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Triumph Construction Corp. v. New York City Council of Carpenters Pension Fund

United States District Court, S.D. New York

December 8, 2014

TRIUMPH CONSTRUCTION CORP., Petitioner,
v.
THE NEW YORK CITY COUNCIL OF CARPENTERS PENSION FUND, et al., Respondents.

OPINION AND ORDER

KATHERINE POLK FAILLA, District Judge.

In its July 3, 2014 Order and Opinion (Dkt. #50, the "July 3 Order"), this Court denied the motion for summary judgment of Triumph Construction Corporation ("Petitioner"), and granted the motion for summary judgment of the New York City District Council of Carpenters and its associated fringe benefit funds (collectively, "Respondents"). The Court also found that Petitioner was bound to the terms of the parties' collective bargaining agreement ("CBA") that entitle Respondents to attorneys' fees and costs incurred in connection with the instant litigation. Accordingly, the Court directed Respondents to submit a fee application, which is currently pending before the Court. For the reasons set forth in this Opinion, the Court grants Respondents' application in part, finding that certain reductions are appropriate.

BACKGROUND[1]

The parties have been engaged in a four-years-long dispute stemming from Petitioner's refusal to allow Respondents to complete an audit, started in May 2010, of Petitioner's records. (July 3 Order 7). The facts and procedural history relevant to that battle are set forth in the July 3 Order; only the facts and procedural history pertinent to the instant application are described here.

A. Procedural History Relevant to the Fee Application

In September 2012, Respondents served Petitioner with a Notice of Intent to Arbitrate. (July 3 Order 8).[2] On October 16, 2012, Petitioner filed suit in state court seeking to stay the arbitration. ( Id .; see also Bauman Decl. ¶ 3). After review and discussion of the state court petition to stay arbitration, Respondents removed the proceeding to this Court on November 14, 2012. (Bauman Decl. ¶ 3). Counsel prepared for and attended an initial pretrial conference on January 31, 2013, at which a discovery schedule was set. ( Id.; Dkt. #4). On February 11, 2013, Respondents filed an Answer and Counterclaim, seeking an order compelling Petitioner to submit to arbitration. (Bauman Decl. ¶ 3; Dkt. #5). The parties conducted discovery from approximately April 2013 to June 2013. (Bauman Decl. ¶ 3). During that time, the parties exchanged document requests and interrogatories, and took two depositions. ( Id. ). After two fruitless settlement conferences, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment as to whether the dispute was subject to arbitration; the motions were fully briefed on January 14, 2014. (July 3 Order 8).

On July 3, 2014, the Court rejected Petitioner's motion and granted summary judgment in Respondents' favor. (July 3 Order 1). In granting Respondents' motion, the Court determined, inter alia, that Petitioner was bound to the parties' CBA, and that Respondents were accordingly entitled to attorneys' fees and costs. ( Id. at 43-44). On July 30, 2014, Respondents filed the instant fee application and papers in support; Petitioner opposed on October 8, 2014.

B. The Fee Application

Respondents' instant application seeks fees for work done in the period following the filing of the state court action, starting on October 22, 2012. ( See Bauman Decl. Ex. A at 1). Respondents seek remuneration for work done by two attorneys - one of counsel and one associate - and various legal assistants at the law firm of Virginia & Ambinder ("V&A"). The V&A of counsel, Nathan Bishop, is a 1998 graduate from New York University School of Law and has practiced exclusively in the area of labor and employment benefits law since 2000. ( Id. at ¶ 5). V&A billed Bishop's time at an hourly rate of $250.00 to $300.00 for work performed in connection with this action. ( Id. ). Respondents seek payment for 231.4 hours of time billed by Bishop for work done from October 22, 2012, to July 8, 2014, which includes the instant fee application. ( See id. at Ex. A). The V&A associate, Michael Isaac, is a 2007 graduate of Rutgers University School of Law - Newark, and has also regularly represented multiemployer benefit plans in ERISA litigation. ( Id. at ¶ 6). V&A billed Isaac's time at an hourly rate of $225.00 for work performed in connection with this action. ( Id. ). Respondents seek payment for 8.8 hours of time billed by Isaac during the month of July 2014, only for work done on the instant fee application. ( See id. at Ex. A). V&A billed legal assistants' time at an hourly rate of $90.00 to $100.00, and seeks remuneration for 11.2 hours of legal assistants' time, for various tasks performed from November 2012 to January 2014. ( Id. at ¶ 7, Ex. A). Respondents seek professional fees in the amount of $62, 615.00 ( id. at ¶ 10), and costs in the amount of $1, 458.33 ( id. at ¶ 11), for a total award of $64, 073.33. Petitioner disputes the award sought on various grounds.

DISCUSSION

The Court has already determined that Respondents are entitled to attorneys' fees. Thus, the only issue before the Court is whether Respondents' requested fees are "reasonable." While the Court finds that Respondents' hourly rates are reasonable, the Court also finds that several reductions to the number of compensable hours (and, by extension, the overall requested award) are appropriate. First, the Court declines to grant fees related to two settlement conferences, on the ground that such fees were not "reasonably expended." Second, the Court declines to grant Respondents fees associated with preparing and filing the instant application. Third, the Court makes a 15% cut in the requested fees to "trim the fat."

A. Applicable Law

"Both [the Second Circuit] and the Supreme Court have held that the lodestar - the product of a reasonable hourly rate and the reasonable number of hours required by the case - creates a presumptively reasonable fee.'" Millea v. Metro-North R.R. Co., 658 F.3d 154, 166 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Assoc. v. County of Albany, 522 F.3d 182, 183 (2d Cir. 2008), and citing Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 552-53 (2010)). While the lodestar is not always conclusive, its presumptive reasonability means that it is a "starting point" for a district court's analysis of whether a requested fee award is reasonable. Id. at 166.

A "reasonably hourly rate" is "the rate a paying client would be willing to pay, " keeping in mind "all of the case-specific variables that [courts] have identified as relevant to the reasonableness of attorney's fees in setting a reasonable hourly rate." Arbor Hill, 522 F.3d at 190. Arbor Hill specifically identified the following factors ...


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