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Dinan v. Alpha Networks, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maine

April 16, 2015

MICHAEL DINAN, Plaintiff,
v.
ALPHA NETWORKS, INC., Defendant.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES

JOHN A. WOODCOCK, Jr., District Judge.

On September 23, 2014, following his client Michael Dinan's successful appeal to the First Circuit, Attorney Patrick S. Bedard filed an affidavit requesting that the Court order Defendant Alpha Networks, Inc. (Alpha) to pay him $69, 647.74 in attorney's fees, expenses, and costs. The Court concludes that, first, because jurisdiction in this case rests solely on diversity, Maine law governs any award of attorney's fees, and second, that Maine substantive law provides an adequate source of guidance for the Court to calculate fees in this case. The Court awards $60, 639.50 in fees and refers the issue of costs to the Clerk of this Court pursuant to Local Rule 54.3.

I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

On September 23, 2014, Attorney Bedard filed a motion, supported by an affidavit and exhibit, requesting that the Court order Alpha to pay him $69, 647.74 in attorney's fees, expenses, and costs. Att'y's Fees Aff. for Patrick S. Bedard, Att'y for Michael Dinan (ECF No. 136) ( Pl.'s Aff. ). On October 14, 2014, Alpha filed a response. Mem. of Law in Support of Def.'s Objection to Pl.'s Fee Pet. (ECF No. 137-1) ( Def.'s Opp'n ). On October 28, 2014, Mr. Dinan filed a reply. Michael Dinan's Reply to Alpha Network, Inc.'s Objection to His Request for Att'y's Fees (ECF No. 138) ( Pl.'s Reply ).

II. CASE BACKGROUND[1]

On November 8, 2010, Mr. Dinan filed an amended complaint against Alpha, his former employer, for violation of Maine's Timely and Full Payment Wages Law (Maine Revised Statutes, title 26, section 626), breach of contract, breach of quasicontract, and unjust enrichment.[2] Pl.'s First Am. Compl. (ECF No. 24). The case went to trial in 2011 and, on the third day of trial, the jury returned a verdict in Mr. Dinan's favor and awarded him damages of $70, 331.93 in quantum meruit. Jury Verdict (ECF No. 97).

Following trial, the parties filed briefs requesting that the Court (1) determine whether Maine or California law triggered wage payment penalty provisions and would entitle Mr. Dinan to an increased damages award and attorney's fees, and (2) clarify, in the event Maine or California wage penalty provisions applied, what damages amount pre-judgment interest would run on. Pl. Michael Dinan's Mot. that the Ct. Treble the Damages and Add Costs, Interest and Att'y's Fees to the J. in Accordance with 26 M.R.S.A [§] 626, or in the Alternative to Certify This Issue to the Maine Supreme Judicial Ct. in Accordance with 4 M.R.S.A. [§] 57 (ECF No. 106). Alpha responded on September 21, 2011. Alpha Networks' Obj. to Pl.'s Mot. that the Ct. Apply Maine Law or Certify the Issue to the Maine Supreme Judicial Ct. (ECF No. 108). On September 29, 2011, Mr. Dinan replied to Alpha's opposition. Michael Dinan's Reply Brief to Alpha Networks' Obj. to Pl.'s Mot. that the Ct. Apply Maine Law or Certify the Issue to the Maine Supreme Judicial Ct. (ECF No. 109).

On April 23, 2012, the Court issued an Order certifying to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court Mr. Dinan's question: whether Maine Revised Statutes, title 26, section 626, applies to an employee's quantum meruit damages award. Order on Pl. Michael Dinan's Mot. that the Ct. Treble the Damages and Add Costs, Interest, and Att'y's Fees to the J. in Accordance with 26 M.R.S.A. [§] 626, or in the Alternative Certify this Issue to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in Accordance with 4 M.R.S.A. [§] 57 (ECF No. 110). On February 21, 2013, the Law Court issued an opinion concluding that Maine Revised Statutes, title 26, section 626, may apply to employees' quantum meruit awards if the award is for services of the type for which an employee would have been due wages. Dinan v. Alpha Networks, Inc., 2013 ME 22, ¶ 2, 60 A.3d 792.

