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Harris v. Monarch Recovery Holdings

United States District Court, D. Arizona

March 17, 2014

Dennis Harris, Plaintiff,
v.
Monarch Recovery Holdings, Defendant.

ORDER AND OPINION (Motions at dockets 29 & 32)

JOHN W. SEDWICK, District Judge.

I. MOTION PRESENTED

At docket 29 plaintiff Dennis Harris ("Harris") moves for an award of costs and attorney's fees. Defendant Monarch Recovery Holdings ("Monarch") responds at docket 32. Monarch's supplemental documents are at docket 33. Harris' reply is at docket 34. Although Monarch's response at docket 32 includes a request for discovery and an evidentiary hearing, neither of the parties request oral argument on the pending motions, and it would not be of aid to the court.

II. BACKGROUND

Harris sued Monarch alleging that Monarch is a debt collector which violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("Act") in the course of its dealings with him.[1] After Monarch appeared and answered, the case progressed on the docket in an unremarkable manner. On December 30, 2013, Harris served his second offer of judgment on Monarch in which he offered to settle the case for $1, 000, but reserved his right to seek costs and reasonable attorney's fees. The offer was accepted by Monarch on January 7, 2014.[2] Judgment in the amount of $1, 000, together with costs and attorney's fees to be determined was entered on January 8, 2014.

III. DISCUSSION

A. Costs

The only costs requested are the $350 filing fee and a $25 fee for service of process.[3] The filing fee and the service fee are taxable costs[4] as distinguished from non-taxable costs which litigants sometimes seek in connection with a motion for attorney's, \ fees. To recover taxable costs, a party must apply to the Clerk of Court within 14 days from the entry of the final judgment.[5] Harris has not applied to tax costs, and the 14 days have run. It follows that Harris is not entitled to recover the $375 in taxable costs requested in his motion.

B. Attorney's Fees

Harris, of course, is the prevailing party and as a prevailing plaintiff he is entitled to recover reasonable attorney's fees pursuant to the Act, [6] and a reasonable award of fees is mandatory.[7] When determining the amount of reasonable attorney's fees, the district court must calculate the "lodestar, " which is determined "by multiplying the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate."[8]

The parties are in substantial disagreement about both the multiplicand and the multiplier. The court turns first to the multiplier, the reasonable hourly rate. The attorneys' rates are to be "calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community."[7] The relevant community is Phoenix, Arizona.

Harris' motion asks for an award of fees for the work by the lawyers and a paralegal at Krohn & Moss, the California law firm which represents him. Harris contends that the award should be based on the following rates: for Ryan Lee, $387 per hour; for Douglas Baek, $290 per hour; and for the paralegal, $145 per hour. Harris' most experienced attorney, Mr. Lee, has been practicing law for nine years.[7] To support the rates requested, Harris first argues that they are consistent with the rates set out in the "Laffey Matrix, " which is a chart showing rates pertinent to practice in the District of Columbia.[8] Reliance on that chart is misplaced, because the District of Columbia is not the relevant community.

Harris also argues that the rates he seeks are supported by a report titled "United States Consumer Law Attorney Fee Survey Report 2010-2011 prepared by R.L. Burdge ("Survey")[9] which is a compilation and presentation of hourly rates obtained though an on-line survey of lawyers practicing consumer law from various locations. Even assuming the Survey is reliable, it is of no utility here. It paints with too broad a brush. It gives data on hourly rates for an eight-state area described as the West Region in which the Survey places Arizona.[10] There is no way to parse the Survey to obtain information which is a reliable reflection of rates in Phoenix, Arizona.

Harris' lawyers work in California, although one of them, Lee, is also admitted in Arizona. That means their own rates reflect a different market for legal services. The only evidence before the court which actually shows rates charged by lawyers who handle litigation under the Act in Phoenix are the rates charged by Monarch's counsel. Monarch's most senior lawyer, Sean P. Healy, has 16 years of experience, and his hourly rate in the case at bar is $205 per hour.[11] A more junior lawyer, Shawn Petri, also worked on this case. He has practiced law ...


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