UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
February 10, 2010
ROSA MALIZA, PLAINTIFF,
2001 MAR-OS FASHION, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: VIKTOR V. Pohorelsky United States Magistrate Judge
OPINION AND ORDER
At the trial of this matter, the jury returned a verdict on interrogatories finding the defendants Edgar Uzhca and Lourdes Uzhca Gonzales liable to the plaintiff for unpaid wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA") and the New York Labor Law ("NYLL"), and made factual findings that subjected the defendants to further liability for liquidated damages under both statutes. The interrogatories did not ask the jury to reach a determination of the total amounts of unpaid wages due to the plaintiff, but rather instructed the jury to provide month-by-month determinations of the hours worked by, and wages paid to, the plaintiff over the period of time when she was employed by the defendants. This procedure left to the court the arithmetic task of computing the shortfalls, if any, in the wages paid to the plaintiff during the time periods in question.
In accordance with a post-trial schedule set by the court, the plaintiff submitted proposed calculations for unpaid wages as well as liquidated damages, and has also moved for an award of attorneys' fees and costs. The defendants have submitted no opposition, despite an extension to the schedule granted by the court.
UNPAID WAGES AND LIQUIDATED DAMAGES
The court has examined the submissions made by the plaintiff on the issue of unpaid wages and liquidated damages, which consist primarily of three detailed schedules reflecting calculations, week-by-week, regarding unpaid wages and damages to be paid under the FLSA (Exhibit A) and the NYLL (Exhibit B), and for prejudgment interest which is available for damage awards under the NYLL (Exhibit C).*fn1 The schedules, which are clearly computerized spreadsheets, accurately reflect the findings made by the jury with respect to hours worked and wages paid. They also accurately reflect the applicable minimum and overtime rates of pay at various times during the plaintiff's employment. Based on those factual premises, Exhibits A and B provide calculations, week-by-week, concerning any shortfalls that occurred between the wages paid and the wages owed to the plaintiff, as well as the liquidated damages applicable to the shortfalls in those wages at the statutory rates set by the two statutes. Similarly, Exhibit C provides calculations, week-by-week, concerning the accrued interest at 9% per annum from the time when each shortfall in payment occurred, up through October 21, 2009. Finding no error in these calculations, the court concludes that the following damages are to be awarded to the plaintiff: (i) unpaid wages under the FLSA totaling $1,709.80; (ii) liquidated damages under the FLSA totaling $1,709.80;*fn2 (iii) unpaid wages under the NYLL totaling $5,994.75;*fn3 (iii) liquidated damages under the NYLL totaling $1,926.14;*fn4 and (iv) prejudgment interest on unpaid wages under the NYLL totaling $3,753.97 through October 21, 2009.*fn5
ATTORNEYS'FEES AND COSTS
The plaintiff seeks a total of $138,003.00 for attorneys' fees and $7,186.09 for costs. In support of that request, the plaintiff has submitted an affirmation by her principal counsel which provides detailed information about the hours spent by three attorneys who were involved in the matter and about the out-of-pocket expenses incurred in connection with this litigation.
Both the FLSA and the NYLL provide for awards of attorneys' fees and costs to plaintiffs who prevail on their claims under those statutes. See 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) ("The court in such action shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action.")(emphasis added); N.Y. Lab. Law §§ 198(1-a), 663(1). Establishing the amount of "reasonable" attorneys' fees has been the subject of extended discussion in the Second Circuit. See Simmons v. New York City Transit Authority, 575 F.3d 170 (2d Cir. 2009); Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass'n v. County of Albany, 522 F.3d 182 (2d Cir. 2008), superseding 493 F.3d 110 (2d Cir. 2007). The Circuit's recent decisions have "abandoned the 'lodestar' approach to awarding attorney's fees, and adopted instead a 'presumptively reasonable fee' calculation." Simmons, 575 F.3d at 172. Thus, district courts must now "bear in mind all of the case-specific variables that we and other courts have identified as relevant to the reasonableness of attorney's fees in setting a reasonable hourly rate." Id. (citing Arbor Hill, 493 F.3d at 117-18) (emphasis in original). Those factors include the so-called Johnson factors (taken from Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir.1974),*fn6 abrogated on other grounds by Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87, 92-93 (1989)), as well as the recognition that a reasonable paying client wishes to spend the minimum necessary to litigate the case effectively and might be able to negotiate a lower fee than customary. See Arbor Hill, 522 F.3d at 190. Notwithstanding the abandonment of the "lodestar" approach, however, the presumptively reasonable fee is still to be determined by reference to the number of hours reasonably expended on a matter and the reasonable fee to be charged for those hours. See generally Bliven v. Hunt, 579 F.3d 204, 213 (2d Cir. 2009). The task thus still requires a review of reasonably detailed time records as contemplated by New York Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1148 (2d Cir. 1983).
The data provided by the plaintiff concerning tasks undertaken and time spent by the various attorneys who participated in the litigation is more than adequate to satisfy the dictates of Carey. The litigation was staffed by a recently admitted attorney, whose time in this application is being charged at a rate of $150 per hour, and two supervising attorneys, for whom the rates being charged are at $250 and $300 per hour respectively.*fn7 The affirmation carries sufficient information to justify the rates for the time charged by each of the three attorneys. (Indeed, the skill with which the principal attorney handled the matter belied her relative lack of experience and thus probably understates the value of her time.)
Doubtless because of the relative inexperience of the principal attorney, considerable time was spent by the two supervisors to insure that the principal attorney was learning how to conduct litigation and was handling the matter appropriately. While the court does not doubt that their services added value to the representation of the plaintiff, and acknowledges that some supervision by senior attorneys in any law office is absolutely necessary, a fee award should not be expected to compensate for all training and oversight afforded to newly admitted attorneys. Here, for example, all three attorneys attended trial for all or substantial portions of every trial day. It also appears that two attorneys were involved in preparing for and attending each of the depositions in the case. Although the litigation presented some challenges, particularly during discovery, the case was not particularly complex. Indeed, the defendants were represented by a single attorney throughout discovery and by a single, albeit different, attorney throughout the trial.
In addition, given the relatively modest amount at stake in the litigation, the court must consider what a reasonable paying client, with an interest in minimizing fees, would be willing to pay. Here, the total fee award sought is more than nine times the amount recovered; in the circumstances, it appears to the court that a reasonable paying client would have been willing to forego some of the attention paid to the case by the attorneys here in order to keep fees from running so high.
These considerations lead the court to conclude that the fee award should be less than that requested. Thus, the time for the supervising attorney who was less involved in the matter will be reduced by 30 hours relating to her attendance as the third attorney at trial. In addition, the amount to be awarded for the time spent by both supervising attorneys (after the 30-hour reduction) will be reduced by twenty percent.*fn8 The court emphasizes that these reductions are not a reflection on the quality of the representation provided by the supervising attorneys, but simply a recognition that some of those services were for time spent in supervision and training for which the defendants should not be held responsible, and that some of the time expended by all of the attorneys acting for the plaintiff was greater than what a paying client would have requested.
The costs for which the plaintiff seeks reimbursement are all reasonable, and adequately supported.*fn9 They will therefore be awarded in full.
For the foregoing reasons, judgment is to be entered in the following amounts:
1. $11,340.49 for unpaid wages and liquidated damages;
2. $3,753.97 plus $1.09 per day from October 21, 2009 to the date of judgment for prejudgment interest;
3. $117,888 for attorneys' fees; and
4. $7,186.09 for costs.