concerning reasonable and proper fees and may form an independent judgment either with or without the aid of witnesses as to value.” Norman, 836 F.2d at 1303 (quoting Campbell v. Green, 112 F.2d 143, 144 (5th Cir. 1940)). Keeping in mind that “[c]ourts are not authorized to be generous with the money of others, and it is as much the duty of courts to see that excessive fees and expenses are not awarded as it is to see that an adequate amount is awarded.” ACLU of Georgia v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 428 (11th Cir. 1999).

         1. Reasonableness of Hours Expended

         First, the Court must determine the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation. The attorney fee applicant bears the initial burden of submitting evidence sufficient to allow the court to confirm that the requested fees are not excessive. ACLU of Georgia v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 428 (11th Cir. 1999). Then, “'objections and proof from fee opponents' concerning hours that should be excluded must be specific and ‘reasonably precise.'” Id. Attorneys “must exercise their own billing judgment to exclude any hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Galdames v. N&D Inv. Corp., 432 Fed.Appx. 801, 806 (11th Cir. 2011). If applicants do not exercise billing judgment, courts are obligated to do it for them. Courts may cut specific hours, or may engage in “an across-the-board cut, ” so long as the court adequately explains its reasons for doing so. Id.

         Here, Plaintiffs seek compensation for 60.4 hours of legal work on this matter. In addition to their sworn motion, Plaintiffs simply filed a ledger of attorney time records, which reflects work performed by Mr. Lechner and “S. Allen” from June 26, 2017 through May 24, 2019. (Doc. 55 at 9-12). Plaintiffs' motion, however, does not mention S. Allen, or even state whether he or she is a paralegal or an associate. Accordingly, the time entries for S. Allen-totaling 2.3 hours-should be deducted.

         The remaining time entries for Mr. Lechner fail to offer much detail, and thus, it is difficult for the Court to determine whether the time spent was reasonable and necessary. If an applicant's documentation as to hours “is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award accordingly.” Scelta v. Delicatessen Support Services, Inc., 203 F.Supp.2d 1328, 1331 (M.D. Fla. 2002) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). Here, given the nature of this case, the limited discovery and motion practice, and the fact that Plaintiffs ultimately prevailed against Mr. Tawfik on default judgment, the requested 58.1 hours are excessive. When, as here, the Court finds the number of hours claimed to be unreasonably high, “the court has two choices: it may conduct an hour-by-hour analysis or it may reduce hours with an across-the-board cut.” Bivens v. Wrap It Up, Inc., 548 F.3d 1348, 1350 (11th Cir. 2008). Based on the above circumstances, as well as the Court's own experience and expertise, I submit that a reduction of the requested fees by 20% to 46.48 hours is reasonable and appropriate.

         2. ...


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