Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Manuel Robles, Santo L. Cedeno Saltos, Walter Guzman, Jorge v. United States Environmental Universal

March 26, 2012

MANUEL ROBLES, SANTO L. CEDENO SALTOS, WALTER GUZMAN, JORGE SARMIENTO, LUIS M. LLERENA, OSCAR FLORES, ALEXANDRA LASTRA, AND FREDDY PADILLA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
UNITED STATES ENVIRONMENTAL UNIVERSAL SERVICES, INC., A/K/A ALLIANCE ENVIRONMENTAL SYSTEMS, INC., JOHN DOE, DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Wigenton, District Judge.

OPINION

Before the Court is Defendant Alliance Environmental System's ("Defendant" or "Alliance") Motion for Clarification of this Court's October 5, 2011 Order. This Motion is decided without oral argument pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 78.

FACTUAL BACKGROUD

This matter arises from Alliance's termination of eight of its employees: Manuel Robles, Santo Cedeno Saltos, Walter Guzman, Jorge Sarmiento, Luis Llerena, Oscar Flores, Alexandra Lastra, and Freddy Padilla (collectively "Plaintiffs"). Plaintiffs alleged that their termination constituted wrongful discharge (breach of contract), was in violation of the New Jersey Conscientious Employee Protection Act, N.J. Stat. Ann. § 34:19-3 et seq. ("CEPA"), and resulted in defamation. Thereafter, on November 15, 2010, plaintiffs Llerena, Flores and Padilla withdrew their claims against Alliance. (Docket Entry Nos. 52, 53). On March 31, 2011, this Court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment on all of Plaintiffs' claims.*fn1 (Docket Entry Nos. 61, 62). Subsequently, on April 7, 2011, Defendant moved for sanctions under Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 and requested attorneys' fees pursuant to CEPA. (Docket Entry Nos. 63, 64). On October 5, 2011, this Court denied Alliance's motion for sanctions but granted its motion for counsel fees under CEPA after a determination that Plaintiffs' CEPA claim did not have a basis in law or fact. (Docket Entry Nos. 71, 72).

Alliance submits that it incurred $77,362.00 in attorneys' fees and $5,478.93 in expenses in connection with this litigation. (Landesman Certification ("Certif.") ¶¶ 17, 20.) Alliance billed 293.30 hours in this action. (Landesman Certif. Ex. A, at 24.) Three individuals, including one partner, Jonathan Landesman ("Landesman"), and two associates, Lawren Briscoe ("Briscoe") and Mark Leavy ("Leavy"), worked on this matter. (Id. ¶¶ 21, 24, 26.) However, Briscoe performed the vast majority of the work. (Id. ¶ 25.) Landesman's rate was $325 per hour at the inception of this matter, $335 per hour in January 2010 and $350 per hour in January 2011. (Id. ¶ 23.) Briscoe's services were billed at a rate of $240 per hour, increasing to $260 per hour in January 2010. (Id. ¶ 25.) Leavy's services were billed at a rate of $260 per hour, increasing to $270 per hour in January 2011. (Id. ¶ 27.)

DISCUSSION

1.Reasonableness of Attorneys' Fees and Costs

CEPA provides in relevant part that "[a] court . . . may [] order that reasonable attorneys' fees and court costs be awarded to an employer." N.J. Stat. Ann. § 34:19-6. The award of attorneys' fees, however, is discretionary. Best v. C&M Doors Controls, Inc., 402 N.J. Super. 229, 246 (App. Div. 2008), aff'd in part and rev'd in part, 200 N.J. 348 (2009). "The party seeking attorney's fees has the burden to prove that its request . . . is reasonable." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). To meet this burden, Alliance must "submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Thereafter, Plaintiffs have "the burden to challenge, by affidavit or brief with sufficient specificity to give fee applicants notice, the reasonableness of the requested fee." Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183.

According to Hensley, "[t]he most useful starting point for determining the amount of reasonable fees is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." 461 U.S. at 433. This approach is known as the lodestar approach. Hahnemann Univ. Hosp. v. All Shore, Inc., 514 F.3d 300, 310 (3d Cir. 2008). After the court determines the lodestar, it is within the court's discretion to adjust it in light of the adverse party's objections. D'Orazio v. Wash. Twp., Civ. A. No., 07-5097, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146635, at *5 (D.N.J. Dec. 21, 2011) (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434; McKenna v. City of Philadelphia, 582 F.3d 447, 455-59 (3d Cir. 2009)); Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183. However, the court cannot "decrease a fee award based on factors not raised at all by the adverse party." Bell v. United Princeton Props., Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 720 (3d Cir. 1989).

Plaintiffs do not object to the reasonableness of the hourly rates or the number of hours Alliance expended on this action. Thus, this Court concludes that the hours Defendant expended in defending this litigation were reasonable. Plaintiffs' counsel filed a total of five amended complaints in this action and Defendant filed Answers to three of these amended complaints. Moreover, the discovery period was extended as a result of Plaintiffs' counsel filing several amended complaints and adding more plaintiffs. Additionally, this litigation involved eight plaintiffs and each plaintiff asserted three claims. In short, the hours Alliance expended were not excessive.

Although Plaintiffs do not object to the reasonableness of the number of hours Alliance expended on this action, Plaintiffs contend that Defendant is only entitled to the fees it expended on litigating the CEPA claims and that its present certification does not provide a breakdown for each plaintiff and for each claim. (Pls.' Br. 3-4.) Nonetheless, Plaintiffs acknowledge that some of the claims "overlap" and are identical. (Id. at 3.) In any event, Plaintiffs are correct in arguing that Defendant is only entitled to the attorneys' fees related to the CEPA defense. See N.J. Stat. Ann. § 34:19-6. Alliance has not responded to Plaintiffs' arguments or provided a breakdown for the hours it expended on defending each claim.

This Court is persuaded that a substantially reduced award is warranted in this case because the award Defendant seeks is based on the number of hours it expended on defending all of the claims, not just the CEPA claims. Therefore, this court must award the amount of fees that is reasonable in relation to Defendant's defense of the CEPA claims. See Moody v. Twp. of Marlboro, 855 F.Supp. 685, 691 (D.N.J. 1994) (reducing award of attorneys' fees to a fee that is reasonable "in relation to the results obtained."). As the Supreme Court has noted, "[t]here is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations. The district court may attempt to identify specific hours that should be eliminated, or it may simply reduce the award." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436-37. The latter approach is more appropriate and equitable in this case because, as stated earlier, there is no breakdown for the number of hours Alliance expended on each claim. Plaintiffs asserted three claims in this action. However, Plaintiffs acknowledge that some of the claims are interrelated and identical. (Pls.' Br. 3.) Consequently, this Court concludes that the reasonable award for Alliance's defense of the CEPA claims is one-third of the amount Defendants expended in defending all three claims, which is $25,787.33 in attorneys' fees and $1,826.31 in costs.

2.Joint and Several Liability of all Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs' Counsel

Alliance also requests that this Court "specifically clarify[] the extent to which all Plaintiffs and Plaintiffs' Counsel are jointly and severally liable" for the fees ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.