On March 22, 2013, the Court held a telephone conference in which Mr. Dinan and Alpha agreed that given the Law Court's decision, the Court should decide which state's law applies to this case. Minute Entry (ECF No. 114). On March 28, 2013, Alpha filed a memorandum on the choice of law question. Def.'s Mem. on Miscellaneous Damages Issues Raised by the Choice of Law Question Pending Before the Court (ECF No. 115). On April 2, 2013, Mr. Dinan filed a memorandum regarding the appropriate choice of law, damages, interest, and attorney's fees. Pl.'s Mem. of Law on Damages, Interest, and Att'y's Fees (ECF No. 116).

On July 15, 2013, the Court ordered Alpha to pay Mr. Dinan $70, 331.93 in accordance with the jury verdict, denied Mr. Dinan's request for treble damages and attorney's fees under Maine law, granted Mr. Dinan's alternative request for damages under California law, and ordered Alpha to pay Mr. Dinan prejudgment interest pursuant to Maine law. Order on Choice of Law (ECF No. 117).

Mr. Dinan appealed this Court's decision to the First Circuit, and on August 20, 2014, the First Circuit held that "Maine's highest court would most likely deem Dinan entitled to the full array of remedies set forth in Maine's wage payment law", and remanded the case to this Court to treble damages, calculate interest, and entertain a request for attorney's fees under Maine Law. Dinan v. Alpha Networks, Inc., 764 F.3d 64, 65 (1st Cir. 2014). Pursuant to the First Circuit's mandate, on September 12, 2014, this Court issued an amended judgment in favor of Mr. Dinan in the amount of $210, 995.79 plus interest. Am. J. (ECF No. 135).

III. THE PARTIES' POSITIONS

A. Attorney Bedard's Request for Attorney's Fees

Attorney Bedard's affidavit details the amount of time spent on this matter and the costs he incurred while working on it. Pl.'s Aff. at 1-2. He submitted a sevenpage attachment that details the work he did between May 2010 and August 2014, each date of service, the number of hours each task took, and a total fee per task. Pl's Aff. Attach 1. (ECF No. 136-1) ( Bedard Invoice ). His affidavit states that he represented Michael Dinan in this case, that the total legal fees and costs for this case are $69, 647.74, and that he "redacted any time spent on other matters for Michael Dinan which were not related to the Alpha Networks case." Pl.'s Aff. at 1-2.

B. Alpha's Response

Alpha acknowledges that the Court may award a prevailing party "reasonable attorney's fees" pursuant to 26 M.R.S. § 626. Def.'s Opp'n at 1. Alpha does not contest that Mr. Dinan is a prevailing party under 26 M.R.S. section 626 or that $230 per hour is a reasonable hourly rate for an attorney in a matter such as this, but it objects to the amount of fees and costs Attorney Bedard requests, and argues that the Court should decrease by at least 50% the number of hours Attorney Bedard submitted. Id. at 1-12. Alpha objects to the fee request insofar as it includes "unnecessary, inefficient, and unreasonable time" and "time spent on unsuccessful issues throughout the case", and objects to costs not recoverable by statute. Id. at 1-2.

Alpha contends that the method the Court should use to calculate attorney's fees is the "lodestar" method used by the First Circuit in, inter alia, Title VII fee shifting cases. Id. at 2. Alpha maintains that the lodestar method applies because the Law Court "has not endorsed a different method to be used in cases" under 26 M.R.S. § 626. Id. at 2 n.1.

