United States District Court, D. Minnesota
JAMES V. KUNTZ, Plaintiff,
MESSERLI & KRAMER P.A., Defendant.
N. ERICKSEN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
matter is before the Court on Plaintiff James V. Kuntz's
motion for an award of reasonable attorneys' fees and
costs against Defendant Messerli & Kramer P.A pursuant to
Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d). (See Dkt. No. 22.) Kuntz moved
for attorneys' fees after accepting an offer of judgment
on his Fair Debt Collection Practices Act
(“FDCPA”) and invasion of privacy claims in the
amount of $4, 500. (See Dkt. Nos. 19, 20.) Messerli
& Kramer opposes Kuntz's motion, primarily on the
ground that the request for $37, 207.50 in fees and costs is
excessive. (See Defendant's Response Memorandum
in Opposition (“Def. Br.”), Dkt. No. 31.) For the
following reasons, the Court grants only part of the
requested fees and costs.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
FDCPA permits a successful plaintiff to recover the costs of
the action and reasonable attorneys' fees. See
15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). “The most useful starting
point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the
number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation
multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Under this
“lodestar method, ” courts should exclude hours
that are “excessive, redundant, or otherwise
unnecessary.” Id. at 434. As to a reasonable
hourly rate, courts should consider “those prevailing
in the community for similar services by lawyers of
reasonably comparable skill, experience and
reputation.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886,
895 n.11 (1984).
determining reasonable hourly rates, district courts may rely
on their own experience and knowledge of prevailing market
rates.” Hanig v. Lee, 415 F.3d 822, 825 (8th
arriving at an appropriate total lodestar amount, courts may
consider factors such as:
(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and
difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to
perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of
employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5)
the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or
contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the
circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results
obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the
attorneys; (10) the “undesirability” of the case;
(11) the nature and length of the professional relationship
with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 430 n.3 (citation omitted).
“The essential goal in shifting fees (to either party)
is to do rough justice, not to achieve auditing perfection.
So trial courts may take into account their overall sense of
a suit, and may use estimates in calculating and allocating
an attorney's time.” Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S.
826, 838 (2011).
FDCPA claim arises from alleged abusive telephone calls he
received between December 2015 and August 2016. (Am. Compl.
¶¶ 13-31, Dkt. No. 5.) Messerli & Kramer
answered Kuntz's Amended Complaint shortly after he
initiated this action. (See Dkt. No. 6.) The Parties
engaged in some discovery, including a short deposition of
Kuntz lasting under three hours in February 2017.
(See Dkt. No. 32-2.) Less than eight months elapsed
between the initiation of this lawsuit and its conclusion in
March 2017, when Kuntz accepted Messerli & Kramer's
offer of judgment for $4, 500. (See Dkt. No. 19.)
During that time, the Parties did not engage in any
dispositive motion practice. The Parties otherwise engaged in
very little litigation.
seeks fees on hours billed for the following: preparation of
the complaint and amended complaint (10.71 hours), file
review, investigation, and strategy (5.98), pre-trial
conferences (4.88), discovery issues (15.76),
deposition-related activities (18.79), outlining a motion for
punitive damages and reviewing the offers of judgment (3.26),
the fee petition (6.20), and miscellaneous activities (6.94).
See Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of His
Motion (“Pl. Br.”) 3-5, Dkt. No. 27.) He also
seeks fees for paralegal work involving: filing and serving
documents (2.00), drafting and emailing the Rule 26(f) report
(1.00), scheduling (0.50), drafting and serving discovery
(1.00), drafting an authorization and subpoena (2.00), and
drafting, editing, and serving deposition notices (1.50).
(See Dkt. No. 28-2 at 4-8.) In total, Kuntz requests
fees on 72.52 hours of attorney work and 8 hours of
paralegal work. (See Pl. Br. 3-6.)
bulk of counsel's billed hours were excessive, redundant,
and unnecessary for this uncomplicated and only modestly
contentious FDCPA action. Neither the subject matter, nor the
procedural history, of this case necessitated the work of two
attorneys. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 (noting that
some cases may be “overstaffed”). Moreover, as
Messerli & Kramer points out, the suit appears to be
similar to one brought on behalf of Kuntz in 2014 in the
District of North Dakota-in which Kuntz was represented by
only one attorney, Thomas J. Lyons, Sr. See Kuntz v.
Rodenburg LLP, No. 14-CV-55, 2015 WL 12591723 (D.N.D.
July 13, 2015), aff'd, 838 F.3d 923 (8th Cir.
2016). This suggests that there were possible efficiencies
and cost savings in litigating this similar action for the
questionable whether certain activities were necessary at
all, such as the bulk of the discovery activities or
outlining the motion for punitive damages. The extent of time
expended on some of the activities also appears unreasonable.
For example, although a complaint is required in every
action, it was unreasonable for counsel to spend over ten
hours drafting a seven page, 44-paragraph complaint that
mirrors in substantial part the complaint from Kuntz's
earlier action. (Compare Am. Compl., with