United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fayetteville Division
TIMOTHY L. BROOKS, UnITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
pending before the Court is Plaintiff Shelby Murdock's
Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 17). On November 7, 2018, the
Court entered an Order (Doc. 16) awarding Ms. Murdock damages
in the total amount of $16, 215.17, and finding that,
according to the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA")
at 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), she is also entitled to receive
compensation for all reasonable attorney fees and costs she
incurred in prosecuting this action. Shortly after the
Court's Order was entered, Ms. Murdock's counsel
submitted the Motion for Attorney Fees that is now before the
Court for resolution.
considering the legal standard to apply when assessing the
reasonableness of counsel's request for fees, the Court
has focused on the following factors set forth by the
Arkansas Supreme Court in Chrisco v. Sun Industries,
Inc., 304 Ark. 227, 229-30 (1990), and cited to with
approval by the Eighth Circuit, see All-Ways Logistics,
Inc. v. USA Truck, Inc., 583 F.3d 511, 521 (8th Cir.
2009): the amount of time counsel invested in the lawsuit;
the appropriateness of counsel's rates, given the
experience and ability of the attorneys; the time and labor
required to perform the legal services properly; the amount
potentially at issue in the case; the results obtained; the
novelty and difficulty of the issues involved; and the
prevailing rate customarily charged in this area for similar
case involved a default judgment entered against Defendants
who never appeared in this case. Aside from drafting the
initial pleadings and perfecting service upon the Defendants,
Ms. Murdock's counsel also expended time in moving the
Court for default judgment and attending an in-person hearing
on damages. Ultimately, the Court found in Ms. Murdock's
favor and awarded her damages. The Court has reviewed the
Motion for Attorney Fees, Brief in Support (Doc. 17-1), and
supporting affidavits, spreadsheets, and invoices (Docs.
17-2-17-4) filed on Ms. Murdock's behalf.
appears that the legal work performed in this case was
principally handled by two attorneys, Josh Sanford and Blake
Hoyt, both of the Sanford Law Firm, PLLC, located in Little
Rock, Arkansas. Judging from Mr. Hoyt's billing rate of
$150.00 per hour, in addition to the information in Mr.
Sanford's supporting affidavit, it appears the firm
regards Mr. Hoyt as a "lesser experienced"
attorney. See Doc. 17-3, p. 6. By contrast, Mr.
Sanford is a "more experienced" attorney, as he is
the named partner of the law firm, manages fifteen other
attorneys, and has been licensed to practice law for
seventeen years. Id. According to the motion
requesting fees, it appears several other "more
experienced" attorneys in the firm-other than Mr.
Sanford-consulted with and/or supervised Mr. Hoyt's work
in this case and billed small increments of time to the file.
Although the law firm has admittedly adopted a collaborative
practice wherein more experienced attorneys mentor the more
junior attorneys, see id., it does not necessarily
follow that the time spent by the senior attorneys mentoring
Mr. Hoyt should have reasonably been passed on to the client
and claimed in this fee request, nor does it follow that
nine separate attorneys should have billed time to
this rather uncomplicated wage-and-hour case that ended up in
a default posture and was worth, at most, less than $20,
for Ms. Murdock originally claimed $15, 872.50 in fees-nearly
the same amount Ms. Murdock ultimately received from the
Court on her default judgment-and subsequently discounted
that amount to $14, 807.50 after striking certain
"entries for time spent on tasks which could reasonably
be viewed as unproductive, excessive, redundant, or which
were otherwise deemed as appropriate for writing off
completely or reducing -" Id. at 13. However,
the final bill included the increments of time billed by
attorneys Stiritz, Gibson, Rauls, Short, Bradford, Rheaume,
and Burks-mostly for "conferencing" with Mr. Hoyt
on some aspect of the case or for proofreading his work. The
time billed by these seven attorneys does not appear
reasonable. First, senior partner Sanford checked all of Mr.
Hoyt's work, read every document he ever submitted (both
before and after filing), and conferenced with him frequently
about the case. It therefore does not appear to have been
necessary for seven more attorneys to have billed time for
reviewing the file, offering advice to Mr. Hoyt, or
performing the same proofreading and editing functions that
Mr. Sanford was already providing. Second, the Motion for
Fees never explains why this rather granular level of
management and oversight was warranted for an attorney like
Mr. Hoyt, who graduated from law school cum laude in
2014, has been in practice for four years, and has served
"as both lead and co-counsel on bench and jury trials
throughout various Arkansas circuit and district
courts." Id. at 6. Accordingly, the time billed
by attorneys Stiritz, Gibson, Rauls, Short, Bradford,
Rheaume, and Burks will be stricken.
the bill contains time billed for certain research tasks
performed by a law student, called a "law clerk" in
the Motion. The research tasks performed by the law clerk are
reasonable, but the billing rate of $75.00 an hour is not.
Based on the prevailing rate customarily charged in Northwest
Arkansas for the same legal services, the Court finds that
the appropriate rate should be discounted to $25.00 per hour.
the Court finds that Mr. Sanford's claim for fees in the
total amount of $4, 712.50 is reasonable. His hourly rate of
$325.00 is slightly too high, given the prevailing market
rate for similar legal work and Mr. Sanford's experience;
however, he has discounted his fee demand by about $300.00,
which is essentially the difference between charging $325.00
per hour for the 15.40 hours he billed to the case, and
charging $300.00 per hour (the Court's estimation of the
appropriate hourly rate for this attorney) for the same work.
Therefore, the Court will award Mr. Sanford his requested
and given Mr. Sanford's and Mr. Hoyt's experience,
the time and labor required to perform the legal services
properly, the amount at issue in the case, the positive
results obtained on default judgment, and the degree of
novelty and difficulty of the issues involved, the Court
finds that a total fee award of $14, 095.00 is warranted in
this case. This figure is derived by adding the $9, 322.50 in
fees claimed by Mr. Hoyt to the $4, 712.50 in fees claimed by
Mr. Sanford to the discounted fee of $60.00 (2.40 hours at a
rate of $25.00 per hour) for work performed by the law clerk.
In addition, Ms. Murdock is entitled to recoupment of her
costs in the sum of $513.40.
IS ORDERED, therefore, that the total award of
attorney fees and costs is $14, 608.40.
Judgment will issue on this date to reflect the total money
damages, fees, and costs awarded.