United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Beckley Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
C. BERGER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Court has reviewed the Plaintiffs' Statement of
Attorneys' Fees and Expenses Pursuant to ERISA §
502(g) (Document 242), the Defendants' Response
to Plaintiffs' Motion for Fees and Costs (Document
245), the Plaintiffs' Reply in Support of Statement
of Attorneys' Fees and Expenses Pursuant to ERISA §
502(g) (Document 247), as well as all attached exhibits.
BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
case involved a dispute between the Greenbrier hotel and a
group of its employees who participate in its health benefits
plan, and UNITE HERE Health Fund, H.E.R.E.I.U. Welfare
Fund-Plan Unite 155, and the Plan Trustees (collectively, the
Fund). The Greenbrier and its employees participated in an
ERISA health benefits plan provided by UNITE HERE Health from
2004 until January 2013. Although the Fund is a
multi-employer plan, the Greenbrier was in its own plan unit,
with distinct contributions, benefits, and rate calculations.
When the Greenbrier changed unions and switched to a
self-funded health benefits plan in 2013, it sought the
surplus assets attributable to its employee contributions.
The Fund declined to make any transfer of assets, and the
Greenbrier brought this suit. Following a bench trial in June
and July 2016, the Court found in favor of the Plaintiffs.
The Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order
(Document 239) on August 26, 2016, finding that the
Plaintiffs were entitled to $5, 503, 181.00. The Court also
granted the Plaintiffs' request for reasonable
attorneys' fees and costs, and ordered the parties to
complete briefing with respect to the appropriate calculation
of costs and fees.
considering motions for attorneys' fees available by
statute, the Supreme Court has instructed that “[t]he
most useful starting point for determining the amount of a
reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on
the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.”
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). A
district court's assessment of the requested award should
include consideration of hours which were spent excessively,
redundantly, or unnecessarily. Id. at 434. This
starting calculation is referred to as the lodestar amount.
Grissom v. The Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313 (4th Cir.
2008). To determine the reasonable hourly rate, “the
fee applicant must produce satisfactory specific evidence of
the prevailing market rates in the relevant community for the
type of work for which he seeks an award.” Plyler
v. Evatt, 902 F.2d 273, 277 (4th Cir. 1990).
Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has provided further guidance
on the calculation of reasonable attorneys' fees and has
established twelve factors that a district court should
consider when calculating reasonable attorneys' fees.
These factors are known as the Johnson factors and
are as follows:
(1) the time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and
difficulty of the questions raised; (3) the skill required to
properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the
attorney's opportunity costs in pressing the instant
litigation; (5) the customary fee for like work; (6) the
attorney's expectations at the outset of the litigation;
(7) the time limitations imposed by the client or
circumstances; (8) the amount in controversy and the results
obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the
attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the
legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and
length of the professional relationship between attorney and
client; and (12) attorneys' fees awards in similar cases.
Grissom, 549 F.3d at 321. Upon completion of this
lodestar calculation, a “court then should subtract
fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to
successful ones.” Grissom, 549 F.3d at 321
(quoting Johnson v. City of Aiken, 278 F.3d 333, 337
(4th Cir.2002)). “Once the court has subtracted the
fees incurred for unsuccessful, unrelated claims, it then
awards some percentage of the remaining amount, depending on
the degree of success enjoyed by the plaintiff.”
Johnson, 278 F.3d at 337.
Plaintiffs initiated this suit in May 2013. They were
represented by the law firm of Spilman, Thomas & Battle
(Spilman) until the fall of 2014, when they switched counsel
and The Masters Law Firm took the case on a contingency
basis. In total, they seek $2, 112, 480.02 in fees and costs.
Of that, $780, 749.41 is attributable to attorneys' fees
for Spilman, $5, 321.05 is attributable to costs for Spilman,
$489, 047.00 is attributable to fees for Marvin W. Masters of
The Masters Law Firm, $576, 742.50 is attributable to fees
for Kimberly K. Parmer of The Masters Law Firm, and $260,
628.89 is attributable to costs for The Masters Law Firm.
Defendants challenge the requested fees on several grounds
and also urge the Court to conclude that no award of fees
should be made. They argue that the Plaintiffs have not
provided sufficient evidence to support the fees and that the
requested hourly rates for attorneys Marvin Masters and
Kimberly Parmer are unreasonably high. The Defendants also
challenge the hours billed as excessive and inadequately
supported by vague billing records. They assert that some
records reflect block billing, very long work days, including
billing for twenty or more hours per day on certain
occasions, and billing for non-legal tasks. In addition, the
Defendants request a reduction for work related to
unsuccessful claims, as well as duplicative work related to
overstaffing and to the transfer of the case from Spilman to
The Masters Law Firm. In total, the Defendants argue that, if
fees are awarded at all, they be reduced to $952, 665.03.
Carr, Co-Chair of the Labor and Employment Practice Group at
Spilman, submitted an affidavit detailing the time he and
other attorneys and staff members spent on this matter.
Hourly rates for members who worked on this case ranged from
$275 to $335; associates billed $150 to $250 per hour; senior
attorneys and counsel ranged from $175 to $330 per hour. The
firm billed $110 per hour for paralegals and law clerks. Mr.
Carr attached supporting affidavits from other experienced
attorneys in the area stating that the hourly rates were
competitive, and perhaps on the low end, for the market. The
Defendants do not contest the hourly rates requested by the
Spilman attorneys, and, as a firm that regularly charges and
receives the requested hourly rate from paying clients in the
area, the Court finds that the rates requested by Spilman are
reasonable. The Defendants also ...