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Heimerl v. Tech Electric of Minnesota, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

October 7, 2014

Jeff Heimerl and Fred Jahnke, as Trustees of the IBEW Local No. 292 Health Care Plan; Trustees of the Electrical Workers Local No. 292 Pension Fund; as Trustees of the Electrical Workers Local No. 292 Annuity & 401(k) Fund; as Trustees of the Electrical Workers Local No. 292 Vacation & Holiday Fund; and as Trustees of the Minneapolis Electrical Industry Board/JATC/LMCC; and each of their successors, Plaintiffs,
v.
Tech Electric of Minnesota, Inc., Defendant.

Amanda R. Cefalu and Pamela Hodges Nissen, Anderson, Helgen, Davis & Nissen, PA, for Plaintiffs

Chad A. Kelsch, Fuller, Seaver, Swanson & Kelsch, P.A., for Defendant.

ORDER

SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs and In Camera Review [Doc. No. 107]. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs, Trustees for several fringe benefit plans, brought this action pursuant to § 502 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1132, seeking to conduct an audit of Tech Electric's payroll and employment records and to recover amounts due for any unpaid fringe benefit contributions owed by Tech Electric for the period of January 1, 2009 to December 31, 2011. (See Findings of Fact, Conclusions of Law, and Order for Judgment (the "Order") at 2 [Doc. No. 102].) Following a two-day court trial and post-trial damages submissions, the Court found that Tech Electric had terminated the Inside Agreement effective April 30, 2010 and was liable for any unpaid contributions for the period of January 1, 2009 through April 30, 2010 ("the pre-termination period"), less any contributions made by Tech Electric to Plaintiffs in satisfaction of earlier judgments. ( Id. at 48-50.) The Court also found that in light of Tech Electric's termination of the Inside Agreement, effective April 30, 2010, it bore no liability from May 1, 2010 to the present (the "post-termination period"). ( Id. at 50.)

The Court determined that Plaintiffs were entitled to damages totaling $18, 503.19, representing $13, 894.56 in unpaid fringe benefit contributions, $1, 882.72 in interest, and $2, 778.91 in liquidated damages. ( Id. at 51-52.) In addition, the Court permitted Plaintiffs to submit a calculation for the costs incurred in conducting an audit of unpaid contributions for the pre-termination period. ( Id. at 52-53.) As to Plaintiffs' request for attorney's fees and costs, the Court noted that pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2), ERISA mandates an award of reasonable attorney's fees and costs to fiduciary plaintiffs who have obtained a favorable judgment. ( Id. at 53.)

Plaintiffs brought the instant motion, requesting an award of $40, 704.37 in attorney's fees, $2, 256.85 in costs incurred related to the pre-termination period, and $1, 643.15 for the cost of the audit related to the pre-termination period. (Pls.' Mot. for Atty.'s Fees & Costs [Doc. No. 107].) In support of the motion, Plaintiffs filed under seal the Affidavit of Pamela H. Nissen [Doc. No. 110] and three exhibits. The exhibits, which included billing records (Exhibits 1 & 2 [Doc. Nos. 110-1 & 110-2]) and a statement of costs (Exhibit 3 [Doc. No. 110-3]), were also filed under seal. Plaintiffs requested that the Court review these documents in camera and that they remain under seal. Plaintiffs contend that the documents contain attorney client privileged information and information constituting protected attorney work product. (Pls.' Mem. Supp. Mot. for Atty's Fees at 6 [Doc. No. 108].) Plaintiffs provided a redacted copy of exhibits 1 and 2 to Defendant (Pl.'s Mot. for Atty's Fees ¶¶ 2; 6 [Doc. No. 107]), but apparently did not provide a redacted copy of the Nissen Affidavit.

Even though Plaintiffs did not provide Tech Electric with information concerning the billing rates of Plaintiffs' counsel, Tech Electric did not object to the Court's determination of whether the rates were reasonable, based on the Court's in camera review. (Def.'s Resp. Mem. at 2 [Doc. No. 113].) However, because Plaintiffs failed to provide Tech Electric with anything other than a redacted version of its billing records, Tech Electric objected to Plaintiffs' request for in camera review of Plaintiffs' counsels' billing records. (Id.) Tech Electric argued that it was entitled to review the records independently to determine whether the fees claimed by Plaintiffs were reasonable. ( Id. at 2-3.)

In this Court's Order of September 8, 2014 ([Doc. No. 114]), the Court found that: (1) the billing rates of Plaintiffs' counsel were reasonable rates in this market for this type of legal work; and (2) the Court could not determine the reasonableness of the time expended by Plaintiffs' counsel until Plaintiffs demonstrated the validity of their claims of privilege. (Order of 9/8/14 at 11-14 [Doc. No. 114].) The Court therefore ordered Plaintiffs to provide the Court with a copy of the redacted documents previously given to Tech Electric (including the Nissen Affidavit), so that the Court could compare the redacted and unredacted versions. ( Id. at 13.) In addition, the Court directed Plaintiffs to provide a detailed privilege log, setting forth the basis for the asserted privilege or work product protection. ( Id. at 14-15.)

Plaintiffs subsequently provided the Court with a redacted copy of Exhibit 2 (Plaintiffs' counsels' billing records), as well as a partially redacted, amended copy of Exhibit 2 that Plaintiffs simultaneously provided to Tech Electric. Previously, Plaintiffs had only provided a redacted copy of Exhibit 2 to Tech Electric. In addition, Plaintiffs filed a Privilege Log [Doc. No. 115]. Defendant has not filed further objections. The Court therefore assumes that Tech Electric's original objections to Plaintiffs' requested attorney's fees and costs remain.

II. DISCUSSION

In an action brought by an ERISA fiduciary plan to enforce delinquent contributions, in which the court awards judgment in favor of the plan, an award of attorney's fees and costs is mandatory. 29 ...


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