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Bluelink Marketing LLC v. Carney

United States District Court, S.D. New York

November 20, 2017


          OPINION & ORDER


         Plaintiffs Bluelink Marketing LLC and Gerald Owens (together, “Plaintiffs”) brought this action against defendants Declan Carney and Tagcade LLC (together, “Defendants”) for breach of contract, fraudulent conveyance, and breach of fiduciary duty. Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for attorneys' fees following their successful motion to enforce the parties' settlement agreement. For the reasons set forth below, the motion is granted and Defendants are awarded $17, 296.88 in attorneys' fees.


         On September 15, 2017, the Court granted Defendants' motion to enforce the settlement agreement that was recited on the record at a settlement conference held on March 20, 2017. See generally Bluelink Mktg. LLC v. Carney, No. 16-CV-7151 (JLC), 2017 WL 4083602 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 15, 2017). The settlement agreement states, in relevant part: “[T]he parties will work cooperatively and in good faith to draft a written settlement agreement within the next 60 days. If a motion to enforce is brought concerning that agreement, whichever party brings that motion and prevails will be entitled to its reasonable attorneys' fees in bringing that motion.” Id. at *9. The Court accordingly ordered Defendants to submit their fees motion with contemporaneous billing records by September 25, 2017, which they did. Defendants' Motion for Attorneys' Fees (Dkt. No. 54).

         Plaintiffs opposed the fees motion on October 4, 2017. Plaintiffs' Memorandum of Law (“Pl. Br.”) (Dkt. No. 59). Plaintiffs argue that Defendants are not entitled to attorneys' fees because Plaintiffs did not breach the settlement agreement, and Defendants should have continued good faith negotiations instead of filing their enforcement motion. See generally Pl. Br. But those arguments are irrelevant to the present application. As is clear from the above-cited language, a breach of the agreement was not a condition precedent to either an enforcement motion or attorneys' fees liability. Moreover, while Plaintiffs may not have breached the agreement, they nonetheless precipitated the enforcement motion by trying “to add terms to an already complete agreement.” Bluelink Mktg. LLC, 2017 WL 4083602, at *7. Plaintiffs' further argument that, “[b]y failing to either negotiate further regarding the non-material term of the Excise Tax . . ., the Defendants did not proceed in good faith, ” and thus breached the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, fares no better. Pl. Br. at 9. The agreement's plain terms permitted either party to file an enforcement motion, and “if Plaintiffs believe that Defendants have repudiated the indemnification clause or any other portion of the settlement agreement, ” including the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, “their remedy is to bring a breach of contract action.” Bluelink Mktg. LLC, 2017 WL 4083602, at *7. Accordingly, the Court will turn to the standards that govern fee applications.


         “The party seeking fees bears the burden of demonstrating that its requested fees are reasonable.” Trs. of the N.Y.C. Dist. Council of Carpenters Pension Fund v. Golden Dev. & Constr. Corp., No. 17-CV-1051 (VSB) (JLC), 2017 WL 2876644, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. July 6, 2017) (quoting 1199/SEIU United Healthcare Workers E. v. S. Bronx Mental Health Council Inc., No. 13-CV-2608 (JGK), 2014 WL 840965, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 4, 2014)). “[T]he lodestar-the product of a reasonable hourly rate and the reasonable number of hours required by the case-creates a ‘presumptively reasonable fee.'” Id. (citing Millea v. Metro-N. R. Co., 658 F.3d 154, 166 (2d Cir. 2011)). “The reasonableness of hourly rates are guided by the market rate ‘prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.'” Id. (alteration omitted) (quoting Trs. of the N.Y.C. Dist. Council of Carpenters Pension Fund, Welfare Fund, Annuity Fund v. Installations of Am., Inc., No. 15-CV-8316 (PAE), 2017 WL 384694, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 27, 2017)). “As evidence that the number of attorney hours are reasonable, ‘the fee application must be supported by contemporaneous time records that ‘specify, for each attorney, the date, the hours expended, and the nature of the work done.'” Id. (quoting 1199/SEIU United, 2014 WL 840965, at *10).

