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Hoffman v. MJC America, Ltd

United States District Court, D. South Dakota, Southern Division

November 19, 2019

SCOTT HOFFMAN and LYNDA HOFFMAN, Plaintiffs,
v.
MJC AMERICA, LTD, a California corporation; GREE USA, INC., a California corporation, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING ATTORNEY'S FEES [PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL, DOCKET NO. 23]

          VERONICA L. DUFFY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is pending before the court on plaintiffs Scott and Lynda Hoffman's (“the Hoffmans”) amended complaint [Docket No. 12] alleging strict products liability and negligent infliction of emotional distress against defendants, MJC America, Ltd. and Gree, USA, Inc. (“MJC and Gree USA.”) The Hoffmans filed a motion to compel MJC and Gree USA to produce their Rule 26(a) initial disclosures, Docket No. 23, and the district court, the Honorable Lawrence L. Piersol, referred that motion to this magistrate judge for determination pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). See Docket No. 26. Defendants MJC and Gree USA failed to even respond to the Hoffmans' motion.

         The court granted the Hoffmans' motion [Docket No. 29]. They now move for sanctions in the form of attorneys fees in the amount of $8, 462.51 for 38.1 hours' worth of work by three attorneys and a paralegal. See Docket No. 34. Defendants have not filed any objections to the amount requested.

         DISCUSSION

         A. Lodestar Method of Determining Reasonable Award of Attorney's Fees

         Although Federal Rule of Civil Procedure directs the award of attorney's fees in successful motions to compel (in the usual case), the court must still evaluate the Hoffmans' request for attorney's fees to determine whether it is reasonable. In determining a reasonable award of attorney's fees under Rule 37, the court begins by figuring the lodestar, which is calculated 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. 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 attorney's 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.

         B. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         The reasonable hourly rate is usually the ordinary rate for similar work in the community where the case is being litigated. Tequila Centinela, S.A. de C.V., 248 F.R.D. at 68 (citing Laffy v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 746 F.2d 4, 16 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (hourly rate must be sufficient to attract competent counsel, but not so excessive as to produce a windfall, and generally must be in line with rates charged by other attorneys of comparable skill, reputation, and ability within the community.) In this case, the Hoffmans have submitted a request for attorney's fees based on a normal hourly rate of $350.00 per hour for attorney Steven Johnson, $250 per hour for attorney Shannon Falon, and $200 per hour for attorney Anthony Sutton. See Docket No. 34 at p.2. The Hoffmans request $95 per hour for paralegal Jennifer Pravecek's time. Id.

         Counsel has not submitted information about the prevailing hourly attorney rates in the District of South Dakota. The court can determine those rates based on its own knowledge of prevailing rates here. See Creative Resources Group, Inc., 212 F.R.D. at 103-104 (holding that “it is within the judge's discretion to determine reasonable fees based on his or her knowledge of prevailing community rates”). The court concludes on the basis of its own knowledge of prevailing rates in the District of South Dakota and also based on recent awards of attorney's fees that the rates quoted are reasonable hourly rates for these attorneys' and paralegal's time.

         C. Reasonable Hours

         The court must also determine whether the number of hours spent by the Hoffmans' attorneys was reasonable. Here, the Hoffmans request 38.1 hours of attorney and paralegal time in connection with their motion to compel. See Docket No. 34-1 at p. 2.

         Some courts have held that 30 and 21 hours spent in researching and drafting a discovery motion were a disproportionate amount of time for the nature of the dispute. See Criterion 508 Solutions, Inc. v. Lockheed Martin Services, Inc., 255 F.R.D. 489, 496 (S.D. Iowa 2008); Foxley Cattle Co. v. Grain Dealers Mut. Ins. Co., 142 F.R.D. 677, 680 (S.D. Iowa 1992).

         In this district, this court has approved requests for attorney's fees ranging from $1, 041.45 to $1, 509.97 for run-of-the-mill motions to compel. See Heil v. Angie's Inc., Civ. No. 09-5074, Docket No. 68 (Sept. 1, 2011 D.S.D.) ($1, 041.45 awarded for 4.8 hours of work); Howard Johnson Internat'l. Inc. v. Inn Development, Inc., Civ. No. 07-1024, Docket No. 73 (June 23, 2008 D.S.D.) ($1, 453.50 awarded for 9.1 hours of work); Oyen, Civ. No. 07-4112, Docket Nos. 56 and 62 (Feb. 6 & Mar. 3, 2009 D.S.D.) ($1, 509.97 awarded to defendant on ...


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