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Brunarski v. Miami University

United States District Court, S.D. Ohio, Western Division

January 10, 2018

KELLY BRUNARSKI, et al., Plaintiffs,

          Dlott, J. Bowman, M.J


          Stephanie K. Bowman United States Magistrate Judge

         This civil action is now before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Set Reasonable Attorneys' Fee (Doc. 63), and Plaintiffs' responsive memorandum (Doc. 64). In the motion, Defendant asks the Court to set a reasonable attorneys' fee relating to Plaintiffs' filing of its motion to strike the affidavit of Timothy Krehbiel. Defendant's position is that the $5, 590 fee requested by Plaintiffs should be reduced because the billing records (1) contain entries unrelated to the motion to strike; (2) contain block-billed entries that should be reduced by fifty percent; (3) include clerical tasks for which they may not be compensated; and (4) reflect an hourly rate beyond what Plaintiffs' counsel is charging their own client. Defendant requests a reasonable fee award in the range of $3, 000.

         I. Facts and Background

         Plaintiffs' complaint alleges that Miami University violated the Equal Pay Act. Plaintiffs, who are professors in the Farmer College of Business at Miami University, claim they are compensated less than their male colleagues because of their gender.

         After discovery ended, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment to which it attached an Affidavit from Timothy Krehbiel. Krehbiel's affidavit provided a concise explanation for the raises received by the two male colleagues who Plaintiffs assert are comparators in this case. Plaintiffs claimed that Defendant never disclosed Krehbiel as a witness with knowledge of how the salary disparity occurred. As such, Plaintiff filed a motion to strike the affidavit of Krehbiel.

         Upon review, the Court found no basis to strike Krehbiel's affidavit on summary judgment, but declined to rule on whether Krehbiel could testify at trial. The Court indicated, however, that it was troubled that initial disclosures were not made by Defendant and that Krehbiel's name was not specifically listed as a witness. It therefore permitted Plaintiffs to depose Krehbiel prior to responding to Defendant's motion for summary judgment, and ordered Defendant to pay Plaintiffs' fees associated with the filing of their motion to strike and reply memorandum. (Doc. 61, PageId. 1320-21).

         By letter dated June 1, 2017, Plaintiffs' counsel requested that Defendant pay fees in the amount of $8, 509 pursuant to the Court's order. (Doc. 63-1, PageId. 1337). Although it is not clear precisely how that amount was calculated, the billing records included in the letter contain 36.1 hours of associate time at an hourly rate of $235 (10 of which were reduced to a paralegal rate of $90 per hour) and 6 hours of partner time at an hourly rate of $400. (Id., PageId. 1334-37).[1]

         Defendant's counsel immediately responded to the fee request, indicating that it did not believe the fee to be reasonable because some matters billed were outside the scope of the Court's Order and many billing entries were in a form that did not allow for a determination of reasonableness of individual tasks. (Doc. 63-2, PageId. 1338). Defendant offered to pay $2, 500 in fees to Plaintiffs to satisfy the Court's Order. (Id.).

         By letter dated June 23, 2017, Plaintiffs' counsel declined the $2, 500 offer and requested a reduced fee of $5, 590. (Doc. 63-3, PageId. 1342). The fee amount included 10 hours of associate time billed at paralegal hourly rate of $90, 10 hours of associate time billed at the hourly rate of $235, and 5.85 hours of partner time at an hourly rate of $400. (Id.).[2]

         Plaintiffs' counsel subsequently provided to Defendant the time slips containing the billing entries referenced in the June 21 and 23, 2017 letters. (Doc. 63-4, PageId. 1343-49). These billing entries differed from those in the letters and reflected a paralegal hourly rate of $80, an associate hourly rate of $150, and a partner hourly rate of $350. (Id.).

         Defendant now seeks an Order from this Court setting a reasonable fee to be paid to Plaintiffs, which it claims is in the range of $3, 000. (Doc. 63). Plaintiffs, on the other hand, claim that their requested amount of $5, 590 is a discounted amount that is reasonable and appropriate. (Doc. 64, PageId. 1351-52).

         II. Analysis

         The party seeking an award of attorneys' fees bears the burden of showing the requested award is reasonable in terms of both hours expended and hourly rates. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983); Graceland Fruit, Inc. v. KIC Chemicals, Inc., 320 F. App'x 323, 328 (6th Cir. 2008). “In the discovery sanctions context, this includes the burden of demonstrating the requisite causal relationship between the Rule 37 violation and the activity for which fees are sought.” Crozin v. Crown Appraisal Group, Inc., No. 2:10-cv-581, 2012 WL 1186520, at *4 (S.D. Ohio Apr. 6, 2012). When submitting a fee request to a district court, counsel “should make a good faith effort to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” ...

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