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ALVARADO v. MANHATTAN WORKER CAREER CENTER

United States District Court, Southern District of New York


March 31, 2003

FELIX ALVARADO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MANHATTAN WORKER CAREER CENTER, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Constance Baker Motley, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

INTRODUCTION

The history of this case is set out completely in previous opinions issued by this court and does not need to be repeated in full. To summarize, on September 9, 2002, defendants moved this court pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37 to either dismiss the plaintiff's case or to direct the parties that as a condition to proceeding with the case, plaintiff must pay the costs and attorneys' fees incurred by defendants during the course of an extended discovery dispute. On October 8, 2002, the court held a hearing, allowing defendants to develop their arguments advanced pursuant to Rule 37 and allowing plaintiff the opportunity to present a robust response to defendants' detailed allegations of misconduct. At the close of the hearing and after precluding certain evidence, the court granted defendants' request for leave to move for summary judgment. On December 9, 2002, the court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting defendants' motion for summary judgment and granting defendants' motion for fees and costs. See Alvarado v. Manhattan Worker Career Center, et. al., 2002 WL 31760208 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2002). Thereafter, defendants Manhattan Worker Career Center ("WCC") and Career Blazers Learning Center ("CBLC") each submitted affidavits accompanied by time and billing details, setting forth fees and costs which they believed plaintiff should pay in connection with the discovery dispute. Plaintiff did not respond to defendants' affidavits or the materials accompanying them.

On January 27, 2003, the court issued an opinion addressing the reasonableness of the defendants' requested fee awards. See Alvarado v. Manhattan Worker Career Center, et. al., 2003 WL 194203 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 28, 2003). The court found the $200.00 per hour rate charged by Fisher & Fisher, counsel for defendant WCC, to be reasonable and within the range of attorneys' fees awarded by courts in this district for attorneys of comparable experience. After examining its affidavit and time and billing diaries, the court awarded WCC attorneys' fees and costs of $7,360.00 against plaintiff Felix Alvarado and his attorney Michael Bressler.

However, the court was not satisfied with the submissions proffered by Adrienne B. Koch, a partner at Esanu Katsky Korins & Siger, LLP, counsel for CBLC, pursuant to their requested fee award. First, the court believed that Ms. Koch had failed sufficiently to establish that the $335.00-$350.00 per hour rate which it charged its client in the instant case is within the range of attorneys' fees charged in the pertinent legal community for similar cases by attorneys with comparable training and experience. See Orchano v. Advanced Recovery, Inc., 107 F.3d 94, 99 (2d Cir. 1997). Second, the court required clarification of some of the entries in the billing statements made and submitted by Ms. Koch in her capacity as counsel for CBLC.

The court reiterates that it does not believe that Ms. Koch made the relevant entries in bad faith or with intent to misrepresent the time she expended on activities related to this case. Rather, Ms. Koch's practice of sometimes bundling more than one activity into a single time entry made it difficult for the court "to determine whether the time expended was reasonable for the relevant activity." Alvarado, 2003 WL 194203 at *2.

In light of the foregoing, the court ordered Ms. Koch to submit evidence to support the claim that $335.00-$350.00 per hour constitutes a reasonable hourly rate for the work she completed in this case. The court further ordered Ms. Koch to provide additional information to establish that the time expended on this case was reasonable. The court set a February 28, 2003 deadline for Ms. Koch to submit an amended affidavit. The court invited plaintiff and/or Mr. Bressler to submit objections by March 12, 2003. No objections have been received by this court.

For the reasons stated below, defendant CBLC is awarded fees and costs in accordance with the rulings in this opinion.

ANALYSIS

In order to determine how much of a party's requested fee award is reasonable pursuant to Rule 37, courts in this Circuit traditionally employ the "lodestar" method of calculation. See, e.g., GTFM Inc. and GTFM, LLC v. Solid Clothing Inc., 2002 WL 31886349 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 26, 2002); Creative Resources Group of New Jersey v. Creative Resources Group, 2002 WL 31730596, at *9 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 29, 2002); New Pacific Overseas Group v. Excal Int'l Dev. Corp., 2000 WL 520661, *1 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 28, 2000). To calculate the lodestar amount, a court multiplies the "number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation" by "a reasonable hourly rate." New Pacific Overseas Group, Inc. v. Excal Int'l Development Corp., 2000 WL 520661 (S.D.N.Y. April 28, 2000) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). A court may consider (1) "what hourly rate would normally be charged in the pertinent legal community for similar cases by attorneys [with comparable] training and experience" and (2) "how many hours were reasonably required for the prosecution of [the] claims." Orchano v. Advanced Recovery, Inc., 107 F.3d 94, 99 (2d Cir. 1997).

