Federal Bar Update: Opinion provides insight on attorney fees in FDCPA cases

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Federal Bar UpdateFederal courts routinely determine fee petitions for prevailing parties in various fee-shifting cases. A recent opinion from Magistrate Judge Denise LaRue illustrates guiding principles here. In M.T. v. Accounts Recovery Bureau, Inc., No. 1:11-CV-969 (S.D. Ind. Aug. 8, 2012), LaRue issued a report and recommendation on fees in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case. Plaintiff was a prevailing party based on accepting defendant’s offer of judgment, and sought fees and costs pursuant to the act totaling $3,230. Over objections challenging the claimed hourly rate of $250 and the reasonableness of some of the work, LaRue determined and recommended that the total award be $2,710. That much is unremarkable, but the 13-page opinion provides a good and current summary of this area of federal practice and some useful insights for plaintiff and defense alike.

First, the court explained the general standards, writing, “The Supreme Court has recognized that the lodestar method – the product of a reasonable hourly rate and the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation – yields a fee amount that is presumptively reasonable. The Court may exercise flexibility to ‘adjust that figure to reflect various factors including the complexity of the legal issues involved, the degree of success obtained, and the public interest advanced by the litigation.’ The party seeking the fee award bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of the hours worked and the hourly rates claimed.” LaRue also noted that the “Seventh Circuit recognizes that fee awards should include time that attorneys reasonably spend on fee disputes.”

Second, as to reasonableness of hourly rates, LaRue observed, “Generally, a reasonable hourly rate for an attorney is based on what the attorney charges and receives in the market from paying clients for the same type of work. Plaintiff bears the burden of producing satisfactory evidence that the hourly rate is reasonable and in line with those prevailing in the community. If Plaintiff satisfies this burden, the opposing party must offer evidence setting forth ‘a good reason why a lower rate is essential.’”

LaRue found the $250 hourly rate reasonable, noting counsel’s 15 years of experience, an affidavit detailing fees and costs, a fee agreement for counsel in FDCPA cases reciting the $250 hour rate, and a January 2012 decision from the court in which the same counsel received $250 hour for his rate.

Defendant objected that the rate should be $150, asserting counsel lacked experience with FDCPA cases. LaRue dismissed this argument, writing, “Defendant relies on Gastineau, 592 F.3d 747, where the Seventh Circuit affirmed the district court’s reduction of an attorney hourly rate from $250.00 to $150.00. In that case, the Seventh Circuit approved this rate reduction because the attorney seeking fees in Gastineau was handling his very first FDCPA case, he was substituted in as counsel late in the proceedings, and provided poor lawyering. Id. at 749. The Seventh Circuit noted that ‘it was inappropriate that a substantial portion of the hours billed were to compensate [the attorney in Gastineau] for learning this area of the law.’ Id. None of those factors is present in this case.”

Third, as to the reasonableness of the hours spent on the matter, LaRue went through each aspect of defense objections and recommended:

• the time charged for preparation of the form complaint and for undefined “research” should be reduced;

• the time charged for secretarial or clerical tasks should not be charged as attorney or paralegal time; and

• the time spent in creating billing records after the fact to support a fee petition is not compensable.

Finally, and notably for those on the defense side who confront this issue with insurers or corporate clients, LaRue determined that while filing matters in court is administrative time that was not compensable, e-filing is another matter.

She explained, “However, the Court views the filing of electronic documents differently. Plaintiff points out that electronic filing requires court training and is not available to everyone. Indeed, the Court’s Case Management/Electronic Case Filing system (“CM/ECF”) requires attorneys to file documents electronically and to do so requires ECF registration by an attorney. Registered attorneys are then assigned a login and password that is used when filing documents. S.D. Ind. Electronic Case Filing Policies and Procedures Manual, pp. 1, 5-6. Based on ECF requirements, the filing of the October 13, 2011 Acceptance could only be accomplished by an attorney (or a staff member utilizing the attorney’s registration.) The Court agrees with Plaintiff that the time spent electronically filing court documents should not be characterized merely as clerical or administrative in nature. ‘In light of the problems that can result from a botched electronic filing, the court will not second-guess the firm’s decision that such filing must be overseen by a paralegal.’ Williams v. Z.D. Masonry, Corp. Cause No. 07 C 6207, 2009 WL 383614 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 17, 2009), slip op at 10.”•


John Maley – – is a partner with Barnes & Thornburg, LLP, practicing federal and state litigation, employment matters and appeals. The opinions expressed are those of the author.


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  1. This is ridiculous. Most JDs not practicing law don't know squat to justify calling themselves a lawyer. Maybe they should try visiting the inside of a courtroom before they go around calling themselves lawyers. This kind of promotional BS just increases the volume of people with JDs that are underqualified thereby dragging all the rest of us down likewise.

  2. I think it is safe to say that those Hoosier's with the most confidence in the Indiana judicial system are those Hoosier's who have never had the displeasure of dealing with the Hoosier court system.

  3. I have an open CHINS case I failed a urine screen I have since got clean completed IOP classes now in after care passed home inspection my x sister in law has my children I still don't even have unsupervised when I have been clean for over 4 months my x sister wants to keep the lids for good n has my case working with her I just discovered n have proof that at one of my hearing dcs case worker stated in court to the judge that a screen was dirty which caused me not to have unsupervised this was at the beginning two weeks after my initial screen I thought the weed could have still been in my system was upset because they were suppose to check levels n see if it was going down since this was only a few weeks after initial instead they said dirty I recently requested all of my screens from redwood because I take prescriptions that will show up n I was having my doctor look at levels to verify that matched what I was prescripted because dcs case worker accused me of abuseing when I got my screens I found out that screen I took that dcs case worker stated in court to judge that caused me to not get granted unsupervised was actually negative what can I do about this this is a serious issue saying a parent failed a screen in court to judge when they didn't please advise

  4. I have a degree at law, recent MS in regulatory studies. Licensed in KS, admitted b4 S& 7th circuit, but not to Indiana bar due to political correctness. Blacklisted, nearly unemployable due to hostile state action. Big Idea: Headwinds can overcome, esp for those not within the contours of the bell curve, the Lego Movie happiness set forth above. That said, even without the blacklisting for holding ideas unacceptable to the Glorious State, I think the idea presented above that a law degree open many vistas other than being a galley slave to elitist lawyers is pretty much laughable. (Did the law professors of Indiana pay for this to be published?)

  5. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.