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Reynolds v. EOS CCA and U.S. Asset Management Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

November 22, 2016

Sherry Reynolds, Plaintiff,
v.
EOS CCA and U.S. Asset Management Inc., Defendants.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Judge

         This case involves Defendants EOS CCA's (“EOS”) and U.S. Asset Management, Inc.'s (“U.S. Asset Management”) efforts to collect a principal amount, interest, and fees/collection costs on behalf of AT&T Mobility. AT&T Mobility claimed Plaintiff Sherry Reynolds owed these amounts after she stopped making payments on her AT&T Mobility account. Ms. Reynolds initiated this action against Defendants[1], alleging that they violated § 1692d, 1692e, and 1692f of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”). She argued that Defendants violated the FDCPA by attempting to collect interest and collection costs not provided for in any contract between her and AT&T Mobility. Despite settling numerous other cases involving the same issue, Defendants opted to vigorously litigate this case. Ultimately, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Ms. Reynolds on her § 1692e and § 1692f claims related to the collection of interest and costs, finding that Defendants had not provided any evidence suggesting the presence of a binding contract between Ms. Reynolds and AT&T Mobility that provided for the imposition of those amounts. [Filing No. 59 at 9-13.] The Court denied Ms. Reynolds' summary judgment motion as it related to her § 1692d claim, finding that she had not presented any evidence of a violation of that provision. [Filing No. 59 at 13-14.] On June 2, 2016, Ms. Reynolds notified the Court that she was voluntarily dismissing her § 1692d claim, [Filing No. 64], and the Court acknowledged the dismissal, [Filing No. 65].

         Presently pending before the Court are Ms. Reynolds' Motion for Assessment of Attorneys' Fees and Costs, [Filing No. 70], and her Supplemental Motion for Assessment of Attorneys' Fees and Costs, [Filing No. 78]. As discussed below, the Court finds the fees and costs Ms. Reynolds requests to be reasonable for the most part, with some adjustments. Accordingly, it grants Ms. Reynolds' motion in part and denies it in part.

         I.

         Relevant Background

         Ms. Reynolds initiated this lawsuit on November 14, 2014, [Filing No. 1], and, after conducting discovery and attending numerous pretrial conferences (including a settlement conference), she moved for summary judgment on December 29, 2015, [Filing No. 46]. As noted above, Ms. Reynolds obtained summary judgment on two claims, and voluntarily dismissed her remaining claim. [Filing No. 59; Filing No. 64.] In the meantime, Defendants - or in some cases just EOS, if U.S. Asset Management was not named as a defendant - entered into settlements without significant litigation with seven plaintiffs who filed cases in this District asserting claims based on facts substantially similar to the facts in this case. [See George v. EOS CCA, et al., 1:14-cv-0556-SEB-DML; Smith v. EOS CCA, 1:14-cv-01778-WTL-MJD; Emery v. EOS CCA, et al., 1:13-cv-1421-LJM-DKL; Milliken v. EOS CCA, 1:13-cv-01748-WTL-TAB; Hunt v. EOS CCA, et al., 1:13-cv-01787-TWP-DML; Hill v. EOS CCA, et al., 1:13-cv-02049-RLY-TAB; Howell v. EOS CCA, 1:14-cv-01259-WTL-MJD.] Despite the similarity of Ms. Reynolds' claims, Defendants chose to vigorously litigate this case (including the issue of attorneys' fees and costs) along with another substantially similar case, Reed v. EOS CCA, 1:14-cv-1745-JMS-DKL.[2]

         After obtaining summary judgment on two of her claims, the parties agreed that Ms. Reynolds would receive $2, 000 in statutory damages from Defendants, and the fee issue is now the only issue remaining in this litigation. [See Filing No. 78 at 1.] Ms. Reynolds now seeks a total of $26, 126.25 in attorneys' fees and $1, 450.23 in costs. [Filing No. 70; Filing No. 78.]

         II.

