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Friedman v. SThree PLC.

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

September 15, 2017

DAN FRIEDMAN
v.
STHREE PLC., et al.

          RULING RE: APPLICATION FOR FEES [DOC. #178]

          HON. SARAH A. L. MERRIAM UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Pending before the Court is an application for attorneys' fees by defendants SThree PLC., SThree Inc., Huxley Associates Ltd., Huxley Associates Inc., Huxley Associates B.V., and Ivanka Radujko (the “SThree defendants”). [Doc. #178]. For the reasons set forth herein, the Court GRANTS, in part, SThree's Application for Attorney's Fees [Doc. #178], and awards $1, 565.00 in attorneys' fees for work performed in connection with the SThree defendants' motions to seal.

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         An award of attorney's fees pursuant to Rule 37 is calculated “according to the lodestar formula, in which the number of hours spent by the attorneys is multiplied by the hourly rate normally charged for similar work by attorneys of like skill in the area.” Bowne of New York City, Inc. v. AmBase Corp., 161 F.R.D. 258, 266 (S.D.N.Y. 1995) (quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Congregation Rabbinical Coll. of Tartikov, Inc. v. Vill. of Pomona, 188 F.Supp.3d 333, 337 (S.D.N.Y. 2016) (determining that the lodestar is the presumptively reasonable fee in determining the amount of attorneys' fees and costs warranted in connection with a motion for sanctions).

         “The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). The resulting amount “is only presumptively reasonable; it is still within the court's discretion to adjust the amount upward or downward based on the case-specific factors.” Tyco Healthcare Grp. LP v. Ethicon Endo-Surgery, Inc., No. 3:10CV60(JBA), 2012 WL 4092515, at *1 (D. Conn. Sept. 17, 2012) (quotation marks and citation omitted). “Hence, the process is really a four-step one, as the court must: (1) determine the reasonable hourly rate; (2) determine the number of hours reasonably expended; (3) multiply the two to calculate the presumptively reasonable fee; and (4) make any appropriate adjustments to arrive at the final fee award.” Adorno v. Port Auth. of New York & New Jersey, 685 F.Supp.2d 507, 511 (S.D.N.Y. 2010).

         “The presumptively reasonable fee boils down to what a reasonable, paying client would be willing to pay, given that such a party wishes to spend the minimum necessary to litigate the case effectively.” Simmons v. N.Y. City Transit Auth., 575 F.3d 170, 174 (2d Cir. 2009) (quotation marks and citation omitted). Factors that the Court may consider in determining a reasonable fee are:

(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 acceptance of 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 the circumstances; (8) the amount involved in the case and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the “undesirability” of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy Co., 112 F.Supp. 3D 31, 48 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (citations omitted).

         “The district court retains discretion to determine what constitutes a reasonable fee.” Millea v. Metro-N. R.R. Co., 658 F.3d 154, 166 (2d Cir. 2011) (quotation marks and citation omitted). “However, this discretion is not unfettered, ” and “the district court must abide by the procedural requirements for calculating those fees articulated by [the Second Circuit] and the Supreme Court.” Id. “Attorney's fees must be reasonable in terms of the circumstances of the particular case[.]” Alderman v. Pan Am World Airways, 169 F.3d 99, 102 (2d Cir. 1999) (citation omitted). In determining a reasonable fee, the Court is mindful that “attorney's fees are to be awarded with an eye to moderation, seeking to avoid either the reality or the appearance of awarding windfall fees.” Tsombanidis v. City of W. Haven, 208 F.Supp.2d 263, 270 (D. Conn. 2002) (quotation marks and citation omitted), aff'd sub nom. Tsombanidis v. W. Haven Fire Dep't, 352 F.3d 565 (2d Cir. 2003); see also New York State Assoc. for Retarded Children v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1139 (2d Cir. 1983).

         II. DISCUSSION

         On September 15, 2016, Judge Alvin W. Thompson issued an Order requiring plaintiff to “reimburse the SThree Defendants for their fees incurred in connection with both of their Motions to Seal (Doc. Nos. 150, 153).” Doc. #165. Judge Thompson ordered the SThree defendants to “file an application for attorneys' fees in connection with the two motions to seal within the next 21 days.” Id. On October 6, 2016, the SThree defendants filed an application for attorneys' fees, seeking an award of $3, 312 in fees for 9.6 hours of work performed by two attorneys in connection with the aforementioned motions to seal. See Doc. #178. On October 20, 2016, plaintiff filed a Partial Opposition and Request to Modify SThree Defendants' Motion Application for Attorneys' Fees. See Doc. #194. Plaintiff argues, inter alia, that the claimed fees are excessive, and that “only $801 of the submitted fees relates to a violation of the [Protective] Order.” Id. at 2.[1] The SThree defendants filed a reply, arguing that plaintiff failed to challenge the billing rates or the amount of time spent in connection with the motions to seal; therefore, they argue, their fee application should be granted in its entirety. See Doc. #201 at 1.

         Other than a passing mention, plaintiff's opposition does not explicitly challenge the reasonableness of the SThree defendants' attorneys' hourly rates or work they expended in connection with the subject motions. Nonetheless, as set forth below, the Court has carefully reviewed the fee application and has concluded that $3, 312 is not a reasonable fee to award for the work incurred in connection with the SThree defendants' motions to seal. See Jaeger v. Cellco P'ship, No. 3:11CV1948(SRU), 2015 WL 1867661, at *3 (D. Conn. Apr. 23, 2015) (reviewing and reducing a fee request even where plaintiff does not challenge “the reasonableness of the total fees requested or the reasonableness of the attorneys' hourly rates”).

         A. Hourly Rates

         First, the Court addresses the SThree defendants' hourly rates. Two attorneys performed work on the Motions to Seal: Aneca E. Lasley, a partner at Squire Patton Boggs in Columbus, Ohio, and Christopher F. Hass, a senior associate at the same firm. See Doc. #178-1 at 1-2. The Court has already determined that rates charged by Attorney Lasley and Attorney Haas in connection with this matter are higher than those awarded for comparable attorneys in this District, and reduced those accordingly to $375 and $275, respectively. See Doc. #311. This fee application provides no additional information that alters the ...


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