JEFFERSON CITY – The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri – Central Division determined what constitutes excessive attorneys' fees based on a May 8 opinion in a Fair Credit Reporting Act case.
Jeremy Stallsworth filed a complaint against Staff Management | SMX in hopes of being awarded attorneys’ fees and costs from a previous, related case. While the district court ruled in favor of the number of billable hours Stallsworth reported, it denied his request when it came to the per hour fee. The court also granted Staff Management | SMX’s Motion to take judicial notice.
Stallsworth filed a putative class-action against SMX and another against Mars Petcare with claims both companies violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) after he was let go from a position before his actual start date. While the case was settled for $5,000, the parties could not agree on attorneys’ fees and costs. Stallworth filed a lawsuit requesting $18,615.00 in attorneys’ fees and $184.47 in costs and expenses. This was calculated based on a $550 per hour rate for two attorneys that represented Stallworth in the case, plus $100 per hour for the legal assistant’s responsibilities.
The district court first evaluated whether the number of hours worked were within reason. It determined they were and pointed out the defendant only had an issue with the plaintiff’s record of how much time his attorneys spent on “small things” like answering emails, making phone calls and sending letters. The court stated a majority of the communications occurred via email and added Stallworth used reasonable decision when calculating the “billing judgement” as far as hours are concerned.
The court awarded Stallworth the number of billable hours he recorded – a total of 28.7 attorney hours and 5 legal assistant hours.
Regarding the reasonableness of the hourly rate, the district court ruled in favor of the defendant and lowered the $550 rate to $450. It pointed out that $550 is well above the average in Kansas City and surrounding areas, a rate which is $373 for attorneys and $406 for partners. It stated Stallworth’s request is also above the median rate for consumer attorneys in Missouri, which is $400.
Thus, the court awarded Stallworth $13,415.00 for attorneys' fees and $184.47 for costs. The court granted the defendant’s motion to take judicial notice.