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Wilson v. Decibels of Oregon, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Medford Division

August 14, 2018

MATTHEW WILSON, Plaintiff,
v.
DECIBELS OF OREGON, INC.; DENNIS SNYDER, Defendants.

          OPINION & ORDER

          MARK D. CLARKE, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Matthew Wilson filed this action on May 16, 2016, alleging violation of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), as well as Oregon state law wage and hour claims. ECF No. 1. Litigation proceeded for nearly two years and a No. of claims were eliminated. After dispositive motions, but before trial, the parties engaged in a judicial settlement conference at which they were able to successfully reach an agreement concerning the remaining claims. ECF Nos. Ill. 112, 113. Pursuant to that negotiated settlement, a judgment was entered on April 24, 2018, directing Defendants to pay $20, 500 to Wilson, "plus reasonable attorney fees and costs to be determined by the Court pursuant to FRCP 54(d)." ECF No. 115.

         On May 8, 2018, the Wilson filed a Motion for Attorney Fees, ECF No. 116, in which he sought an award of fees and costs in the amount of $138, 636.22, later increased to $141, 082.50. Defendants do not contest that Wilson is the prevailing party and therefore entitled to fees and costs, but dispute the reasonableness of the requested award. The Court heard oral argument on August 6, 2018, and all parties have consented to the jurisdiction by a magistrate judge. ECF Nos. 107, 135. The motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         LEGAL STANDARDS

         The prevailing party is entitled to recover his fees, expenses, and costs pursuant to the fee-shifting provisions of 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and ORS 652.200, ORS 653.055(4), and ORS 659A.885(1). See also Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d) (prevailing party entitled to costs and attorney fees if provided by statute, rule, or order); LR 54-1; 54-3 (providing same).

         The Ninth Circuit has adopted the "lodestar" method for calculating attorney fees. Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 2008). That calculation multiplies a reasonable hourly rate by the No. of hours reasonably expended in the litigation. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 564 (1986). The court must then decide whether to enhance or reduce the lodestar figure by evaluating a No. of factors. Moreno v. City of Sacremento, 534 F.3d 1106, 1111 (9th Cir. 2008).

         The court may adjust the lodestar to account for factors such as: (1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved 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. Kerr v. Screen Actors Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1975). The court need only consider the factors not already subsumed in the initial lodestar calculation. Fischer v. SJB-P.D., Inc., 214 F.3d 1115, 1119 n.4 (9th Cir. 2000).

         There is a strong presumption that the lodestar method produces a reasonable figure and should only be enhanced or reduced in exceptional circumstances. Del. Valley Citizens, 478 U.S. at 565; Fischer, 214 F.3d at 1119 n.4. Courts have discretion, however, to adjust the lodestar figure either: (1) downward if the plaintiff has achieved only partial or limited success or if the fee is otherwise unreasonable, Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435-36, or (2) upward in "rare" and "exceptional" cases. Del. Valley Citizens, 478 U.S. at 565.

         DISCUSSION

         Wilson seeks an award of $141, 082.50 in attorney fees and $4, 153.72 in costs. Defendants challenge both the rates and hours claimed by Wilson and argue for $21, 905.25 in attorney fees and $400 in costs.[1]

         I. Attorney Fees

         The calculation of reasonable attorney fees begins with the lodestar calculation. The Court must therefore determine the reasonable hourly rate and multiply that rate by the No. of hours reasonably expended in the case.

         A. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         A reasonable hourly rate is determined by looking at "prevailing market rates in the relevant community," as well as the skill, experience, and reputation of the lawyer. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984); United States v. $28, 000 in U.S. Currency, 802 F.3d 1100, 1105 (9th Cir. 2015). The party requesting the fees has the burden of producing "satisfactory evidence," in addition to the affidavits of counsel, that the requested rates are in step with those "prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Dang v. Cross, 422 F.3d 800, 814 (9th Cir. 2005) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The best evidence of the prevailing rates in Oregon is the Oregon State Bar Economic Survey, most recently issued in 2017. LR 54-3; Roberts v. Interstate Distrib. Co., 242 F.Supp.2d 850, 857 (D. Or. 2002); Mumford v. Electric Inst., Inc., No. 3:15-cv-00375-AC, 2016 WL 8711693, at *2 (D. Or. April 29, 2016).

         In this case, Wilson had the assistance of three attorneys: Quinn Kuranz, Judy Snyder, and Holly Lloyd, as well as a paralegal, Kathryn Arnett.

         1. Quinn Kuranz

         Quinn Kuranz was Wilson's primary attorney in this case. Wilson asserts that $300 per hour is a reasonable rate for Kuranz's services, while Defendants argue for a reduced rate of $250.

         Kuranz has been licensed to practice law in Oregon since 2011. Kuranz Decl. ECF No. 117. The Economic Survey shows that an average Oregon attorney with Kuranz's level of experience (between 4 and 6 years) bills $231 per hour, with $257 representing the 75th percentile. Kuranz Decl. Ex. 14, at 38, ECF No. 117-14.

