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Staples, Inc. v. W.J.R. Associates

September 4, 2007

STAPLES, INC., PLAINTIFF,
v.
W.J.R. ASSOCIATES, CARMINE EVANGELISTA, ROBERT H. KANE, PATRICIA A. REINHARDT AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM J. REINHARDT, JAMES SLUYK AND TIMOTHY D. KING DEFENDANTS
W.J.R. ASSOCIATES AND PATRICIA A. REINHARDT AS EXECUTRIX OF THE ESTATE OF WILLIAM J. REINHARDT, THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFFS,
v.
REALTY EQUITY HOLDINGS 3820, LLC, NOSTRAND REALTY HOLDINGS, LLC, TIM ZISS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS MANAGING MEMBER OF REALTY EQUITY HOLDINGS 3820, LLC, MASSEY KNAKAL REALTY SERVICES, INC., AND STATE STREET BANK & TRUST COMPANY, THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kiyo A. Matsumoto, United States Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

By Memorandum and Order dated March 30, 2007, Judge Johnson granted the motions of State Street Bank & Trust Company ("State Street") against defendants and third-party plaintiffs W.J.R. Associates and Patricia Reinhardt and their counsel, Robert Connolly, Esq. (collectively, "WJR") for summary judgment and sanctions and awarded State Street costs and attorneys' fees incurred in bringing the two motions (doc. nos. 133 and 145, State Street's Motion for Summary Judgment and Motion for Sanctions, respectively (collectively, "the Motions")). (See doc. no. 208, Memorandum and Order, dated Mar. 30, 2007 ("3/30/07 M&O").) Judge Johnson held in relevant part that because it was "patently clear that WJR had absolutely no chance of success on its third-party claims against State Street" once discovery had been completed, and yet WJR still pursued its claims, State Street was entitled to sanctions under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (See id., at 14-15.) By letter to the undersigned dated April 18, 2007, State Street proposed a briefing schedule for the computation of sanctions, pursuant to Judge Johnson's order, (see doc. no. 216, Letter filed by State Street, dated April 18, 2007), which this court accepted with amendments (see order dated April 24, 2007).*fn1

In its computation of attorneys' fees and costs in bringing the Motions, State Street seeks $41,081.26 in attorneys' fees and $2,122.87 in costs, for a total of $43,204.13. (See doc. no. 227, Affidavit of John C. Re, Esq., in Support of Computation of Sanctions Award, dated May 9, 2007 ("Re Aff"), ¶ 2.) WJR submitted its objections to State Street's computations on May 16, 2007. (See doc. no. 225, Declaration of Robert Connolly, Esq., in Opposition to State Street's Computation of Sanctions Award, dated May 16, 2007 ("Connolly Decl.").) State Street replied on May 18, 2007, and recalculated and reduced its fees and costs by $678.04, for a total of $42,526.09. (See doc. no. 228, Affidavit of John C. Re in Reply to Opposition Papers of Third-Party Plaintiffs and in Further Support of State Street's Computation of Sanctions Award, dated May 18, 2007 ("Re Reply Aff."), ¶ 1.) For the reasons set forth below, this court respectfully recommends that State Street be awarded $35,929.09 in attorneys' fees and $1575.38 in costs, for a total of $37,504.47.

BACKGROUND

The procedural history of this action is described in Judge Johnson's Memorandum and Order, dated March 30, 2007, and will not be repeated, except as follows.

DISCUSSION

A determination of the appropriate award for attorneys' fees rests soundly within the discretion of the district court. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983). In the Second Circuit, a party seeking attorney fees "must support that request with contemporaneous time records, that show 'for each attorney, the date, the hours expended, and the nature of the work done.'" Cablevision Systems New York City Corp. v. Diaz, No. CV-07-4340, 2002 WL 31045855, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. July 10, 2002) (quoting New York State Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1154 (2d Cir. 1983)). "The party seeking reimbursement bears the burden of proving the reasonableness and necessity of hours spent and rates charged." Morin v. Nu-Way Plastering Inc., No. 03-CV-405, 2005 WL 3470371, at *2 (E.D.N.Y. Dec. 19, 2005) (citing generally Carey, 711 F.2d 1136). "In determining the reasonableness of attorney's fees . . . courts have generally used the lodestar method, in combination with the twelve factors articulated in Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1971)."*fn2 Emerald Investments, LLC v. Porter Bridge Loan Co., No. 05-CV-1598, 2007 WL 1834507, at *5 (D. Conn. 2007).