Adrienne B. Koch, a 1990 graduate of Harvard Law School and a partner at Esanu Katsky Korins & Siger, LLP, attorneys for defendant CBLC, billed CBLC at a rate of $350.00 per hour from October 1, 2002 through the present and $335 per hour from the inception of this matter through September 30, 2002. The firm bills her law clerk's time at a rate of $40.00 per hour. Ms. Koch billed CBLC at these rates for a total of 60.08 hours of her time and one hour of her clerk's time. According to the time sheets appended to her affidavit, the hours billed to CBLC included preparation for and attendance at three separate pretrial conferences — two held by Magistrate Judge Francis and the third held by this court — at which the discovery dispute was addressed. By multiplying the relevant hours by the relevant hourly rates, Ms. Koch arrives at a total of $20,497.60. In her affidavit to the court, Ms. Koch explains that her firm discounted its bill for the month of October by 15%. Whereas the time sheets for that period of time reflect $7,640.50 in charges, Ms. Koch subtracted 15% of that amount, or $1,146.08, from the total fees charged to CBLC. This brings the total requested to $19,351.52. Ms. Koch claims that it took an additional two hours to prepare the affidavit and papers in support of the calculation of fees. Accordingly, Ms. Koch has added $700.00, or two hours multiplied by the relevant hourly rate of $350.00, to the amount requested, leading to a total of $20,051.52.

Reasonableness of Hourly Rates

In response to the court's concerns regarding the reasonableness of the rates charged by Esanu Katsky Korins & Siger, LLP, Ms. Koch submitted evidence from two sources: (1) recent decisions from cases in the Southern District of New York addressing the reasonableness of rates comparable to those charged by Ms. Koch for attorneys with comparable experience; and (2) recent published surveys of the hourly rates charged by various firms.

Upon due consideration, the court concludes that the evidence submitted by Ms. Koch supports a finding that the rates charged by Esanu Katsky Korins and Siger, LLP for Ms. Koch's time in this case are reasonable and within the range of attorneys' fees awarded by courts in this district for attorneys of comparable experience.

Reasonableness of the Amount of Time Spent

In response to the court's concerns regarding her method of memorializing some of her activities in her time and billing statements, Ms. Koch provided a detailed clarification of single time sheet entries which contained references to multiple activities.

Upon due consideration, the court concludes that the time expended by Ms. Koch on this case was reasonable for all relevant activities.

Additional Fee Award Request

Ms. Koch submits that the amount awarded to CBLC should be increased to reflect the amount which Esanu Katsky Korins & Siger, LLP charged for Ms. Koch's preparation of materials addressing the foregoing issues pursuant to this court's Memorandum Opinion & Order dated January 28, 2003. Ms. Koch claims that the research she did pursuant to preparing the affidavit took approximately five hours, and the preparation and drafting of the affidavit itself took over ten hours. Ms. Koch therefore submits that the court should increase the amount awarded to CBLC by up to $5,250.00 (representing fifteen hours of Ms. Koch's time billed at $350.00 per hour). This the court will not do.

Preparation of materials establishing the reasonableness of an hourly rate charged by counsel is a remarkably simple task, the completion of which ought not to take five hours of research and analysis. While it appears that Ms. Koch went out of her way to show the court that the amount charged for her time was reasonable and within the range charged in the pertinent legal community for similar cases, a herculean effort was not necessary and was not requested by the court.*fn1 Having examined the billing statements and reviewed the affidavits submitted in relation to the fee request, the court finds that the hours billed are substantially more than were reasonably required. Accordingly, the court shall not increase the fee award to reflect the time expended on this portion of the affidavit.

In addition, it would not have been necessary to clarify the time and billing diaries originally submitted if Ms. Koch had memorialized the time expended with respect to each of her activities in a more precise and coherent fashion. The court therefore awards no fees for the time expended in preparing this clarification.

CONCLUSION

For the reasons stated above and in the Memorandum Opinion & Order dated December 9, 2002, defendant CBLC is hereby awarded attorneys' fees and costs of $20,051.52 against plaintiff Felix Alvarado and his attorney, Michael Bressler. In light of Mr. Bressler's individual participation in the misconduct addressed in the December 9, 2002 Opinion, this sanction shall be imposed jointly and severally on plaintiff and Mr. Bressler. See New Pacific Overseas Group (U.S.A.) Inc. v. Excal Int'l Development Corp., 2000 WL 377513 at *10 (S.D.N.Y. April 12, 2000); Mackler Productions, Inc. v. Cohen, 146 F.3d 126 (2d Cir. 1998). Submit amended supplemental judgment on fifteen days' notice.

SO ORDERED.


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