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Pierre Couture and v. Nicki L. anderson

April 9, 2012

PIERRE COUTURE AND LINDA V.M. BEAUPARLANT,
PLAINTIFF AND THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS,
v.
NICKI L. ANDERSON,
DEFENDANT,
v.
MARK ANDERSON, THIRD PARTY PLAINTIFF.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Veronica L. Duffy United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' REQUEST FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES [Docket No. 61]

INTRODUCTION

Previously, this court granted in part and denied in part plaintiffs' motion to compel. See Docket No. 60. In so ruling, the court indicated that it would award reasonable attorney's fees for plaintiffs' efforts in bringing the motion.

Id. Pending now before the court is plaintiffs' request for $10,319 in attorneys fees for bringing that motion. See Docket Nos. 61, 62. Defendant Nicki Anderson objects to the amount requested, arguing that the amount is not reasonable. See Docket No. 63.

FACTS

The facts pertinent to the underlying motion to compel are outlined in this court's prior order and are incorporated herein by reference. See Docket NO. 60. In summary, this action is a garden-variety motorcycle accident that resulted in personal injuries. Jurisdiction is founded on diversity of citizenship of the parties. The major issue regarding liability is whether Mr. Couture caused the accident by crossing over the center dividing line in the highway, resulting in the collision with Ms. Anderson, or whether Ms. Anderson crossed the center line.

In February, 2009, Ms. Anderson's insurance company wrote a letter to Mr. Couture's insurance company making reference to an accident reconstruction report obtained by Ms. Anderson's insurer. Ms. Anderson's insurer relied on this report to deny liability for Ms. Anderson for any damages from the accident. Ms. Anderson herself made reference to this report in answers to interrogatories and in her deposition. Nevertheless, Ms. Anderson refused to produce a copy of the report in response to discovery requests for it. Ms. Anderson first claimed privilege for the document, then later denied that the document ever existed.

Plaintiffs' motion to compel was a straightforward request that the court either order Ms. Anderson to produce the accident report or to enter an order dismissing Ms. Anderson's counterclaim, dismissing her husband's third party claim, and prohibiting Ms. Anderson from using the report at trial. Plaintiffs also sought production of certain photographs in Ms. Anderson's possession that had been used in the deposition of a South Dakota Highway Patrolman.

DISCUSSION

A. Lodestar Method of Determining Reasonable Award of Attorney's Fees Plaintiffs have the burden to establish a factual basis for the award of fees they request. The court must evaluate plaintiffs' request for attorney's fees to determine whether it is reasonable. See Johnston v. Comerica Mortg. Corp., 83 F.3d 241, 246 (8th Cir. 1996). "Because any award [of attorneys fees] has the potential for 'precedential value' in future cases, the Court owes a duty to the principled development of the law to exercise careful judgment in reviewing agreed-upon [or undisputed] fees." Duhaime v. John Hancock Mut. Life Ins. Co., 989 F. Supp. 375, 379 (D. Mass. 1997) (citing Weinberger v. Great N. Nekoosa Corp., 925 F.2d 518, 526 (1st Cir. 1991)).

The appropriate amount of attorneys fees is highly fact-specific to the case. There are two methods of determining attorneys fees: the lodestar method and the "percentage of the benefit" method. See H.J. Inc. v. Flygt Corp., 925 F.2d 257, 259-60 (8th Cir. 1991); Comerica Mortg. Corp., 83 F.3d at 246; Walitalo v. Iacocca, 968 F.2d 741, 747-48 (8th Cir. 1992). Here, the request for attorneys fees does not come at the end of the case, but rather at an interim point in the litigation, so the court chooses to employ the lodestar method of determining reasonable attorneys fees.

The lodestar is figured by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by the reasonable hourly rates. Finley v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., 249 F.R.D. 329, 332-33 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 22, 2008); Tequila Centinela, S.A. de C.V. v. Bacardi & Co., Ltd., 248 F.R.D. 64, 68 (D.D.C. 2008); Creative Resources Group of New Jersey, Inc. v. Creative Resources Group, Inc., 212 F.R.D. 94, 103 (E.D.N.Y. 2002); Kayhill v. Unified Gov't. of Wyandotte County, 197 F.R.D. 454, 459 (D.Kan. 2000); and Trbovich v. Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., 166 F.R.D. 30, 32 (E.D. Mo. 1996). The burden is on the moving party to prove that the request for attorneys' fees is reasonable. Tequila Centinela, S.A. de C.V., 248 F.R.D. at 68; Creative Resources Group, Inc., 212 F.R.D. at 103; Kayhill, 197 F.R.D. at 459.

Once the lodestar is calculated, there are twelve factors that are relevant in considering whether that figure should be adjusted up or down:

(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 ...


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