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Clark v. Golden Specialty, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

February 8, 2017

PAUL CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
GOLDEN SPECIALTY, INC., AND SCOTT SWIGGARD, Defendants.

          ORDER

          Thomas S. Zilly United States District Judge

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees, docket no. 147. Having reviewed the motion and related filings, the Court enters the following Order.

         Background

         Plaintiff filed this action against his former employers, Golden Specialty, Inc. (“Golden Specialty”) and Scott Swiggard, alleging claims for unpaid overtime wages under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and Washington Minimum Wage Act (“MWA”), for retaliatory discharge under the FLSA, for breach of contract, for tortious interference with contractual relations and with business expectancies, for defamation, and for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. See Second Amended Complaint, docket no. 53. On September 27, 2016, the Court dismissed plaintiff's claim for tortious interference with business expectancies on summary judgment. See Minute Order, docket no. 92. On October 29, 2016, the Saturday before trial, plaintiff moved to dismiss all of his remaining claims but two: retaliatory discharge under the FLSA and wrongful discharge in violation of public policy. Motion to Dismiss, docket no. 119. On the first morning of trial, October 31, 2016, the Court granted plaintiff's motion for voluntary dismissal. See Minute Entry, docket no. 125. On November 7, 2016, the jury returned its verdict, docket no. 136, finding in favor of defendants on plaintiff's claim for wrongful discharge in violation of public policy, but in favor of plaintiff on his claim for FLSA retaliation. The jury awarded plaintiff $108, 100 in lost wages and $3, 335 for emotional distress, and assessed punitive damage awards of $60, 000 against Golden Specialty and $15, 000 against Scott Swiggard. Plaintiff now moves for attorney's fees pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

         Discussion

         The FLSA authorizes an award of reasonable attorney's fees to a prevailing plaintiff in anti-retaliation suits. Avila v. Los Angeles Police Dept., 758 F.3d 1096, 1104 (9th Cir. 2014) (citing 29 U.S.C. § 216(b)). Plaintiff seeks $51, 360.00 in fees for 85.6 hours of time billed by Thad Guyer at a rate of $600 per hour, and $89, 257.50 in fees for 198.35 hours of time billed by Stephani Ayers at a rate of $450.[1] See Second Supplemental Decl. of Stephani Ayers, docket no. 164 at ¶ 3 & Ex. A-2, docket no. 164-1 at 13-14. In total, plaintiff's motion seeks $140, 617.50 in attorney's fees.[2] Defendants do not contest plaintiff's entitlement to attorney's fees. They challenge only the reasonableness of the fees claimed.

         The first step in determining the amount of a reasonable fee is to calculate the lodestar figure by taking the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation and multiplying it by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-34 (1983). Although in most cases the lodestar figure is presumptively a reasonable fee award, the district court may, if circumstances warrant, adjust the lodestar to account for other facts which are not subsumed within it, ” including the complexity of the issues, the skill required, and the results obtained. See Camacho v. Bridgeport Financial, 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 2008).

         A. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         Reasonable attorney's fees “are to be calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” See Van Skike v. Director, Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, 557 F.3d 1041, 1046 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984)). “Generally, when determining a reasonable hourly rate, the relevant community is the forum in which the district court sits.” Camacho v. Bridgeport Financial, Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 979 (9th Cir. 2008). “[T]he burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory evidence . . . that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.” Id. at 980 (quoting Blum, 465 U.S. at 895 n. 11). Rate determinations in other similar cases and affidavits of the plaintiff's attorneys and other attorneys regarding prevailing fees in the community “are satisfactory evidence of the prevailing market rate.” Id. (quoting United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 896 F.2d 403, 407 (9th Cir. 1990)).

         1. Attorney Guyer

         Mr. Guyer has 38 years of civil rights and criminal trial experience and has practiced both nationally and internationally. Guyer Decl., docket no. 145 at ¶ 1. Mr. Guyer requests an hourly rate of $600. In support of this hourly rate, plaintiff submits declarations from Jack Sheridan and Gregory Wolk, Seattle area employment attorneys who opine that Mr. Guyer would command an hourly rate between $500 and $600 an hour in light of his significant experience. Decl. of Thad Guyer, docket no. 145, Exs. 1 & 2.