In a recent decision, Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass'n v. County of Albany, 484 F.3d 162, 169 (2d Cir. 2007), amended, 493 F.3d 110 (2d Cir. 2007), the Second Circuit explained that the district court, in exercising its considerable discretion, should bear in mind all of the case-specific variables that [the Second Circuit] and other courts have identified as relevant to the reasonableness of attorney's fees in setting a reasonable hourly rate.

The reasonable hourly rate is the rate a paying client would be willing to pay. In determining what rate a paying client would be willing to pay, the district court should consider, among others, the Johnson factors; it should also bear in mind that a reasonable paying client wishes to spend the minimum necessary to litigate the case effectively. The district court should also consider that such an individual might be able to negotiate with his or her attorneys, using their desire to obtain the reputational benefits that might accrue from being associated with the case. The district court should then use that hourly rate to calculate what can properly be termed the "presumptively reasonable fee."*fn3

"After determining the amount of the presumptively reasonable fee, the court may use its discretion to increase or reduce the amount based on the particular circumstances of the case." Emerald Investments, 2007 WL 1834507 at *5 (quoting Chan v. Sung Yue Tung Corp., No. 03-CV-6048, 2007 WL 1373118, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2007)).

Considering the circumstances of this case, State Street's attorneys' fees application arises in the context of the Rule 11 sanctions award by Judge Johnson. State Street correctly notes, "Judge Johnson did not rule that State Street be awarded . . . sanction[s] simply to deter [WJR] from engaging in similar conduct in the future. Rather, Judge Johnson . . . specifically directed that State Street be awarded the fees incurred in bringing its summary judgment and sanctions motions." (Re Reply Aff., ¶ 3.) Nonetheless, "after calculating reasonable attorney's fees and costs, the court must review its measure of sanctions in light of the purposes of Rule 11" of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Association of Holocaust Victims for Restitution of Artwork and Masterpieces v. Bank Austria Credianstalt AG, No. 04-CV-3600, 2005 WL 3099592, at * 7 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 17, 2005). "The primary purpose of Rule 11 sanctions is deterrence, thus the amount of attorney's fees awarded as a sanction is squarely within the district court's discretion." Id. (citing Caisse Nationale de Credit Agricole-CNCA v. Valcorp, Inc., 28 F.3d 259, 266 (2d Cir.1994)). Therefore, "it is also within the court's discretion to . . . award a lesser amount that appropriately fulfills the deterrent function of Rule 11." Id. (citing Eastway Constr. Corp. v. City of New York, 821 F.2d 121, 122 (2d Cir. 1987), cert denied, 484 U.S. 918 (1987)).

After reviewing the parties' submissions, and for the reasons set forth below, this court respectfully recommends that counsel for State Street be awarded $37,504.47 in attorney's fees and costs. The court arrived at this calculation by applying the Second Circuit's factors in Arbor Hill to determine the reasonable hourly rates, considering the deterrent purposes of Rule 11, and applying the four major factors most often utilized in determining attorneys' fees awards: contemporaneity of time records, reasonableness of hourly rates, reasonableness of hours expended and reasonableness of costs. See, e.g., Morin, 2005 WL 3470371, at *2 (addressing contemporaneous time records, reasonableness of hourly rates, reasonableness of time spent and costs); Ueno v. Napolitano, No. 04-CV-1873, 2007 WL 1395517, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. May 11, 2007) (focusing on reasonableness of hourly rates, reasonableness of hours billed and reasonableness of costs).

A. Contemporaneity of Time Records

The court has reviewed the records submitted by the movant's counsel for legal services rendered in connection with the Motions and finds that the level of detail in the time records is sufficient to meet the requisite contemporaneity standard. See Carey, 711 F.2d at 1147-48. In addition to State Street's counsel's affidavit explaining the specific billing entries, for each entry, details are provided as to the attorney involved, the particular legal services performed, the rate charged and the time spent. See, e.g., Ueno, 2007 WL 1395517 at *8 (finding records sufficient when each entry provided details regarding the attorney involved, the task performed, the rate charged and the time spent); Brady v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 455 F. Supp. 2d 157, 205-08 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) (finding 70 pages of billing records documenting over 2000 hours spent on a matter to be adequate); Cablevision, 2002 WL 31045855, at *5 (allowing legal fees for detailed billing and denying fees for flat rate billing).

B. Reasonableness of Hourly Rates

Counsel for State Street, Mr. John C. Re, Esq., requests that he be compensated at a rate between $360 and $375 per hour,*fn4 and that his partner, Mr. Joseph Aronauer, Esq., be compensated at a rate of $400 per hour. (See Re Aff., ΒΆ 16.) State Street's counsel also requests ...


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