As an introductory matter, Alpha points out, the prevailing party has the burden of proving the reasonableness of the hours claimed. Id. at 3. Alpha contests Mr. Dinan's fee request under the first prong of the lodestar analysis, which deals with the reasonableness of the hours expended by the prevailing party's attorney. Id. at 2. Alpha asserts that the reasonableness of the number of hours spent on a task must be supported by "proper documentation" that "reflects reliable contemporaneous recordation of time spent on legal tasks that are described with reasonable particularity". Id. at 3. One example of inadequate documentation, Alpha says, is a practice called "block billing." Id. at 4.

Alpha defines "block billing" as "grouping, or lumping, several tasks together under a single entry, without specifying the amount of time spent on each particular task." Id. (citing McAfee v. Boczar, 906 F.Supp. 2d. 484, 497 (E.D. Va. 2012)). Because block billing "prevents an accurate determination of the reasonableness of the time expended in a case", Alpha argues, "it constitutes a proper basis for reducing a fee award." Id. at 4. Alpha argues that Attorney Bedard's fee request contains multiple examples of block billing that make it "impossible... to determine how much time was spent on any particular task." Id. at 6. Additionally, Alpha argues, Attorney Bedard should not be compensated for time on the unsuccessful breach of contract claim, and his billing entries make it impossible to separate out the compensable from non-compensable work. Id.

Alpha also objects to various entries for reasons other than block billing, including time spent researching topics "about which [Attorney Bedard] is presumed to know", preparation of a fee agreement, time spent preparing an unsuccessful summary judgment motion, and time spent on an unsuccessful discovery dispute. Id. at 9-10. Alpha also argues that all of the time billed after July 19, 2013 must be presented to the First Circuit for determination of a fee award, and that Attorney Bedard's entry describing the work he did on the appeal "does not meet the standards of specificity and contemporaneous time recording required to justify an award of fees." Id. at 10.

Finally, Alpha objects to requests for costs that it says are outside the scope of 28 U.S.C. § 1920, including (1) a request for a fee paid to this Court that Alpha paid when it removed the case, (2) fees for printed and electronically recorded transcripts that were not used at trial, (3) the cost of an interpreter for the depositions taken in California, and (4) so-called "overhead" expenses such as hotel bills, telephone conferences, and postage. Id. at 10-11.

C. Mr. Dinan's Reply

Mr. Dinan argues that state, not federal, law should determine the reasonableness of his attorney's fees request because the award itself is pursuant to 26 M.R.S. § 626. Pl.'s Reply at 1. He states that the analyses may not differ, but maintains that Maine law is the proper source of law in this case. Id. at 1-2.

Mr. Dinan argues that the "bottom line in any fee award is the result obtained" and notes that the result obtained in this case was a $210, 995.79 judgment in his favor. Pl.'s Reply at 3. He contends that his claim for legal fees and costs is reasonable considering the case spanned almost four years and went through a threeday jury trial, certification to the Maine Law Court, and an appeal to the First Circuit. Id. at 4-5. Furthermore, he maintains, even though he recovered on one claim, his prosecution and defense of all claims were based upon a common nucleus of operative fact, making it difficult to distinguish which fees apply to which claims or defenses. Id. at 4. Finally, Mr. Dinan lists a number of tasks his attorney completed as part of the case, and responds to Alpha's specific fee objections, arguing that he has demonstrated the reasonableness of his fee request. Id. at 5-6.

IV. DISCUSSION

A. Maine Law Governs the Award of Reasonable Attorney's Fees and Costs

The parties have questioned whether federal or state law should govern the fee and cost determination. Mr. Dinan contends that Maine law applies; Alpha cites First Circuit law. Pl.'s Reply at 1-2; Def.'s Opp'n at 2. The parties do not point to any significant differences applicable to this case between state and federal law on the awarding of attorney's fees, and in general, federal and Maine law on attorney's fees are congruent. In evaluating attorney's fee applications, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court follows the factors listed in Johnson v. Georgia Highways Express, Inc., a Fifth Circuit case. See Poussard, 479 A.2d at 884 (citing Johnson, 488 F.2d 714, 717-719 (5th Cir. 1974) (abrogated on other ...


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