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Cobbler Nevada, LLC v. Buckman

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

July 27, 2017

COBBLER NEVADA, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
SPENCER BUCKMAN, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Thomas S. Zilly United States District Judge.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration, docket no. 106. Having reviewed the motion and all relevant filings, the Court enters the following Order.

         Plaintiff seeks reconsideration of the Court's June 9, 2017, Order Granting Default Judgment and Permanent Injunction against defendant Spencer Buckman, docket no. 104. Specifically, plaintiff challenges the Court's $1, 500 award of attorney's fees. Plaintiff argues that the Court “misapprehended certain important matters” in reaching its conclusion that “[p]laintiff's attorney's hourly billing rate of $450 for this case is not reasonable” and awarding $1, 500.00 in fees instead of the $3, 382.00 plaintiff requested. There was no such misapprehension. Although the court previously approved a $450 hourly rate for plaintiff's counsel in this case and granted an award of fees based on roughly the same number of hours requested here, since that time, the Court has become increasingly familiar with counsel's work on copyright infringement cases related to the BitTorrent protocol. The Court's $1, 500 award of attorney's fees in this case is based on five (5) hours of attorney time at $300 an hour, and for the reasons discussed below, such an award is reasonable and sufficient to compensate counsel for his work in obtaining default judgment against defendant Buckman.

         Discussion

         Courts determine fee award amounts based on a “lodestar figure” calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on a matter by the reasonable hourly rate. Intel Corp. v. Terabyte Int'l, Inc., 6 F.3d 614, 622 (9th Cir. 1993). The Court may then adjust the lodestar figure in light of the factors set forth in Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 69-70 (9th Cir. 1975). The relevant Kerr factors here are: (1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; and (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal services properly. See LHF Productions, Inc. v. Doe 1, 2017 WL 615888, at *4 (W.D. Wash. Feb. 15, 2017).

         A. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         In the Ninth Circuit, the determination of a reasonable hourly rate “is not made by reference to rates actually charged the prevailing party.” Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210 (9th Cir. 1986). Instead the reasonable hourly rate is determined with reference to the prevailing rates charged by attorneys of comparable skill and experience in the relevant community. See 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 Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 979 (9th Cir. 2008). Courts may also consider “rate determinations in other cases, particularly those setting a rate for the plaintiff's attorney” as “satisfactory evidence of the prevailing market rate.” United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 896 F.2d 403, 407 (9th Cir. 1990).

         Plaintiff's counsel submits that $450 is the prevailing rate charged by attorneys of comparable skill and experience in the relevant community. The evidence upon which counsel relies, however, does not account for the generic nature of the work involved in BitTorrent related copyright infringement cases similar to this one. Counsel's work in this case amounts to little more than form pleading, which “necessitat[es] little, if any legal skill or attention.” Qotd Film Investment Ltd. v. Starr, 2016 WL 5817027, at *4 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 5, 2016). In cases involving practically identical allegations and legal issues, courts in this District have reduced counsel's hourly rate to $300. See Criminal Productions, Inc. v. Gunderman, 2017 WL 664047, at *5 (W.D. Wash. Feb. 17, 2017); LHF Productions, 2017 WL 615888, at *4; Dallas Buyers Club, LLC v. Nydam, 2016 WL 7719874, at *5-6) (W.D. Wash. August 8, 2016). These decisions appropriately recognize that BitTorrent cases do not require extensive skill or experience and that counsel's submissions in these actions are predominantly pleadings and motions recycled from prior BitTorrent lawsuits. The Court adopts the reasoning of these decisions in concluding that counsel's billing rate of $450 is unreasonable and in finding that a reduction of counsel's hourly rate to $300 is appropriate.

         B. The Number of Hours Requested by Plaintiff's Counsel is Unreasonable

         The party seeking fees “bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983). Courts are to exclude hours that are not “reasonably expended” because they are “excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Id. at 434.

         Counsel indicates that the 7.2 hours requested reflect the pro rata share of the total amount of time spent for the named defendants in the case, plus the time spent solely on work related to defendant Buckman. Declaration of David Lowe, docket no. 100, ¶ 10. This request is excessive, however, given that the vast majority of the hours claimed involved work on pleadings and motions which met little or no opposition and were nearly identical to filings submitted in the plethora of BitTorrent cases litigated by plaintiff's counsel in this District. For example, plaintiff's counsel requests 1.5 hours of time for work related to the motion for default judgment filed against Spencer Buckman, Lowe Decl. at 6, yet the motion, declaration, and proposed order are practically identical to the six others counsel submitted in connection with default judgments obtained against other named defendants in this case. Similarly, counsel claims 42 minutes (.7 hours) for preparation of a motion for default and proposed order which together comprise a total of five lines of text. See Motion for Default Against Spencer Buckman, docket no. 97. Judge Martinez has aptly described how counsel's activity in this District underscores the unreasonableness of the hours for which counsel requests compensation. See LHF Productions, 2017 WL 615888, at *5-6. Indeed, “at this point, form filings and standardized procedures are the norm.” Qotd Film, 2016 WL 5817027, at *4.

         The Court is satisfied that an award of $1, 500 in attorney's fees based on five (5) hours of attorney time at an hourly rate of $300 is both reasonable and sufficient to compensate counsel for the work performed in obtaining default judgment against defendant Buckman.[1]

         Conclusion

         For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff's Motion for ...


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