         Applicable Law

         Section 1692k of the FDCPA provides that “any debt collector who fails to comply with any provision of this subchapter with respect to any person is liable to such person in an amount equal to the sum of…in the case of any successful action to enforce the foregoing liability, the costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court.” 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). The party seeking the fee award has the burden of proving the reasonableness of the fees sought. Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of Chi., 175 F.3d 544, 550 (7th Cir. 1999). Once this burden is met, then the party opposing the fee award has the burden of demonstrating why the amount sought is unreasonable. Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 640 (7th Cir. 2011).

         Typically, the district court “is in the best position to make the ‘contextual and fact-specific' assessment of what fees are reasonable.” Montanez v. Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 553 (7th Cir. 2014). Although the district court's discretion is not boundless, the United States Supreme Court “has said that there is hardly any ‘sphere of judicial decisionmaking in which appellate micromanagement has less to recommend.'” Id. (quoting Fox v. Vice, 131 S.Ct. 2205, 2216 (2011)).

         The Court “generally begins the fee calculation by computing a ‘lodestar': the product of the hours reasonably expended on the case multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Montanez, 755 F.3d at 553. “Although the lodestar yields a presumptively reasonable fee, ” the Court may still adjust that fee based on factors not included in the computation. Id.(citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983)). Ultimately, “the guiding inquiry is whether ‘the plaintiff achieve[d] a level of success that makes the hours reasonably expended a satisfactory basis for making a fee award.'” Montanez, 755 F.3d at 553 (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434). In calculating the lodestar the Court “need not, and indeed should not, become green-eyeshade accountants. The essential goal in shifting fees (to either party) is to do rough justice, not to achieve auditing perfection.” Fox, 131 S.Ct. at 2216. Accordingly, the Court “may take into account their overall sense of a suit, and may use estimates in calculating and allocating an attorney's time.” Id.

         III.

         Discussion

         Ms. Reynolds argues in support of her motion that Defendants chose to litigate this case even though they settled seven similar cases, that an award of attorneys' fees is mandatory under the FDCPA when the plaintiff prevails, that the lodestar method is applicable, that her attorneys' rates are reasonable, and that her attorneys spent a reasonable amount of time litigating the case. [Filing No. 71 at 1-13.] Ms. Reynolds submits the curriculum vitae of her attorneys, [Filing No. 70-2; Filing No. 70-5], her attorneys' itemized invoices, [Filing No. 70-3], and the Declaration of David J. Philipps, [Filing No. 70-6]. Mr. Philipps is an experienced FDCPA litigator who opines that Ms. Reynolds' attorneys have “a solid reputation for their work for consumers on FDCPA lawsuits, ” and that their hourly rates are “at the low end of the range of rates charged in the Indianapolis market for work performed in contingent, statutory fee-shifting cases, particularly considering their experience in such matters.” [Filing No. 70-6 at 20-21.] Mr. Philipps also opines that the paralegal who performed work on Ms. Reynolds' case has a rate which is within the reasonable range. [Filing No. 70-6 at 21.] Finally, he states that “[t]he records reveal that [Ms. Reynolds' attorneys] have been extremely efficient in their time, with much of the time incurred by [an associate], who has a lower rate.” [Filing No. 70-6 at 21.]

         In response, Defendants argue that the fees Ms. Reynolds seeks should be “drastically reduced.” [Filing No. 75 at 1.] They agree that the lodestar method applies, but argue that the hourly rates requested are unreasonable, and the hours expended are unreasonable for a variety of reasons, including that: (1) time was spent on boilerplate forms and tasks; (2) time was spent on purely administrative and clerical tasks; and (3) time was spent on duplicative, excessive, and unnecessary tasks. [Filing No. 75 at 2-14.] Defendants request that the fee award be reduced to an amount not to exceed $5, 000. [Filing No. 75 at 14.]

         On reply, Ms. Reynolds reiterates many of her arguments, and stresses that Defendants levied an aggressive defense in this case, that her attorneys needed to tailor boilerplate pleadings to this case, that the items Defendants claim were purely clerical in nature were ...


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