         Defendants assert that Mr. Guyer's requested hourly rate is unreasonable in this district and that a reasonable rate for Mr. Guyer would be $450 per hour. Defendants do not offer any declarations regarding the prevailing rate in this judicial district. Instead, defendants contend, with citation to several cases, [3] that attorneys “in the Western District pursuing consumer and employment claims are rarely compensated for hourly rates in excess of $450 for attorneys of Mr. Guyer's vintage.” Defs.' Opposition, docket no. 155 at 7. It is not the case, however, that Courts in this district have refused to approve rates above $450. See, e.g., Conti v. Corporate Services Group, Inc., 30 F.Supp.3d 1051, 1080 (W.D. Wash. Jul. 10, 2014) (noting, in 2014, that $500 is “near the upper end of the range of rates that experienced employment counsel charge in this District”); Lauer v. Longevity Medical Clinic PLLC, 2016 WL 2595122, at *3 (W.D. Wash. May 4, 2016) (finding a $500 hourly rate reasonable in light of lead counsel's experience in employment cases). None of the cases defendants cite involved an attorney with Mr. Guyer's level of trial experience. Mr. Guyer was an exemplary advocate who provided remarkably high quality representation and achieved a well-fought victory for his client. Plaintiff has met his evidentiary burden by producing satisfactory evidence that an hourly rate between $500 and $600 for Mr. Guyer is commensurate with lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation in the community. This range of rates is in line with the Court's own knowledge and experience regarding fees charged in this district by similarly skillful litigators with more than 35 years of experience. Defendants have produced no evidence, other than citation to a few cases which offer poor comparisons for Mr. Guyer's work, to rebut the accuracy or reasonableness of the hours charged or the facts asserted in the declarations submitted by the plaintiff. See Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1397-98 (9th Cir. 1992) (“The party opposing the fee application has a burden of rebuttal that requires submission of evidence to the district court challenging the accuracy and reasonableness of the hours charged or the facts asserted by the prevailing party in its submitted affidavits.” (citing Blum, 465 U.S. at 892 n. 5)). Given the breadth of Mr. Guyer's experience, the high quality representation he provided, and the dearth of relevant evidence submitted by the defendants in support of their contention that an hourly rate between $500 and $600 for Mr. Guyer is excessive, the Court concludes that an hourly rate of $550 is reasonable. Mr. Guyer was worth every penny.

         2. Attorney Ayers

         Ms. Ayers was second chair at trial and has approximately 13 years of employment litigation experience. See Decl. of Stephani Ayers, docket no. 146 at ¶ 5. Ms. Ayers requests an hourly rate of $450. In support of this hourly rate, plaintiff relies on the declarations of Mr. Sheridan and Mr. Wolk who opine that Ms. Ayers would command an hourly rate between $300 and $500 an hour. Decl. of Thad Guyer, docket no. 145, Ex. 1 at ¶ 8 & Ex. 2 at ¶ 8-9. Defendants argue that Ms. Ayers's requested hourly rate of $450 is excessive for an attorney of her vintage and that a reasonable rate for Ms. Ayers would be $300 per hour. Having reviewed recent fee awards in this district, the Court concludes that an hourly rate of $350 for Ms. Ayers is commensurate with lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation in the community. See, e.g., Fulton, 2016 WL 3976558 at * 4 (Reasonable rate for attorney in an FDCPA action with approximately ten years of experience was $300); BWP MediaUSA Inc. v. Rich Kids Clothing Co., LLC, 103 F.Supp.3d 1242, 1250 (W.D. Wash. May 1, 2015) ($350 an hour was a reasonable rate for an attorney with nineteen years of experience in infringement action); Hanson v. County of Kitsap, Wash., No. 13-5388 RJB, 2015 WL 3965829, at *4 (W.D. Wash. June 30, 2015) ...


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