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Stewart v. Snohomish County Public Utility District

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

August 22, 2017

CYNTHIA STEWART, Plaintiff,
v.
SNOHOMISH COUNTY PUBLIC UTILITY DISTRICT NO. 1, Defendant.

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES

          JOHN C. COUGHENOUR, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Cynthia Stewart's motion for attorney fees (Dkt. No. 80). Having thoroughly considered the parties' briefing and the relevant record, the Court finds oral argument unnecessary and GRANTS the motion in part for the reasons explained herein.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff Cynthia Stewart brought two claims against Defendant Snohomish County PUD No. 1 (the PUD): violation of the Washington Law Against Discrimination (WLAD) and violation of her right to protected medical leave under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and Washington Family Leave Act (WFLA). (Dkt. No. 72 at 1.) Stewart prevailed on her WLAD claim and the Court instructed her to bring any motion for reasonable attorney fees and costs, pre- and post-judgment interest, and recovery of tax consequences within 30 days. (Id. at 29.)

         Stewart did so, seeking $611, 966.87 in attorney fees (the lodestar with a multiplier, plus fees for preparing this motion and reply); $58, 007.80 in costs; and $626, 584.00 as an offset for adverse tax consequences, totaling $1, 296, 558.67 plus interest. (See Dkt. No. 80 at 12; Dkt. No. 98 at 6; see also Dkt. No. 81-2 at 54; Dkt. No. 81-3 at 19; Dkt. No. 88 at 1, Dkt. No. 99 at 7, Dkt. No. 99-1 at 2, Dkt. No. 101 at 3.)

         The PUD objects to the fee request on multiple grounds. (See generally Dkt. No. 90.) The PUD asks the Court to award Stewart no more than $370, 042.20 in attorney fees, $45, 697.98 in costs, and $357, 778.00 in tax consequences and interest, for a maximum total of $773, 518.18. (See Id. at 12.)

         II. DISCUSSION

         Complexity and Contentiousness of Litigation:

         First, the PUD disputes Stewart's statement that this litigation was complex and contentious. (Dkt. No. 90 at 2.) The Court agrees with Stewart that this case was relatively complex, both factually and legally, particularly in light of the fairly novel issue of prescribed narcotics in the workplace. Moreover, it was clear from the beginning that the PUD resolutely disputed Stewart's position. The Court rejects the PUD's suggestion that this case was simple and that the litigation was largely cooperative.

         Paralegal Hourly Rate:

         The PUD also argues that Stewart billed an unreasonable rate for paralegal time, with Troy Locati billing $175.00 per hour and Laura Faulstich raising her hourly rate from $85.00 to $175.00 during the course of litigation. (Dkt. No. 90 at 5.)

         In the past, the undersigned has approved a range of paralegal rates, including $145.00 (Khalid v. Citrix Sys. Inc., C16-0650-JCC, Dkt. No. 28 at 2), $160.00 (Alpha Energy v. L.D. Hughes Development LLC, C08-1573-JCC, Dkt. No. 14 at 4), and $240.00 (same). The rate charged in this case falls within that range, and the paralegals at issue have significant experience. (See Dkt. No. 81 at 2-3.) Moreover, a superior court judge recently approved an even higher hourly rate, $220.00, for Locati. (See Dkt. No. 99 at 1-2.) The Court finds this approval persuasive. The PUD's objection as to the paralegal billing rates is overruled.

         Block-billing:

         The PUD further asserts that the Court should reduce hours where Stewart's counsel engaged in block-billing. (Dkt. No. 90 at 5.) While the Ninth Circuit has endorsed a district court's reduction of block billing, see, e.g., Welch v. Metro Life Ins. Co., 480 F.3d 942, 948 (9th Cir. 2007), this Court finds that Stewart's counsel's entries “cover relatively limited amounts of time and give sufficient information for the Court to assess the nature of the work done.” See McEuen v. Riverview Bancorp, Inc., 2014 WL 2197851 at *6 (W.D. Wash. May 27, 2014); (see also Dkt. No. 91-1 at 2; Dkt. No. 81-2 at 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 30, 31, 33, 38, 41, 42, 48). “[L]awyers are not required to record in great detail how each minute of their time is spent on a case; rather, they must only provide ...


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