United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division
ALETA A. TRAUGER, District Judge.
Pending before the court is the plaintiff's Motion for Fees and Costs Pursuant to Offer of Judgment (Docket No. 35), to which the defendant, Robinson, Reagan & Young, PLLC ("RRY"), has filed a Response in opposition (Docket No. 40), and the plaintiff has filed a Reply (Docket No. 44). For the reasons stated herein, the plaintiff's Motion for Costs and Fees will be granted in part and denied in part.
I. Procedural Posture
This case is premised upon a single voicemail message left for the plaintiff by the defendant, a law firm that performs debt collecting services. The plaintiff filed two claims against the defendant on March 13, 2014, alleging that the defendant violated provisions of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. ("FDCPA" or "Act"), because RRY's employee did not identify herself as a debt collector in the June 18, 2013 voicemail message. The court dismissed one of the plaintiff's claims on January 26, 2015 upon the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 28.)
On April 3, 2015, the plaintiff, Patricia Lee, filed a Notice of Acceptance of Offer of Judgment. (Docket No. 33.) The Offer of Judgment, sent to the plaintiff pursuant to Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, offered the plaintiff an amount of $1001.00, plus costs of the action and a reasonable attorney's fee to be determined by the court. The plaintiff filed this Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs on April 24, 2015. (Docket No. 35.)
II. Breakdown of Plaintiff's Motion for Recovery of Costs and Fees
According to her Motion, the plaintiff is represented by Michael McNulty, a Tennessee attorney admitted to practice in this court and a member of the Tennessee bar, as well as two non-Tennessee attorneys, Ryan Lee and Adam Hill. Messrs. Lee and Hill are attorneys at the firm of Krohn & Moss, Ltd. ("Krohn & Moss"), which appears to have offices in California, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio. Krohn & Moss's website represents the firm as a nationwide "consumer law center" that specializes in filing FDCPA and similar consumer actions in various jurisdictions around the country. Neither Mr. Lee nor Mr. Hill claims that he is an attorney licensed to practice in this court; instead, both Mr. Lee and Mr. Hill admit that they are licensed in other states and categorize their time billed on this case as "consulting attorney" work.
In sum, plaintiff seeks an award of attorney's fees for 41.3 hours billed by her three attorneys and one paralegal employed at Krohn & Moss. The plaintiff seeks to recover fees for Mr. McNulty, ostensibly her lead attorney, at a rate of $290.00 per hour for 2.8 hours of work- that is, less than 6% of the work completed on the case. For Messrs. Lee and Hill, who identify themselves as "Non-Tennessee Consulting Attorneys" on their Statements of Services, the plaintiff seeks to recover fees at the rates of $387.00 per hour (Lee) and $290.00 per hour (Hill) for a sum of 38.5 hours of work. The plaintiff also seeks paralegal time performed by Ricardo Teamor at a rate of $145 per hour for 1.8 hours of work.
From the Statement of Services submitted by the plaintiff, it appears that, on November 7, 2013, the plaintiff contacted Mr. Lee at Krohn & Moss to inquire about initiating a lawsuit against the defendant. In the next four days, Mr. Lee opened a file for the plaintiff and interviewed the plaintiff. On November 11, 2013, Mr. Lee apparently reached out to and retained Mr. McNulty, who is described in the Statement of Services as "local counsel." In the following weeks, Mr. Hill spent over two hours drafting the Complaint and communicating with the client. Mr. Teamor prepared the Summons and Complaint on March 14, 2014, and the attorneys from Krohn & Moss performed apparently all of the substantive work on the plaintiff's case over the next fifteen months until this present time, including (1) analyzing the defendant's Answer and preparing memoranda related to defendant's affirmative defenses; (2) communicating with the client with respect to the defendant's Answer; (3) drafting the proposed joint Initial Case Management Order; (4) corresponding with opposing counsel regarding the joint Initial Case Management Order; (5) drafting interrogatories; (6) preparing a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings; (7) researching and drafting the plaintiff's Response to the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment, including the plaintiff's Response to the defendant's Statement of Material Facts; (8) corresponding with opposing counsel with respect to the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment; (9) preparing the Notice of Acceptance of Offer of Judgment; (10) corresponding with opposing counsel and preparing a fee demand for defendant; and (11) drafting the pending motion for attorney's fees pursuant to the Offer of Judgment. This work by Krohn & Moss's attorneys and paralegal accounts for 40.3 hours of the 43.1 hours of work described by the Statement of Services-close to 93.5% of the total attorney work related to the case.
Conversely, the work performed by Mr. McNulty is limited to 2.8 hours of work, most of which is described as reviewing the substantive work performed by the "Non-Tennessee Consulting Attorneys, " Mr. Hill and Mr. Lee. Not one of Mr. McNulty's entries of time on the Statement of Services indicates that he directly contacted the client or contributed to the litigation strategy; instead, it appears that Mr. Lee and Mr. Hill were solely responsible for keeping the client informed and directing the strategy of the plaintiff's suit.
In sum, the plaintiff seeks recovery of attorney's fees in the amount of $13, 993.70, the vast majority of which is related to the services of Messrs. Hill and Lee. The breakdown, taken from the plaintiff's submission to the court, is:
Mr. McNulty, for 2.8 hours at a rate of $290 per ...