         Kuranz is based in Portland and so urges the Court to apply the rates for Portland attorneys: an average rate of $249 per hour, with $300 as the 75th percentile. Id. Defendants argue that, as this case was filed and litigated in southern Oregon, the prevailing rates for attorneys in that region should apply. Defendants are correct that, under these circumstances, courts generally look to the rates customarily charged in southern Oregon. See, e.g., Nance v. May Trucking Co., No. 3:12-cv-01655-HZ, 2014 WL 6633111, at *3 (D. Or. Nov. 21, 2014) ("Generally the relevant community is the forum in which the district court sits." (internal quotation marks and citation omitted)). The Court finds the declarations attesting to the general lack of attorneys experienced with wage and hour claims in southern Oregon to be persuasive, however. Breed Decl, ECF No. 120; Dale Decl., ECF No. 121; Leiman Deck, ECF No. 122. Furthermore, the Economic Survey has no data for attorneys with Kuranz's level of experience in southern Oregon. Kuranz Decl. Ex. 14, at 38. The Dale Declaration suggests that the statewide averages might supply a reasonable alternative, but this Court has previously looked to the Portland rates as a starting point under similar circumstances. Arthur v. Murphy Co.. Civ. No. 10-3142-CL, 2012 WL 3010996, at *3 (D. Or. July 23, 2012). The Court will follow that practice in this case, although for the sake of comparison it will note the statewide rates, as well as the southern Oregon rates when they are available.

         The Court concludes that Kuranz's requested rate of $300 is reasonable. It represents the 75th percentile for attorneys with his level of experience in Portland and it does not grossly exceed the average statewide rates for the same category.

         2. Judy Snyder and Holly Lloyd

         Wilson retained Portland-based attorney Judy Snyder to assist Kuranz with the trial phase of the case. Kuranz Decl. Synder has been practicing law in Oregon since 1973. Snyder Decl. ECF No. 118. Wilson seeks attorney fees for Snyder at her customary rate of $450 per hour. Id. The average rate for attorneys with more than 30 years of experience is $332 statewide, $413 in Portland, and $229 in southern Oregon. Kuranz Decl. Ex. 14, at 40. In the Portland area, $495 per hour represents the 75th percentile. Id. In light of Snyder's considerable experience and reputation, the Court concludes that a rate of $450 is reasonable.

         Holly Lloyd is an associate in Snyder's practice and was, like Snyder, retained to assist Kuranz with the trial phase of litigation. Syder Decl.; Kuranz Decl. Lloyd has been practicing law since 1994. Snyder Decl. Lloyd's requested rate is $375 per hour, which is the rate she customarily charges her own clients. Snyder Decl. The average rate for attorneys with Lloyd's level of experience is $307 statewide, $394 in Portland, and $248 in southern Oregon. Kuranz Decl. Ex. 14, at 39. The 75th percentile is $350 statewide, $475 in Portland, and $275 in southern Oregon. Id. Based on these figures, the Court concludes that $375 is a reasonable rate for an attorney with Lloyd's level of experience.

         3. Kathryn Arnett

         Wilson also seeks paralegal fees for the work performed by Kathryn Arnett, at a rate of $125 per hour. Defendants assert that Arnett is not a paralegal and, to the extent Wilson may recover fees for her work, Arnett's rate should be $20 per hour.

         The Oregon State Bar Economic Survey does not include information about hourly rates charged by paralegals in Oregon. In assessing claims for paralegal fees, courts within this District have noted that "a reasonable hourly rate for a paralegal should not exceed that of a first year associate." Precision Seed Cleaners v. Country Mut. Ins. Co., 976 F.Supp.2d 1228, 1248 (D. Or. 2013). That determination is not the end of the inquiry, however, as "the attorney hourly rate is used as a ceiling and is not by itself determinative of a reasonable hourly rate." Id. at 1249. Courts look closely at the educational and occupational background of the paralegal in question when crafting a reasonable rate. Id; see also Muller v. County Mut. Ins. Co., No. 3:14-cv-01345-MO, 2017 WL 6209701, at *9 (D. Or. Dec. 8, 2017) ("I do not find reasonable the requested $150 hourly rate, because it is unclear from the record whether Ms. Calcagno has a paralegal certification, or how long she has been a paralegal rather than a legal assistant.").

         In Precision Seed Cleaners, the court declined to award a paralegal fee rate of $170, finding it unreasonably high. 976 F.Supp.2d at 1249. Instead, the court awarded a rate of $125 to a paralegal with a certification and ten years of experience as a paralegal and a rate of $115 to a paralegal with a degree in paralegal studies and an unknown number of years of experience. Id. at 1248-49. In examining the claims of the other paralegals, the court noted that none of them had any education or experience as a paralegal, although some had bachelor's degrees or experience working as legal assistants. Id. at 1249. Under those circumstances, the court found a rate of $50 per hour to be reasonable. Id.

         In this case, Arnett has a bachelor's degree in American Studies and a background in legislative policy, including work with an environmental lobbying group and in the offices of a California state senator. Arnett Decl. ECF No. 119. It does not appear from this record that Arnett has a degree or certification qualifying her as a paralegal or any experience working as a paralegal prior to her employment with Kuranz. It is unclear how long Arnett has been Kuranz's legal assistant, although her earliest billed hours date to January 2018 and so the Court infers that she has been employed in that position for at least six months. Arnett Decl. Ex. 1, at 2. Accordingly, the Court concludes that the requested rate of $125 per hour, which courts within this District have awarded to paralegals with significant education and experience in their field, is not reasonable. By the same token, however, Defendants' suggestion of $20 per hour is unreasonably low for an employee of Arnett's education and experience and for the nature of the work she performed. The Court concludes that a paralegal rate of $90 per hour is reasonable.

         B. Reasonable ...


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