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Coastal Counties Workforce Inc. v. LePage

United States District Court, D. Maine

December 7, 2018

COASTAL COUNTIES WORKFORCE, INC., Plaintiff,
v.
PAUL R. LEPAGE, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES OR TO ENFORCE SETTLEMENT AGREEMENT

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         In this petition for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to the fee-shifting provision of 42 U.S.C. § 1988(a), the Court grants and denies the petition in part. The Court resolves disputes about whether the Defendants entered into an enforceable settlement agreement on attorney's fees, the proper hourly rates for attorneys and paralegals for the main case and for the attorney's fee petition, objections about duplicated and excessive time, carve-out fees for legal work upon which the Plaintiff did not prevail, and allocation of work among attorneys and paralegals within the law firm.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc. Lawsuit

         On October 24, 2017, Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc. (CCWI) filed a lawsuit against Paul R. LePage, Governor of the state of Maine, and John Butera, Commissioner of the state of Maine Department of Labor, asking this Court to issue an injunction to force the Governor and Commissioner to turn over Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA) funds to CCWI. Compl. (ECF No. 1). With the Complaint, CCWI filed a motion for a temporary restraining order (TRO). Pl.'s Mot. for TRO (ECF No. 3). After the Defendants released some funds, CCWI dismissed its motion for a TRO and CCWI elected to proceed with a motion for preliminary injunction. Order (ECF No. 13).

         On November 17, 2017, CCWI filed a motion for a preliminary injunction. Pl.'s Mot. for Prelim. Inj. (ECF No. 16). The issue was rapidly but thoroughly litigated, and on January 3, 2018, the Court issued an order on the Defendants' motion to dismiss and on CCWI's motion for preliminary injunction. Order on Mot. to Dismiss and Mot. for Prelim. Inj. (ECF No. 42). The Court denied the Defendants' motion to dismiss, dismissed CCWI's motion for preliminary injunction as applied to PY16 funds, and granted it as applied to PY17 funds. Id. at 63-64. On January 11, 2018, the Court issued a formal order, granting CCWI's request for injunctive relief for the PY17 funds. Order on Pl.'s Req. for Inj. Relief (ECF No. 45).

         On the same day, the Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal and a motion to stay the Court's order. Notice of Appeal of Defs. Paul R. LePage and John Butera (ECF No. 46); Defs. Paul R. LePage and John Butera's Mot. for Stay Pending Appeal (ECF No. 47). On January 24, 2018, the Court denied the motion to stay. Order on Mot. to Stay (ECF No. 53). CCWI and the Defendants entered into a Subrecipient Award Agreement for distribution of the PY17 WIOA Funds and the parties agreed that the Court could issue a permanent injunction in accordance with the Subrecipient Agreement; on March 1, 2018, the Court did so. Order on Pl.'s Req. for Permanent Inj. Relief and Pl.'s Mot. to Consolidate (ECF No. 64). On March 1, 2018, the Court entered an order of dismissal and a judgment of dismissal was entered without prejudice. Order of Dismissal (ECF No. 65); J. (ECF No. 66). On March 2, 2018, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit dismissed the appeal upon the parties' joint motion, J. (ECF No. 68), and on the same day, the First Circuit issued its mandate. Mandate (ECF No. 69).

         B. The Coastal Counties Workforce, Inc. Motion

         On March 31, 2018, CCWI moved for an award of attorney's fees. Pl.'s Mot. to Enforce Settlement Agreement or, in the Alternative, Mot. for Att'y's Fees and Costs (ECF No. 70) (Pl.'s Mot.). On May 8, 2018, the Defendants filed their opposition. Defs.' Opp'n to Mot. to Enforce Settlement Agreement (ECF No. 77) (Defs.' Opp'n). On May 22, 2018, CCWI filed its reply. Pl.'s Reply in Support of Mot. to Enforce Settlement Agreement or, in the Alternative, Mot. for Att'y's Fees and Costs (ECF No. 78) (Pl.'s Reply).

         II. THE POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

         A. CCWI's Position

         In its motion, CCWI asks the Court to enforce a settlement agreement between the parties in the amount of $134, 000 plus $14, 818.53 in additional fees incurred after the settlement agreement (for a total of $148, 818.53) or to order the Defendants to pay CCWI's attorney's fees and litigation expenses in the total amount of $155, 771.63.

         B. The Defendants' Position

         The Defendants acknowledge that they owe an attorney's fee but ask the Court to award a total of $111, 091.53 for the merits phase and $6, 399 for work associated with CCWI's pursuit of attorney's fees or a total of $117, 490.53.

         C. CCWI's Reply

         After eliminating some duplicate entries, reducing travel time to a half hourly rate, justifying other contested charges, and increasing its request for $4, 226.50 for the legal work in its reply, CCWI reduced its demand for time and charges to $155, 149.26.

         III. DISCUSSION

         The Court finally resigned itself to the fact that such fine attorneys have not been able to find a way to compromise the $30, 000 to $37, 000 difference between their positions and require the Court to resolve this dispute in a written opinion. It would seem that a little flexibility on both sides was in order. The Court tugged on the motion for a time in hopes that the attorneys would alert the Court that they had resolved their differences. But hearing nothing and with the end of the year approaching, the Court is aware that law firms usually like to tidy up their books by the turn of the year and the Court assumes that this is one controversy the LePage administration might not want to leave for the Mills administration. The Court issues this opinion to resolve the parties' differences.

         A. Motion to Enforce Settlement Agreement

         1. Factual Background

         CCWI's attorneys represent that on February 21, 2018, at the request of counsel for Defendants, they provided counsel for the Defendants with an itemized statement of fees and costs through February 20, 2018. Pl.'s Mot. Attach. 1, Decl. of Kelly W. McDonald, Esq. ¶ 7. The fees were $140, 953.10. Id. ¶ 8. On Friday, February 23, 2018, counsel for the Defendants offered on behalf of the Defendants to pay $134, 000 in full satisfaction of CCWI's fee claim. Id. ¶ 9. On Monday, February 26, 2018, Attorney McDonald conveyed CCWI's acceptance of the Defendants' offer. Id. ΒΆ 10. Attorney McDonald says that over the next two weeks, it became clear that the Defendants were not willing to comply with the fee ...


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