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NEW YORK STATE TEAMSTERS CONFERENCE PENSION & RE. F. v. UPS

February 27, 2004.

NEW YORK STATE TEAMSTERS CONFERENCE PENSION & RETIREMENT FUND, NEW YORK STATE TEAMSTERS COUNCIL HEALTH & HOSPITAL FUND, J. DAWSON CUNNINGHAM, FRANK POSATO, THOMAS GOODWIN, BRIAN MASTERSON, JOHN BULGARO, ANTHONY SIMOES, DANIEL SCHMIDT and DON LITTLE, Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC. Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDERICK SCULLIN, Chief Judge, District

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

  Plaintiffs New York State Teamsters Conference and Retirement Fund ("Pension Fund") and New York State Teamsters Council Health and Hospital Fund ("Health Fund") (collectively "the Funds") prevailed in their action against Defendant United Parcel Service, Inc. ("UPS") under § 515 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1145. Subsequently, as the prevailing party, Plaintiffs filed the present motion for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to Rule 54(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and § 502(g)(2) of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2)(D). The following constitutes the Court's written decision with respect to the pending motion.

  II. DISCUSSION

 A. Plaintiffs' request and Defendant's objections

  Plaintiffs contend that they are entitled to the full amount that they have requested as well as "such further relief as the Court deems just and proper" because the award of attorneys' fees and costs is mandatory under the statute and because Defendant's tactics prior to and during this litigation were designed to "unnecessarily drag out and multiply the issues involved." Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that Defendant (1) asserted a frivolous counterclaim, (2) improperly issued a subpoena after the close of discovery, and (3) filed a motion in limine that Defendant knew or should have known was not well-founded and that the Court ultimately rejected.

  Plaintiffs seek $93,805.00 in attorneys' fees and $12,385.05 in costs, for a total of $106,190.05 for work that their local counsel, Hancock & Estabrook, LLP ("Hancock & Page 3 Estabrook"), performed. In addition, Plaintiffs seek $1,347,205.70 in attorneys' fees and $157,435.11 in costs, totaling $1,504,640.81 for work that their lead counsel, Morgan, Lewis & Bokius, LLP ("Morgan, Lewis"), performed. In sum, Plaintiffs seek a total of $1,610,830.86 in attorneys' fees and costs from Defendant.

  On May 5, 2003, Defendant filed a memorandum in opposition to Plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and costs, arguing that the amount requested is unreasonable and should be denied "in substantial part." Defendant claims that the hourly rates that Plaintiffs' attorneys charged exceed the prevailing rates in this district and that the hours claimed are insufficiently documented or are excessive, redundant, and unnecessary. In addition, Defendant objects to Plaintiffs' request for costs associated with plane tickets and other transportation, meals, lodging, postage/delivery, computer research, and clerical overtime on the ground that these expenses are not taxable as costs under § 1132(g)(2). Based upon its objections, Defendant contends that Plaintiffs are entitled to no more than $737,736.50 in attorneys' fees and $12,026.00 in costs.

  The Court will address each of the issues that the parties have raised in turn.*fn1 Page 4

 B. The reasonableness of Plaintiffs' request for attorneys' fees

  To determine the reasonableness of an attorneys' fees application, the Second Circuit uses the lodestar method. SeeLuciano v. Olsten Corp., 109 F.3d 111, 115 (2d Cir. 1997) (citations omitted). The lodestar amount is calculated by multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation. See id.; Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).*fn2 The court may then increase this lodestar amount, in its discretion, with particular emphasis placed on the degree of the prevailing party's success. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 (footnote omitted).*fn3 The prevailing party has the burden to establish the appropriate hourly rate and to document the time reasonably expended. See id. at 437. However, "[a] request for attorney's fees should not result in a second major litigation." Id.

  Both parties agree that this Court must calculate the award of attorneys' fees according to the lodestar method. They disagree, however, with respect to the values of the two main components of that calculation — the reasonable hourly rate and the reasonable number of hours expended. In this regard, Defendant contends that Plaintiffs' attorneys' hourly rates are unreasonably high and that the hours billed are excessive, redundant, and unnecessary. Page 5 Defendant also protests any increase in the fee award beyond the initial lodestar calculation.

  1. Plaintiffs' requested hourly rates

  The reasonable hourly rate must be "in line 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, 895 n.11 (1984). The "prevailing community" has been interpreted as the district where the court sits. Luciano, 109 F.3d at 115 (quotation omitted). The court also has the discretion to increase a fee award in certain circumstances, see Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434, however, "[t]he burden of proving that such an adjustment is necessary to the determination of a reasonable fee is on the fee applicant." Blum, 465 U.S. at 898.

  Courts in this district have held that the prevailing rate for experienced attorneys is $175 per hour. See, e.g., Patterson v. Julian, 250 F. Supp.2d 36, 45 (N.D.N.Y. 2003) (citing I.B.E. W. Local No. 910 Welfare, Annuity and Pension Funds ex rel. Love v. Dexelectrics, Inc., 98 F. Supp.2d 265, 275 (N.D.N.Y. 2000)) (other citations omitted). In Local 910, the court specified that the prevailing rates in this district are $175 per hour for the most experienced attorneys, $125 per hour for attorneys with four or more years of experience, $100 per hour for attorneys with less than four years experience, and $65 per hour for work done by paralegals. See Local No. 910, 98 F. Supp.2d at 275 (citations omitted).

  Defendant objects to the rates that Plaintiffs' attorneys charged and contends that this Court should apply the hourly rates set forth in Local 910. Defendant concedes, however, that a rate of $200 per hour is reasonable for attorney Jonathan Rose based upon his special expertise; however, Defendant argues that no other upward adjustment in the fee allowance is justified. Page 6

  Plaintiffs' documentation for the hours that its Morgan, Lewis attorneys expended shows that they charged the following hourly rates: between $330 and $415 for partners and of counsel, between $115 and $375 for associates, and between $100 and $145 for legal assistants/law clerks.

  Plaintiffs' documentation for the hours that its Hancock & Estabrook attorneys expended does not clearly show the hourly rates for most of the attorneys individually, as they are typically grouped together on the invoices. However, it appears that the hourly rates they charged are as follows: between $185 and $225 for partners, ...


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