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Golson-Dunlap v. Med-1 Solutions, LLC

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

February 21, 2019

JENICE GOLSON-DUNLAP as Trustee of the Bankruptcy Estate of Nikita Chestnut, Plaintiff,
v.
MED-1 SOLUTIONS, LLC, Defendant.

          ENTRY ON PENDING MOTIONS FOR ADDITIONAL ATTORNEY'S FEES

          TANYA WALTON PRATT, JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on a Motion for Additional Attorney's Fees (Filing No. 24) and Motion to Include Attorney's Fees in the Judgment (Filing No. 25) filed by Plaintiff Jenice Golson-Dunlap, Trustee of the Bankruptcy Estate of Nikita Chestnut[1] (the “Trustee”). For the reasons stated below, the Trustee's Motions with modifications set forth in this Entry are granted.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On February 28, 2017, this lawsuit was under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) against Med-1 Solutions, LLC (“Med-1”) alleging abusive debt collection practices. On March 14, 2017, the parties filed Plaintiff's Acceptance of Offer of Judgment (Filing No. 6), but the issue of attorney's fees and costs remained unsettled. On March 21, 2018, this Court awarded Plaintiff attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $4, 857.50 (Filing No. 23).

         On May 30, 2018, the Trustee's counsel, John Steinkamp (“Steinkamp”), sent an email to Med-1's counsel, Nicholas Moline (“Moline”), asking for status on the check for attorney's fees (Filing No. 24-1). Another email was sent to Moline on June 4, 2018, requesting an update. Id.

         Steinkamp explicitly stated in the email communication that he would request additional attorney's fees if he did not receive payment by June 6, 2018. Id. On June 12, 2018, the Trustee filed the instant Motion for an Award of Additional Attorney's Fees (Filing No. 24) and Motion to Include Attorney's Fees in the Judgment (Filing No. 25). Med-1 responded in opposition to both motions on June 26, 2018 (Filing No. 28). As of the filing of the instant motions, Med-1 had not paid the Trustee the attorney's fees and costs previously ordered by this Court.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The FDCPA provides for costs and a “reasonable attorney's fee” to a prevailing party. 15 U.S.C. 1692k(a)(3). “Unlike most private tort litigants, [a plaintiff who brings an FDCPA action] seeks to vindicate important rights that cannot be valued solely in monetary terms, and congress has determined that the public as a whole has an interest in the vindication of the statutory rights.” Tolentino v. Friedman, 46 F.3d 645, 652 (7th Cir. 1995) (citation and quotation omitted). “The general rule for calculating attorney's fee awards under fee shifting statutes is applicable to attorney's fees awards under the FDCPA.” Young v. Accounts Recovery Bureau, Inc., No. 1:11-cv-0025-WTL-DKL, 2012 WL 3764014, at *1 (S.D. Ind. Aug. 8, 2012) (citing Gastineau v. Wright, 592 F.3d 747, 748-49 (7th Cir. 2010)). The lodestar method, which calculates fees by multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours expended, is generally accepted as producing a reasonable fee. Gastineau, 592 F.3d at 748. But the court “has the flexibility to adjust that figure to reflect various factors including the complexity of the legal issues involved, the degree of success obtained, and the public interest advanced by the litigation.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Regarding a motion for attorney's fees, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure state that “[u]nless a statute or a court order provides otherwise, the motion must be filed no later than 14 days after the entry of judgment. . . [and] state the amount sought or provide a fair estimate of it.” Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 54(d)(3)(B)(i)-(iii). Additionally, the Local Rules also require that such a motion to be filed within 14 days after a final judgment is entered but allows an extension for good cause if a motion requesting an extension is filed before the original deadline. S.D. Ind. L.R. 54-1(a).

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Motion to Include Attorney's Fees in the Judgment (Filing No. 25) is unopposed by Med-1 and therefore is granted.[2] However, Med-1 objects to the award of additional fees requested in the Motion for an Award of Additional Attorney's Fees (Filing No. 24); accordingly, the Court's analysis focuses only on that Motion.

         A. Timeliness

         Med-1 first argues that the Trustee's Motion for Additional Attorney's Fees is untimely due to the 14-day limitation set forth in Fed. R. Civ. Pro 54(d)(2)(B)(i) and S.D. Ind. L.R. 54-1(a). Med-1 argues the Trustee should have provided a “‘fair estimate' of the amount of fees her attorney would expend in litigating and collecting on the judgment.” (Filing No. 28 at 4.) Med-1 relies on two FDCPA cases from the District of Colorado in which the court found the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees were untimely because they did not meet Rule 54's 14-day deadline. See King v. Midland Credit Management, No. 11-cv-2808-CMA-BNB, 2013 WL 2236934 (D. Colo. Sept 23, 2013); Miracle Gash v. Client Sers., Inc., No. 12-cv-01426, 2013 WL 1130717 (D. Colo. Mar. 18. 2013). In Miracle Gash, the District of Colorado noted that Federal Rule 54(d)(2)'s fair estimate provision offers a mechanism that allows parties to obtain fees that had not yet been expended at the time of the original motion. Miracle Gash, 2013 WL 1130717, at *4. Nevertheless, the court did acknowledge that other “courts have allowed untimely supplemental motions seeking attorney fees in certain circumstances” such as when local rules allow it but concluded that “the circumstances of this case do not lend toward allowing such motion.” Id.

         This case is factually distinguishable from Midland Credit and Miracle Gash. While the Trustee's motion came 83 days after this Court's Entry on attorney's fees˗˗clearly delinquent in terms of the 14-day deadline˗˗it was Med-1's conduct that necessitated the Trustee's late filings. Steinkamp contacted Moline several times to collect payment for the attorney's fees. He also explicitly warned Moline that he would request additional attorney's fees if payment was not received by a specific deadline. Filing the instant motion, which in turn produced more fees, was the Trustee's attempt to collect the fees and costs already owed to her. The Trustee filed this motion six days after Med-1 failed to provide payment by the specified deadline, showing a good-faith effort to avoid delay. Unlike the plaintiff in Miracle Gash, the Trustee could not have proffered a “fair estimate” of additional fees because litigation over the fees issue should have been completed following the March 21, 2018 Entry requiring payment. Steinkamp's emails with ...


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