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Christine Clover and Stephanie Cortes, et al v. Shiva Realty of Mulberry

May 13, 2011

CHRISTINE CLOVER AND STEPHANIE CORTES, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SHIVA REALTY OF MULBERRY, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert P. Patterson, Jr., U.S.D.J.

OPINION AND ORDER

On October 19, 2010, Plaintiffs' counsel, of the firm Beranbaum Menken LLP, moved for an award of attorneys' fees, totaling $33,260, pursuant to the fee shifting provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Defendants Shiva Realty of Mulberry, Inc. et al. responded to the motion by an Affirmation in Opposition on November 19, 2010. Plaintiffs' motion is granted for the reasons stated below.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Christine Clover and Stephanie Cortes worked in Dunkin Donut shops in lower Manhattan owned and operated by Defendants through a franchise agreement with Dunkin Donuts Franchising LLC. (Decl. of Bruce Menken at ¶ 2.) Plaintiffs alleged that they worked over 40 hours a week and that Defendants refused to pay them overtime at one and one-half times the regular rate in violation of FLSA and the New York Labor Law. (Id.) On March 3, 2010, Plaintiffs filed suit on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated for violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 207(a), and the New York Minimum Wage Act, 12 NYCRR 142-2.2. (Id. at ¶ 3.)

On May 28, 2010, Defendants served Plaintiffs with a Rule 68 offer of settlement for an amount of $659.49 for Plaintiff Clover and $1,567.69 for Plaintiff Cortes, plus interest, costs, and reasonable attorneys' fees. (Id. at ¶ 4.) Plaintiffs rejected this offer, because they believed they were owed more than what was being offered. (Id. at ¶5.)

On May 27, 2010, Plaintiffs obtained the Court's permission to move for conditional class certification without a pre-motion conference, and on June 22, 2010, Plaintiffs moved for conditional class certification under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). (Id. at ¶ 6.) On June 28, 2010, Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint, arguing that Plaintiffs' rejection of the Rule 68 offer eliminated Plaintiffs' stake in the case and rendered the claims moot. (Id. at ¶ 7.) On June 29 and July 2, 2010, Plaintiffs' attorney Bruce Menken spoke with Defendant's counsel on behalf of Plaintiff Cortes, who expressed a desire to settle in view of financial difficulties she was facing. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Plaintiff Clover did not want to settle, and the Defendants would not settle the lawsuit unless both Cortes and Clover agreed to settle. (Id.) On July 28, 2010, Plaintiffs filed their opposition to the motion to dismiss. (Id. at 9.)

The parties agreed to settle the case on August 12, 2010 for a payment of $2,000 each to Plaintiffs Clover and Cortes plus attorney's fees and costs. (Id. at 10; Settlement Agreement, Menken Decl., Ex. A.) After some negotiations, Plaintiffs' counsel and Defendants' counsel were unable to agree on fees, and Plaintiffs filed this present motion. (Menken Decl. at ¶¶ 14-15.)

DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs seek a total of $33,260 in attorney's fees: $22,310 for the underlying action, $10,950 for the motion to recover fees, and $635 in taxable costs. (Menken Decl., Exs. B and C.) Plaintiffs billed a total of 51 hours in the underlying action. 30.90 of those hours were billed by Bruce E. Menken, Esq., a partner at Beranbaum Menken, at a rate of $500 per hour, and 20.75 were billed by Jennifer L. Smith, Esq., a senior associate at Beranbaum Menken, at a rate of $300 per hour. (Menken Decl., Ex. B.) Mr. Menken billed an additional 21.90 hours working on the motion to recover fees at a rate of $500 per hour. (Menken Decl., Ex. C.)

Defendants offer two categories of arguments in opposition to Plaintiffs' application. First, they suggest that Plaintiffs' fee award should be reduced due to Plaintiffs' conduct during the litigation and the circumstances surrounding the dispute's ultimate resolution. Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' fee request is unreasonably high. Defendants suggest reducing Plaintiffs' fees to a total of $2,187.75. For the reasons stated below, the Court grants Plaintiffs' motion for fees.

I. Attorneys' Fees Under the FLSA and New York Law

The Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §§ 201 et seq. ("FLSA") provides that if a plaintiff prevails in an action under § 206 or § 207, "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." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

The New York Minimum Wage Act, NYLL §§ 651 et seq., provides that a prevailing plaintiff: may recover in a civil action the amount of any such underpayments, together with costs and reasonable attorney's fees as may be allowed by the court, and unless the employer proves a good faith basis to believe that its underpayment of wages was in compliance with the law, an additional amount as liquidated damages equal to twenty-five percent of the total of such underpayments found to be due the employee and any agreement between the employee.

NYLL § 663 ¶ 1.

In determining whether a fee application is reasonable, a court should: consider factors including, but not limited to, the complexity and difficulty of the case, the available expertise and capacity of the client's other counsel (if any), the resources required to prosecute the required to prosecute the case effectively., the timing demands of the case, whether an attorney might have an interest (independent of that of his client) in achieving the ends of the litigation or might initiate the representation himself, whether an attorney ...


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