United States District Court, W.D. Arkansas, Fort Smith Division
WHITNEY COOK, Individually and on Behalf of All Other Similarly Situated PLAINTIFF
BEEMAC FOODS, LLC and BEN EPHIE DEFENDANTS
OPINION AND ORDER
HOLMES, III U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
judgment has been entered against Defendants, who have not
appeared in this action. Before the Court are Plaintiff
Whitney Cook's motion (Doc. 22) for costs and
attorney's fees and brief (Doc. 23) in support. For the
reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's Motion is GRANTED IN
PART and DENIED IN PART.
Whitney Cook and Cecilie Richardson filed their complaint on
September 6, 2018, alleging Defendants violated the Fair
Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq.
(“FLSA”) and the Arkansas Minimum Wage Act, Ark.
Code Ann. § 11-4-201 et seq.
(“AMWA”) by failing to pay overtime wages as
required by law. Defendants did not appear or respond to
Plaintiff's complaint. Plaintiff Whitney Cook moved for a
default judgment and Plaintiff Cecilie Richardson filed a
Rule 41(a)(i)(A)(i) notice voluntarily dismissing her claims
against the Defendants. Default judgment was entered for Cook
on April 8, 2019 requiring Defendants jointly and severally
to pay $2, 664.00 in actual and liquidated damages to Whitney
Cook. Plaintiff Whitney Cook then filed the instant motion
seeking recovery of attorney's fees and costs under 29
U.S.C. § 216(b) and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
seeks $5, 872.50 in attorney's fees and $637.33 in costs.
In support of her motion, Cook submitted an itemized list of
hours billed by her attorneys Allison Koile, Chris Burks,
Daniel Ford, Josh Sanford, Joshua West, Lydia Hamlet, Rebecca
Matlock, Stacy Gibson, Steve Rauls, Sean Short, Tess
Bradford, and Vanessa Kinney; and a declaration signed by Josh
Sanford. (Docs. 22-1, 22-2). Plaintiff is entitled to
reasonable attorney's fees and costs. 29 U.S.C. §
216(b). The issue here is whether the amounts claimed by
Plaintiff are reasonable.
starting point for determining a reasonable amount of
attorney's fees is the time-based lodestar determination,
which is calculated by multiplying the number of hours
reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley
v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Hanig v.
Lee, 415 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2005). In determining
the lodestar, a court may consider such facts as:
(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and
difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to
perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of
employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5)
the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or
contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the
circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results
obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the
attorneys; (10) the ‘undesirability' of the case;
(11) the nature and length of the professional relationship
with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 430 n.3. The lodestar
calculation “provides an objective basis on which to
make an initial estimate of the value of the lawyer's
services.” Id. at 433. There is a strong
presumption that the lodestar method yields a
“reasonable” fee. Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel.
Winn, 130 S.Ct. 1662, 1673 (2010).
billing records of Plaintiffs' counsel provided by Cook
do not assist the Court in its lodestar determination. The
records include four attorneys with varying hourly rates
ranging from $325 for Mr. Sanford to $150 for Mr. Short. In
addition, Plaintiff has provided an itemized billing sheet
for the case and a table that demonstrates the total number
of hours billed for the case and the reduced hours that are
being used to calculate the proposed attorney's fee
billing records raise questions about the billing practices
of the Sanford Law Firm. First, Cook had twelve attorneys
work on her case. At most, this was a one-attorney
case. Even Plaintiff's reduced invoices
reflect unreasonable billing. Four attorneys worked on a case
that only required Cook to file a form complaint with minimal
factual allegations unique to Cook's case, proof of
service, and a motion for default judgment (Cook also filed
an amended complaint substituting parties because the
original complaint named the wrong Defendant as Cook's
employer). This was not a complex case that required
extensive research and discovery. One attorney could do the
minimal work required to get Cook her $2, 664.00 judgment.
Second, deciding what hours billed from Cook's
attorneys' itemized billing records were reasonable is
impossible because Cook has not explained which hours were
already reduced on the itemized billing records or which
hours can be attributed to work done for Richardson (for whom
Cook cannot recover fees). Excessive entries on the itemized
billing records reflect intrafirm emails and conferencing
between some of the twelve attorneys working on the case,
which the Court suspects is done as a matter of standard
practice at the Sanford Law Firm so that attorneys with
higher hourly rates can bill unwarranted time on cases where
the substantive work is done by attorneys with lower hourly
rates. The Sanford Law Firm invoices are useless to the
Court's lodestar determination. Based on the Court's
own knowledge, experience, and expertise of the time required
to complete similar activities, a reasonable fee for an
FLSA/AMWA case in the Fort Smith area is $250 per hour and
the time reasonably spent on this action is 10 hours (which
should have been limited to a client interview and the
drafting and filing of pro forma documents). A reasonable
attorney's fee award is $2, 500.
request of $637.33 in costs pursuant to 29 U.S.C. §
216(b) should also be reduced by $77.75. Because
Plaintiff's counsel failed to name Cook's employer in
the original complaint, Cook had to file an amended complaint
and serve the new Defendant Beemac Foods, LLC with summons.
Defendant's counsel should not be made to pay for an
additional summons resulting from Plaintiff's
counsel's error. A reasonable cost award is $559.58.
reasons set forth above, IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff's
motion for attorney's fees and costs (Doc. 22) is GRANTED
IN PART to the extent that Plaintiff is awarded
attorney's fees in ...