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Houston Specialty Insurance Co. v. Vaughn

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

September 20, 2019

HOUSTON SPECIALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, Plaintiff,
v.
ENOCH VAUGHN, ALL FLORIDA WEATHERPROOFING & CONSTRUCTION, INC., RICHARD FULFORD, and ROBERT MENDENHALL, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          AMANDA ARNOLD SANSONE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Defendants All Florida Weatherproofing & Construction, Inc., Richard Fulford, and Robert Mendenhall (collectively, the defendants) move for an award of appellate attorney's fees. (Docs. 245, 247, 252). Plaintiff Houston Specialty Insurance Company (HSIC) opposes the motion. (Doc. 246).

         I. BACKGROUND

         HSIC filed this declaratory judgment action to determine whether insurance coverage existed in connection with tort claims brought by Enoch Vaughn against the defendants in a separate action. (Doc. 1). The court determined coverage existed and entered declaratory judgments in favor of the defendants. (Docs. 205, 206, 207, 208). HSIC appealed the declaratory judgments to the Eleventh Circuit. (Doc. 216). While the appeal was pending, the court awarded the defendants' attorney's fees as the prevailing party in this action. (Docs. 229, 231). HSIC appealed the award of attorney's fees. (Doc. 233).

         The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the declaratory judgments entered in favor of the defendants and the award of attorney's fees. (Docs. 242, 243, 248, 249). Based on their status as the prevailing parties on appeal, the defendants moved the Eleventh Circuit for appellate attorney's fees and to transfer the motion to this court. (Doc. 245). HSIC responded in opposition to the defendants' motion. (Doc. 246).

         The Eleventh Circuit ruled the defendants were entitled to appellate attorney's fees and transferred to this court consideration of the reasonable amount of appellate attorney's fees. (Doc. 244). The matter was referred to the undersigned for issuance of a report and recommendation on the disposition of the motion. (Doc. 251).

         II. ANALYSIS

         “In the Eleventh Circuit, the district court employs the federal lodestar approach to set reasonable fee awards.” Loranger v. Stierheim, 10 F.3d 776, 781 (11th Cir. 1994) (per curiam). “Under the federal lodestar approach, the Court multiplies the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate.” Lumpuy v. Scottsdale Ins. Co., No. 8:11-CV-2455-T-24MAP, 2015 WL 1708875, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 15, 2015) (citing Norman v. Hous. Auth. of City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1299 (11th Cir. 1988)).

         “[T]he computation of a fee award is necessarily an exercise of judgment, because there is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations.” Villano v. City of Boynton Beach, 254 F.3d 1302, 1305 (11th Cir. 2001) (internal quotation omitted). Considering the court “is itself an expert on the question [of attorney's fees], ” it “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)).

         The defendants seeks the following appellate attorney's fees: an award for the work of Daniel Martinez, Esq. at $550 per hour for 41.1 hours; an award for the work of Weslee L. Ferron, Esq. at $450 per hour for 140.4 hours; and an award for the work of Scott K. Hewitt, Esq. at $300 per hour for 37.5 hours. (Doc. 245, p. 7). In sum, the defendants request an award of appellate attorney's fees in the amount of $97, 035.00. (Id.).

         HSIC raises two objections in response. (Doc. 246). First, HSIC objects to the requested hourly rates. (Id. at pp. 5-6). Second, HSIC objects to 4.5 hours of Mr. Martinez's time. (Id. at p. 7). The court will address each objection.

         A. Reasonable Hourly Rates

         HSIC contends the court should reduce the hourly rate for Mr. Martinez to $400 per hour and the hourly rate for Ms. Ferron to $300-$325 per hour.[1] (Id. at pp. 5-6). HSIC contends these reduced hourly rates are supported by its expert, W. Gray Dunlap, Jr. (See Doc. 228).

         A reasonable hourly rate is based on “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 (citations omitted). An applicant may meet its burden of establishing a reasonably hourly rate by setting forth direct evidence of rates charged under similar circumstances or submitting opinion evidence of reasonable rates. See Id. In addition, the court ...


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