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Mann v. Gem Recovery Systems

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

July 25, 2018

LEONARD MANN, Plaintiff,
v.
GEM RECOVERY SYSTEMS, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES B. CLARK, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a motion by Plaintiff Leonard Mann (“Plaintiff”) seeking attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $3, 157.49 following his acceptance of an Offer of Judgment from Gem Recovery Systems (“Gem” or “Defendant”). See Dkt. No. 19. Defendant opposes Plaintiff's motion. See Dkt. No. 22. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff filed his Complaint in this matter on January 27, 2017, alleging that Gem violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) while attempting to collect a consumer debt from Plaintiff. See Dkt. No. 1. On March 22, 2017, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint. See Dkt. No. 3. Plaintiff claims that Gem, a debt collection firm, attempted to collect on his consumer debt by issuing a collection letter, on or around November 6, 2016, the terms of which violated the FDCPA. Specifically, Plaintiff claims that in violation of the FDCPA, the required notice of rights included in the debt letter was overshadowed and contradicted by the subsequent notice of rights, and that the debt letter was mailed in a window envelope that revealed Plaintiff's personal identifying information.

         Defendant filed an Answer to Plaintiff's Amended Complaint on May 3, 2017. See Dkt. No. 5. On May 30, 2017, Defendant served an Offer of Judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68, which states in relevant part:

Defendant . . . hereby offers to allow Judgment to be entered against it in this action, as follows: 1. In the amount of $1, 001, 00, in full satisfaction of the Plaintiff's claims, and 2. For costs incurred to the date of this offer, and 3. For reasonable attorney fees incurred to the date of this offer in an amount to be determined by the Court, or through negotiation.

Dkt. No. 9, Ex. A at p. 1-2.

         The parties were unable to settle the issue of Plaintiff's reasonable attorneys' fees and costs and Plaintiff filed the present motion. Plaintiff's present motion seeks $3, 157.49 in attorneys' fees and costs. See Dkt. No. 19. Defendant filed a Certification in Opposition to Plaintiff's motion arguing that Plaintiff's counsel expended an unreasonable amount of hours on certain tasks, that the hourly rates claimed by Plaintiff are unreasonable and that Plaintiff improperly seeks fees for non-compensable clerical work.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Under the FDCPA, a “debt collector who fails to comply with any provision” of the Act with respect to an individual plaintiff is liable for any actual damages sustained as well as statutory damages as awarded by the court, not to exceed $1, 000.00. 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692k(a)(1), (a)(2)(A). A prevailing plaintiff is entitled to recover “‘the costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court.'” Alexander v. NCO Fin. Sys. Inc., No. 11- 401, 2011 WL 2415156, at *2 (E.D. Pa. June 16, 2011) (quoting 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(3)); see also Graziano v. Harrison, 950 F.2d 107, 113 (3d Cir. 1991). Under Section 1692k(a)(3), a plaintiff may be considered a prevailing party if the plaintiff succeeds “on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (quotation omitted).

         The starting point for the calculation of reasonable attorney's fees “is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable rate.” Id. The result of this calculation is called the lodestar. The lodestar “provides an objective basis on which to make an initial estimate of the value of the lawyer's services.” Id. To determine a reasonable hourly rate, the court should evaluate both the attorney's customary billing rate and the prevailing market rates in the relevant community. Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 285 (1989); Blum v. Stevenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984); Plumbers Union Local No. 690 v. F.P.S. Plumbing, Inc., No. 08-4271, 2009 WL 2603162, at * 1 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 21, 2009) (quoting Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990)). The market rate is generally based on the rate charged by attorneys in the region where the case is litigated. See Pub. Interest Research Grp. of N.J., Inc. v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1186-88 (3d Cir. 1995); Washington v. Phila. Cnty. Ct. of Common Pleas., 89 F.3d 1031, 1035 (3d Cir. 1996) (citing Blum, 465 U.S. at 895-96 n. 11).

         Plaintiff bears the burden “of producing sufficient evidence of what constitutes a reasonable market rate for the essential character and complexity of the legal services rendered in order to make out a prima facie case.” Smith v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 107 F.3d 223, 225 (3d Cir. 1997). “This burden is normally addressed by submitting affidavits of other attorneys in the relevant legal community attesting to the range of prevailing rates charged by attorneys with similar skill and experience.” Wade v. Colaner, No. 06-3715, 2010 WL 5479625, at * 4 (D.N.J. Dec. 28, 2010). “Thus, the court should assess the experience and skill of the prevailing party's attorneys and compare their rates to the rates prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183. Where a plaintiff fails to meet this burden, the court must exercise its discretion in determining a reasonable hourly rate. Washington, 89 F.3d at 1036.

         III. DISCUSSION

         Defendant argues that the fees sought by Plaintiff are improper for three reasons. First, Defendant takes issue with the hourly rate used by Plaintiff. Secondly, Defendant asserts that Plaintiff expended an unreasonable amount of hours on certain tasks. ...


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