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Goldrich v. City of Jersey City

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

September 20, 2019

David Goldrich
v.
City of Jersey City, et al.

          ORDER

          Hon. Leda Dunn Wettre United States Magistrate Judge

         To: All counsel of record Dear Counsel:

         The undersigned having issued a Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) dated June 26, 2019, ECF No. 252, on defendants' motion for attorneys' fees and costs, and the parties having filed objections thereto, this matter comes before the Court on remand from United States District Judge Susan D. Wigenton to “set forth in further detail all that was considered in determining” the reasonable value of fees to be awarded. ECF No. 264. The Court's reasoning is supplemented below.

         I. Background

         The Court presumes the parties' familiarity with the lengthy procedural history of this case and will briefly recount only the facts relevant to this supplement to its R&R. In short, during the discovery phase of this action, defendants moved for spoliation sanctions against plaintiff, an evidentiary hearing was held, and the undersigned then recommended defendants be reimbursed by plaintiff for two specific categories of costs and fees. Those categories were (1) “the expense of [defendants'] forensic computer expert”; and (2) “for the [sanctions] motion.” ECF No. 175 at 13. The District Court, after consideration of objections from both plaintiff and defendants to that R&R, adopted the recommendation that defendants be awarded fees in those two categories. On September 19, 2018, it ordered “Plaintiff to pay Defendants the expense of the forensic computer expert and reasonable attorneys' fees for Defendants' Motion for Sanctions.” ECF No. 183.

         Defendants did not move to reduce that fee award to a sum certain until after trial.[1] They filed their fee application in March 2019, and it was fully briefed in April 2019. The undersigned, noting in an Order of June 14, 2019 (ECF No. 248), that defendants' fee application sought fees and expenses “for activities beyond those for which fees and expenses were granted by the Court, rendering the Court unable to discern what portion of the fees sought relate to those awarded by the Court, ” ordered defendants' counsel to submit a certification attaching the invoices for activities relating to the two fee categories the Court had awarded - the forensic expert fees and fees related to the sanctions motion (the latter broken down into the time spent briefing the motion and preparing and participating in the evidentiary hearing on the motion).

         After considering the submissions on the motion, including the supplemental declaration of defense counsel filed on June 17, 2019 (ECF No. 251), the undersigned issued an R&R recommending the following as an award of reasonable fees:

1) $17, 793.45 for Computer Forensic Expert, James Cassidy, CCE;
2) $25, 140.00 for legal work related to the briefing of the sanctions motion; and
3) $8, 595.00 for legal work related to preparation for and participation in the evidentiary hearing, which was part of the sanctions motion.

         ECF No. 252. The parties filed objections thereto and the District Court remanded this matter to provide further explanation for the fee award recommended as a result of plaintiff's spoliation of evidence. ECF No. 265.

         II. Analysis

         The R&R recommended to the District Court that defendants be awarded a total of $51, 528.45. This included an hourly rate of $150 for defense counsel and their paralegals, which the undersigned found reasonable. It also included that amount of time the undersigned found had reasonably been expended on the two categories of activity for which fees had been permitted by the District Court. The underlying rationale for those recommendations is amplified here.

         The Court has a “great deal of discretion” in determining the award of fees. Tangible Value, LLC v. Town Sports Int'l Holdings, Inc., Civ. No. 10-1453, (MAS) (TJB), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 162065, at *12 (D.N.J. Nov. 19, 2014) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990)). In assessing a reasonable fee, the Court first determines the lodestar, which is the number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. See McKenna v. City of Philadelphia, 582 F.3d 447, 455 (3d Cir. 2009). The reasonable hourly rate is based on the “prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” Maldonado v. Houstoun, 256 F.3d 181, 184 (3d Cir. 2001). In assessing the reasonableness of the hours claimed, the Court must “review the time charged, decide whether the hours set out were reasonably expended for each of the particular purposes described and then exclude those that are ‘excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.'” Pub. Interest Research Grp. of N.J. v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1188 (3d Cir. 1995) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. at 424, 433 (1983)). Once the party seeking fees satisfies its burden of showing the reasonableness of its rates and the hours claimed, the opposing party must ...


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