United States District Court, D. New Jersey
TRC ENVTL. CORP., Plaintiff,
WATERSIDE DEV. CORP and WATERSIDE CONSTR., LLC, Defendants.
WILLIAM J. MARTINI, U.S.D.J.
Opinion and Order dated July 24, 2018, the Court granted
summary judgment for Plaintiff TRC Environmental Corporation
(“Plaintiff”), holding that Defendant Waterside
Construction, LLC (“Defendant”) was in breach of
contract (the “Contract”) and dismissed its
counterclaims and affirmative defenses. In entering judgment
against Defendant, the Court also determined Plaintiff was
entitled under the Contract to its fees and costs. ECF Nos.
30, 31. Now before the Court is Plaintiff's specification
of its recoverable fees and costs and Defendant's
objections to the same. ECF Nos. 32, 33. The Court decides
the matter without oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the
reasons below, the Court will GRANT in part
and DENY in part Plaintiff's proposed
entry of final judgment against Defendant.
Court writes solely for the parties and therefore recite
facts that are necessary to entering final judgment.
allowed in the Contract, Plaintiff's out-of-state counsel
seeks attorney's fees totaling $26, 356.50 as well as
$65, 240.00 in prejudgment interest. See Affidavit
of Conor Brownell ¶ 6, ECF No. 32. The fee request
includes billings for conducting client and local counsel
communications, serving the Complaint, undertaking discovery,
drafting motion papers, and traveling to New Jersey to attend
depositions and participate in a settlement conference. Under
the Contract, 1.5% per month interest would be added to
Plaintiff's invoiced amounts more than 30 days past due.
Compl., Ex. A, ECF No. 1-1.
attorney's fees, Defendant objects to certain tasks
performed, arguing Plaintiff's choice to hire both
in-state and out-of-state counsel contributed to the
excessive amount. Specifically, Defendant highlights as
excessive entries for out-of-state counsel's travel time,
“service issues, ” communications with local
counsel and a third-party attorney, and preparing the reply
memorandum. Additionally, Defendant identifies two
duplicative billing entries. Def.'s Letter 1, ECF No. 33.
Defendant then objects outright to a proposed award of
prejudgment interest. Finally, Defendant asks for an order
compelling Plaintiff to turn over the work product it agreed
to produce under the Contract. Id. at 2.
seeking fees must document the hours for which payment is
sought with sufficient specificity to allow the District
Court to determine whether the hours claimed are unreasonable
for the work performed.” See Evans v. Port Auth. of
N.Y. & N.J., 273 F.3d 346, 361 (3d Cir. 2001)
(quotation and citation omitted). “Once these records
[are] submitted, the District Court [is] required to perform
a ‘positive and affirmative function in the fee fixing
process.'” See Id. at 361 (quoting
Maldonado v. Houston, 256 F.3d 181, 184 (3d Cir.
2001)). This duty compels the Court “to review the time
charged, decide whether hours set out were reasonably
expended for each of the particular purposes described and
then exclude those that are excessive, redundant, or
otherwise unnecessary.” See Id. at 362
(quotation and citation omitted). The Court “retains a
great deal of discretion in deciding what a reasonable fee
award is, so long as any reduction is based on objections
actually raised by the adverse party.” See Bell v.
United Princeton Props., Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 721 (3d
Cir. 1989) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S.
424, 437 (1983)); N. Bergen Rex Transport, Inc. v.
Trailer Leasing Co., 730 A.2d 843, 848 (N.J. 1999)
(citation omitted). “In determining whether the fee
request is excessive . . ., the [C]ourt will inevitably be
required to engage in a fair amount of ‘judgment
calling' based upon its experience with the case and its
general experience as to how much time a case
requires.” See Bell, 884 F.2d at 713.
Fees. The Court has a duty to assess the
reasonableness of Plaintiff's fee request.
Defendant's objections to client communications and
preparation of the motion papers presumes Plaintiff'
out-of-state counsel strove for reduced costs while
maximizing productivity. But Plaintiff's counsel's
objective was to prevail on the merits, not to save money.
And both sides bore the risk of unsuccessful litigation.
reviewing the Brownell Affidavit and Defendant's
objections, the Court finds Plaintiff's billings
adequately describe and justify the hours expended here. The
entries demonstrate appropriate time spent on serving the
Complaint as well as researching, drafting, editing, and
communication activities. Even so, Plaintiff is not
“automatically entitled to compensation for all the
time its attorneys spent working on the case.”
Interfaith Cmty. Org. v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc.,
426 F.3d 694, 710 (3d Cir. 2005) (quotation omitted). To that
end, the Court will strike as redundant two duplicate billing
entries totaling $450.00.
travel time, Defendant's objection has merit. Third
Circuit precedent shows that ‘“under normal
circumstances, a party that hires counsel from outside of the
forum of the litigation may not be compensated for travel
time, travel costs, or the costs of local
counsel.'” See Hahnemann Univ. Hosp. v. All
Shore, Inc., 514 F.3d 300, 312 (3d Cir. 2008) (quoting
Interfaith Cmty. Org., 426 F.3d at 710) (vacating
trial court's award to non-forum counsel of travel and
expense costs). “However, where forum counsel are
unwilling to represent plaintiff, such costs are
compensable.” Id. Absent here is anything to
suggest forum counsel's unwillingness or inability to
represent Plaintiff. Thus, the Court cannot award Plaintiff
the $4, 185.00 its outside counsel charged as travel time to
interest. The Contract allows Plaintiff to add 1.5%
interest on invoiced amounts more than 30 days past due.
See Compl., Ex. A. In a diversity action, “New
Jersey law controls the question of whether pre-judgment
interest is available.” McAdam v. Dean Witter
Reynolds, Inc., 896 F.2d 750, 773 (3d Cir. 1990). Based
on equitable principles, a New Jersey court has discretion to
award prejudgment interest on contract claims. Cty. of
Essex v. First Union Nat. Bank, 891 A.2d 600, 608 (N.J.
denied Plaintiff use of its funds, so awarding prejudgment
interest is appropriate. In applying equitable principles,
the Court will adjust the prejudgment interest accrual
beginning and end dates. See Cty. of Essex, 891 A.2d
at 609. Apart from a making a down payment when executing the
Contract, Defendant never remitted payment to Plaintiff for
services rendered. The record shows Plaintiff first brought
up the payment issue with Defendant almost four months after
the first invoice became overdue. The parties ...