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Attorney’s Fees Awarded – S.D. Cal.

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  • Attorney’s Fees Awarded – S.D. Cal.

    Here’s a new case out of the Southern District of California, Thomas Reddick v. Metropolitan Life Insurance Company. The court’s opinion only deals with the attorney’s fees requested by plaintiff. Further, it appears that the parties agree about the appropriateness of attorney’s fees and the only question for the court is the amount at issue. The court presents the defendant’s arguments as follows.

    Defendant contends that 492 hours was an excessive amount of time to spend on this case. In support of this contention, Defendant offers six specific criticisms of Counsel’s billing. First, Defendant argues that it was excessive to spend 40.5 hours preparing a detailed 37 page complaint. Defendant argues this was excessive because such a high level of detail and specificity is not required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. While it is true that a less detailed complaint may have survived a motion to dismiss, it does not follow that it is a waste of time to prepare a detailed complaint. Because a detailed complaint can effectively signal the strength of a case and the diligence of a plaintiff’s counsel, the Court finds it was not unreasonable for Counsel to spend 40.5 hours to draft the 85 paragraphs at issue here.

    Second, Defendant contends it was unreasonable to bill 71.1 hours after Defendant notified Plaintiff of its intention to reinstate his benefits. Defendant’s argument consists only of Defendant’s opinion that it “excessive, unnecessary, and unreasonable” to bill this time because reinstatement of benefits mooted the case. This argument is unpersuasive. It ignores the facts that Counsel spent 43.6 of these 71.1 hours preparing the instant motion and the remaining 27.5 hours are easily accounted for through Counsel’s efforts in calculating damages, preparing a settlement demand, engaging in settlement negotiations, and repeated efforts at securing the benefit payments Defendant agreed to provide. (McMillen Supp. Decl. [Doc. ¶ 3.) Accordingly, the Court finds reasonable the 71.1 hours billed after notification of Defendant’s intention to reinstate benefits.

    Third, Defendant complains that it was unreasonable for counsel to spend 167 hours on the two successful motions to augment the administrative record. Defendant’s argument rests on a mischaracterization of these motions as being simple procedural motions of little consequence. Plaintiff’s motions to augment were pivotal in that they set the evidentiary playing field in a posture that convinced Defendant to settle the case by agreeing to provide Plaintiff all the relief he sought. It was not unreasonable to spend 167 hours carefully drafting (successful) motions of such consequence.

    Fourth, Defendant complains of the 83.5 hours Counsel spent reviewing the administrative record and the 28.5 hours spent preparing a casemap for trial. In support of this argument, Defendant offers only its opinion that such billing was “patently excessive and unreasonable.” The Court disagrees. The administrative record in this case is 2,534 pages in length and successful prosecution of this case required that Counsel review it more than just once. Further, even assuming only one review, the math amounts to less than two minutes spent reviewing one page and much of the billing for review of the record was at the lower rate billed by junior associates. The 23.5 hours of case mapping was also billed by junior attorneys, amounting to only $7,801. The Court finds such billing reasonable.

    Fifth, Defendant argues that, in light of the experience of Counsel, it was unreasonable to spend 32.3 hours performing legal research that involved reviewing cases. Defendant’s argument again consists only of presenting its opinion that such billing was excessive. The Court is unpersuaded by Defendant’s opinion. Suffice it to say that failing to review relevant case law can amount to malpractice, and 32.3 hours of legal research is by no means remarkable for a contested ERISA claim.

    Finally, Defendant argues that it was overkill to staff this case with four lawyers given that Defendant only used one attorney. This argument is also unpersuasive. From the fact that the losing side used only one attorney, it does not follow that it was excessive for the winning side to have used more than one attorney. Furthermore, by using four attorneys (two senior, two junior) it seems that Counsel was actually able to lessen fees by delegating some of the less challenging work to the less expensive attorneys.
    I must admit that I agree with the defendant here. The numbers of hours spent on this case do seem out of the realm of what I view as possible. That being said, obviously, it is not my practice. However, just from my personal prospective, I simply cannot imagine all of that time nor the work of four different attorneys being necessary. Either way, the court awards $293,115.00 in fees. The opinion is attached below.
    Attached Files