On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Camden County, Docket No. L-4439-04.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted December 17, 2008
Remanded Resubmitted August 17, 2009
Remanded Resubmitted December 11, 2009
Before Judges Rodríguez and Waugh.
Plaintiffs, Pinedge Associates and Pinedge Associates, LLC (collectively "Pinedge"), appealed from the March 23, 2007 final judgment following a bench trial. The judge awarded $34,053.30 plus $11,952.34 in costs and counsel fees to Pinedge to be paid by defendant Steliga Homes Corporation (Steliga). This judgment represents an award of $55,558, less a setoff to Steliga on its counterclaim of $21,501.64. Steliga cross-appealed, arguing that it is entitled to the reasonable value of its services and challenging both the amount of the judgment and the award of attorney's fees to Pinedge.
We affirmed on the appeal and cross-appeal, except for the award of attorney's fees to be paid by Steliga. We retained jurisdiction and remanded to the Law Division "for a statement of reasons for the award of counsel fees."
On remand, the judge provided a statement of reasons. However, it did not comply with the recent Supreme Court decision in Litton Indus., Inc. v. IMO Indus., Inc., 200 N.J. 372 (2009). In Litton, the Supreme Court recognized that to determine the "reasonableness" of attorney's fees, the judge must first calculate the "lodestar," which is the amount of hours reasonably expended by the prevailing party's attorney, multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. Id. at 386. Further, the judge must determine the reasonableness of the hourly rate of "the prevailing attorney in comparison to rates 'for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation' in the community." Id. at 387 (quoting Furst v. Einstein Moomjy, Inc., 182 N.J. 1, 22 (2004)). Then, the judge must consider the degree of success in determining the reasonableness of the time expended. Ibid.
The judge has now provided a new statement of reasons, dated December 10, 2009, applying the principles stated in Litton. We will disturb a trial court's award of attorney's fees "only on the rarest of occasions, and then only because of a clear abuse of discretion." Packard-Bamberger & Co. v. Collier, 167 N.J. 427, 444 (2001) (quoting Rendine v. Pantzer, 141 N.J. 292, 317 (1995)). Here, we conclude that there was no clear abuse of discretion. Therefore, we affirm the award of attorney's fees.