         “[I]f a court finds that claimed hours are ‘excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, ' it should exclude those hours from its calculation of the presumptively reasonable fee.” Guaman v. J & C Top Fashion, Inc., No. 14-CV-8143 (GBD) (GWG), 2016 WL 791230, at *8 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 22, 2016) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983)), adopted by, 2017 WL 111737 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 11, 2017); N.Y.C. & Vicinity Dist. Council of Carpenters v. Plaza Constr. Grp., Inc., No. 16-CV-1115 (GHW), 2016 WL 3951187, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. July 19, 2016).


         Defendants seek reimbursement for the work of two attorneys, Rania Sedhom and Ginger Mimier. Declaration of Rania Sedhom (“Sedhom Dec.”) ¶¶ 3-4 (Dkt. No. 56). Sedhom is the “Managing Partner of Sedhom Law Group PLLC . . . with twenty (20) years' experience . . . represent[ing] a variety of clients in civil litigation, including ERISA matters.” Sedhom Dec. ¶ 2. Sedhom's “standard hourly rate is $600 per hour.” Id. “Mimier is [a] Senior Associate at Sedhom Law Group, ” who “graduated from law school in 2003.” Sedhom Dec. ¶ 3. Mimier's “practice focuses on complex civil litigation” and “[h]er standard hourly rate is $375.” Id. Sedhom adds that the firm customarily charges these rates to paying clients. Defendants' Memorandum of Law (“Def. Br.”) at 3 (Dkt. No. 55).[1]

         The Court finds that, while Mimier's rate is reasonable, Sedhom's rate is somewhat high considering the lack of background information submitted on this motion, and recent awards in the Southern District to attorneys with comparable experience.[2] Certainly, as Sedhom argues, several courts in this District have concluded that $600 per hour was a reasonable rate for law firm partners under certain circumstances. Def. Br. at 4. But Sedhom submitted no evidence that she has been awarded $600 per hour in the past, nor any information about the size of Sedhom Law Group, PLLC, [3] which appears from its website to be a small law firm.[4]Moreover, this was a straightforward dispute that did not require any extensive briefing before the Court and involved no novel legal issues. See, e.g., Lilly, 2017 WL 3493249, at *5 (finding that short and relatively straightforward nature of case justified reduction of claimed $600 hourly rate). The Court accordingly concludes that Sedhom's hourly rate should be reduced to $500. This reduction brings Defendants' total fee request to $16, 031.25, excluding costs and the fees incurred on this motion.

         Finally, as to the fees incurred on this motion, the Court notes that these fees are not included in counsel's contemporaneous billing records. The Court stated in its last order that “contemporaneous billing records . . . ‘are a prerequisite for attorney's fees in this Circuit.'” Bluelink Mktg. LLC, 2017 WL 4083602, at *9 (quoting N.Y.S. Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1147 (2d Cir. 1983)). Such records must indicate, for each attorney, the date on which the work was done, the number of hours expended and the specific task performed. Scott v. City of New York, 626 F.3d 130, 133 (2d Cir. 2010). This is “a strict rule from which attorneys may deviate only in the rarest of cases.” Id.

         Nevertheless, the Court will award Defendants their fees for the present application, as Defendants kept diligent contemporaneous records for the remainder of their time, and Sedhom submitted a sworn declaration describing in sufficient detail the work that she and co-counsel performed on this motion. See, e.g., Infinity Headwear & Apparel v. Jay Franco & Sons, No. 15-CV-1259 (JPO) (RLE), 2017 WL 4402541, at *13 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 2, 2017) (“[I]t is settled that the time spent on a fee application is itself compensable.”) (quoting Reiter v. Metro. Transp. Auth. of State of New York, No. 01-CV-2762 (GWG), 2007 WL 2775144, at *18 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 25, 2007)). Sedhom's declaration states that “Sedhom Law Group spent 8 hours of legal time researching, drafting and editing the instant Memorandum of Law and Declaration, 1.5 hours by Ms. Sedhom and 6.5 hours by Ms. Mimier, resulting in fees of $3471.00.” Sedhom Dec. ¶ 7. Sedhom's declaration details the number of hours expended by each attorney and the specific tasks performed. Although Sedhom provides no dates, the work clearly was performed in the ten days between the Court's order granting Defendants' enforcement motion and the filing ...

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