The opinion of the court was delivered by: Walls, District Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on the application of the
plaintiff, Rodney Norton, for attorney's fees pursuant to
15 U.S.C. § 1692k. The Court decides this matter without oral
argument pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 78.
Plaintiff, Rodney Norton, filed a claim against Wilshire Credit
Corporation alleging violations of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
(hereinafter "FDCPA"). Despite attempts by both sides to settle the
matter, no mutually acceptable resolution was reached. As a result, a
lengthy litigation ensued which included an arbitration, a summary
judgment motion, a trial on damages, and an appeal to the Third Circuit.
The plaintiff succeeded on summary judgment and was awarded $5,800 by the
jury. The defendant succeeded on its counterclaim and won a jury award of
$1,651.63. On appeal, the decision of this Court was affirmed. Plaintiffs
counsel now renews his earlier application for, fees under the fee
shifting provisions of the FDCPA, and petitions this Court for fees and
costs totaling $67,697.56.
The FDCPA requires the payment of attorneys fees to a successful
consumer in a debt collection action.*fn1 15 U.S.C. § 1692k. The
FDCPA mandates an award of attorney's fees, absent unusual
circumstances, as a means of fulfilling Congress' intent that the FDCPA
be enforced by private debtors. See Graziano v. Harrison, 950 F.2d 107,
113 (3d Cir. 1991).
A plaintiff must be a "prevailing party" to recover attorney's fees
under 15 U.S.C. § 1692k. This term has been defined in various ways,
however, "a typical formulation is that plaintiffs may be considered
prevailing parties for attorney's fees purposes if they succeed on any
significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the
parties sought in bringing suit."*fn2 Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424,
103 S.Ct. 1933, 76
L.Ed.2d 40 (1983) (internal quotations omitted) citing, Nadeau v.
Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275 (1st Cir. 1978). "This is a generous formulation
that brings the plaintiff only across the statutory threshold. It remains
for the district court to determine what fee is `reasonable.'" Id. at
433, 103 S.Ct. 1933.
The District Court has broad discretion in fashioning a reasonable
award of attorney's fees under the FDCPA. See Bell v. United Princeton
Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 721 (3d Cir. 1989). The court may reduce
the award of attorney's fees by an amount to be determined solely by the
court, but only if the opposing party objects to the petitioners
application for fees. See id.
The "initial estimate of a reasonable attorney's fee is properly
calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the
litigation times a reasonable hourly rate." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886,
888, 104 S.Ct. 1541, 79 L.Ed.2d 891 (1984); citing, Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983); see also
Student Pub. Int. Res. Group v. AT & T Bell Labs., 842 F.2d 1436 (3d
Cir. 1988). This method of calculating attorney's fees is known as the
lodestar method. See Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council
for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 106 S.Ct. 3088, 92 L.Ed.2d 439 (1986)
(explaining the genesis of the lodestar approach and its nomenclature).
Excluded from the lodestar calculation are hours not reasonably
expended, such as hours attributable to over-staffing, hours that appear
excessive in light of the experience and skill of the lawyers, and hours
that are redundant or otherwise unnecessary. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at
434, 103 S.Ct. 1933. The court may also deduct from the award hours that
are not adequately documented. See id. at 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933.
The lodestar amount is presumed to be reasonable. See Rode v.
Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). However, a court may
downwardly adjust a lodestar amount to account for time expended
litigating unsuccessful claims if the plaintiff was only partially
successful in the underlying litigation. See id. This adjustment is not
meant to maintain any ratio or proportionality between the amount of
damages and attorney's fees, but, rather, to assure that fees are awarded
only to the extent that the litigant was successful. See Washington v.
Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, 89 F.3d 1031, 1042 (3d Cir.
1996). The amount of the downward adjustment can be determined in two
ways: "the district court may attempt to identify specific hours that
should be eliminated, or it may simply reduce the award to account for
the limited success. The court necessarily has discretion in making this
equitable judgment." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436-37, 103 S.Ct. 1933.
Prevailing parties may also collect reasonable attorney's fees for the
time spent preparing the fee petition. See Institutionalized Juveniles
v. Secretary of Pub. Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 924-25 (3d. Cir. 1985). Such
time, however, should be considered separately by the court, and may also
be reduced to reflect the partial success of the petition. See Student
Public, 842 F.2d at 1455.
As a threshold matter, the Court finds that the plaintiff in this
matter is a prevailing party. See Norton v. Wilshire Credit Corp., Civ.
No. 95-3223 (D.N.J. July 15, 1997) (order granting summary judgment in
favor of plaintiff on his claims of violation of 15 U.S.C. § 1692g(a),
(b), and ...