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Nance v. May Trucking Company

United States District Court, D. Oregon

November 21, 2014

SCOTT NANCE and FREDERICK FREEDMAN, individuals on behalf of themselves, all others similarly situated, and the general public, Plaintiffs,
v.
MAY TRUCKING COMPANY, an Idaho corporation, and DOES 1 through 100, Defendants.

Allison H. Goddard, James Patterson, Patterson Law Group, APC, San Diego, CA, Steve D. Larson, Jennifer S. Wagner, Stoll Stoll Berne Lokting & Shlachter, Portland, OR, Attorneys for Plaintiffs

Adam C. Smedstad, Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, P.C., Chicago, IL, James H. Hanson, Kelli M. Block, R. Jay Taylor, Jr., Scopelitis, Garvin, Light, Hanson & Feary, P.C., Indianapolis, IN, Kim T. Buckley, Esler Stephens & Buckley, Portland, OR, Attorneys for Defendants

OPINION & ORDER

MARCO A. HERNNDEZ, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Scott Nance and Frederick Freedman claimed minimum wage violations, improper deduction of wages, and penalty wages for failure to pay wages upon termination, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated. Plaintiffs' motion for class certification was granted in part. Only the improper deduction claim was not certified.

After ruling on summary judgment motions, the claims remaining for trial were the third claim for improper deductions under ORS § 652.610 and the fourth claim for penalty wages for failure to pay wages upon termination under ORS § 652.140. Because the improper deduction claim was not certified, only Plaintiff Freedman asserted these claims. On March 19, 2014, a one-day court trial was held. Plaintiff was awarded $200 in damages, costs, and reasonable attorney fees. Jun. 9, 2014 Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law [179], 7. Presently before the court is Plaintiff's motion for attorney fees and costs [182]. Plaintiff requests $102, 046 in attorney fees[1] and $3, 490.62[2] in costs. I grant Plaintiff's motion in part and award $40, 603.15 in attorney fees and $919.07 in costs.

DISCUSSION

I. Motion for Attorney Fees

A. Entitlement to Fees

Plaintiff prevailed on his third claim for improper deductions under ORS § 652.610. As pled by Plaintiff, the penalty for violation of ORS § 652.610 is found in ORS § 652.615. Third Am. Compl. ¶ 70. The penalty allows for actual damages or $200, whichever is greater. ORS § 652.615. In addition to costs, the prevailing party may be awarded reasonable attorney fees. Id. ("In any such action the court may award to the prevailing party, in addition to costs and disbursements, reasonable attorney fees."). After the court trial, Plaintiff was awarded $200, costs, and reasonable attorney fees. Findings of Fact & Conclusions of Law at 7.

Defendant challenges Plaintiff's award of attorney fees, arguing that Plaintiff failed to provide written notice of the wage claim prior to filing suit, as required by ORS § 652.200(2). Def.'s Resp. 3.

In any action for the collection of wages, if it is shown that the wages were not paid for a period of 48 hours...after the wages became due and payable, the court shall, upon entering judgment for the plaintiff, include in the judgment... a reasonable sum for attorney fees...unless the court finds that the plaintiff's attorney unreasonably failed to give written notice of the wage claim to the employer before filing the action.

ORS § 652.200(2) (emphasis added). Defendant argues that Plaintiff did not provide notice and thus Plaintiff is not entitled to attorney fees. I do not agree with Defendant. As explained earlier, Plaintiff's basis for the attorney fee award is ORS § 652.615, not ORS § 652.200(2). Providing written notice of the wage claim is not required for an award of attorney fees under ORS § 652.615.

For attorney fees to be awarded under ORS § 652.615, the court must exercise its discretion to award the attorney fees. The following factors shall be considered:

(a) The conduct of the parties in the transactions or occurrences that gave rise to the litigation, including any conduct of a party that was reckless, willful, malicious, in bad faith or illegal.
(b) The objective reasonableness of the claims and defenses asserted by the parties.
(c) The extent to which an award of an attorney fee in the case would deter others from asserting good faith claims or defenses in similar cases.
(d) The extent to which an award of an attorney fee in the case would deter others from asserting meritless claims and defenses.
(e) The objective reasonableness of the parties and the diligence of the parties and their attorneys during the proceedings.
(f) The objective reasonableness of the parties and the diligence of the parties in pursuing settlement of the dispute.
(g) The amount that the court has awarded as a prevailing party fee under ORS 20.190.
(h) Such other factors as the court may consider appropriate under the circumstances of the case.

ORS § 20.075(1)(a)-(h). After considering the above factors, particularly factors (a), (b), (e), and (h), I find that Plaintiff is entitled to attorney fees. Plaintiff's improper deduction claim primarily stems from Defendant's failure to keep accurate records of deductions taken from Plaintiff's wages. Plaintiff's claim for improper deductions was entirely reasonable. As for deterrence, I do not find that an award of attorney fees would prevent good faith or meritless claims and defenses. The parties were reasonable and professional during the litigation of this case. I also consider the fact that the damages for the individual improper deduction claim was small, but the claim had merit. An award of attorney fees would encourage attorneys to pursue small claims that have merit, but not necessarily a large recovery in damages.

B. Amount of Fees

Plaintiff seeks $102, 046 in attorney fees. Defendants object to the fee request for several reasons: (1) the local legal market hourly rate was not used, (2) attributing one-third of the attorney fees for the improper deduction claim was improper, (3) the fee request is disproportionate to Plaintiff's recovery, (4) the billing entries contain vague entry descriptions and block billing, and (5) the use of multiple attorneys and paralegals was not necessary. Def.'s Resp. 4-11.

The court must consider the following factors to determine the amount of attorney fees to award:

(a) The time and labor required in the proceeding, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved in the proceeding and the skill needed to ...

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