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Zhao Hui Chen v. Jin Holding Group Inc.

January 31, 2012

ZHAO HUI CHEN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
JIN HOLDING GROUP INC., D/B/A JIN RESTAURANT, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge:

USDC SDNY

DOCUMENT ELECTRONICALLY FILED DOC #:

ORDER

After a short trial, the jury returned a partial verdict in Plaintiff's favor. Both sides have calculated the shortfall in Mr. Chen's wages; the Defendants calculated the back wages due at $4,019.89; and the Plaintiff at $4,665.98. The Plaintiff's calculation is more complete and accurate and the Court determines that Mr. Chen is owed $4,665.98 in back wages.

With respect to attorney's fees and expenses, Plaintiff's chief attorney, Mr. Lee, claims that he, his partner, and one associate, worked a total of 445 hours,*fn1 worth $146,340, plus expenses of $2,156.58, for a total of $148,496.58. Counsel claims that the reasonable value of his and his partner's services is $350 /hr., and his associate's $250/hr.

Plaintiff's initial calculation of damages was approximately $70,000. The attorney's fee sought is more than twice the initial ad damnum, and more than thirty times the amount of the judgment to be entered in Mr. Chen's favor. Defendants argue that both the hourly rate sought and the hours expended are excessive.

The Fair Labor Standard Act provides that when there is a "judgment awarded to the plaintiff," in addition to that award, the Court shall "allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and the costs of the action." Since Mr. Chen is the prevailing party, his attorney, Mr. Lee, is entitled to a "reasonable attorney's fee." The statute does not contemplate a windfall recovery of attorney's fees.

The point of origin in calculating a reasonable fee is to ascertain the hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass'n. v. County of Albany, 522 F.3d 182, 186 (2d Cir. 2008). While the starting point may be clear, the path to be followed is less precise. As the Arbor Hill court recognized:

The net result of the fee setting jurisprudence here and in the Supreme Court is that the district courts must engage in an equitable inquiry of varying methodology while making a pretense of mathematical precision. Id. at p. 189.

One approach, the lodestar approach, is for the district court to determine:

"what a reasonable, paying client, would be willing to pay, consider [ing] 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 case effectively . . . the timing demands of the case . . . and other returns (such as reputation, etc.) that an attorney might expect from the representation." Id. at p. 184.

The Arbor Hill court also recognized the twelve specified factors to establish a reasonable fee set forth by the Fifth Circuit in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Exp., Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974), abrogated on other grounds by Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87, 92-93 (1989). The Johnson approach is a one-step inquiry, while the lodestar method contemplates determining a reasonable rate, multiplied by the reasonable hours. Id. at 189.

The Johnson factors include:

(1) The time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the level of skill required to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to accepting the case; (5) the attorney's customary hourly rate; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the 'undesirability' of the ...


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