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Grant Taylor v. City of Amboy

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

September 14, 2017

CITY OF AMBOY, et al., Defendants.

          Jonathan A. Strauss, Kenneth C. Edstrom, Lorenz F. Fett., Jr., and Sonia L. Miller- Van Oort, SAPIENTIA LAW GROUP, PLLC, for plaintiff.

          Jon K. Iverson, Stephanie A. Angolkar, and Susan M. Tindal, IVERSON REUVERS CONDON, for defendants Cities of Bloomington, Dundas, Faribault, Lonsdale, Montgomery, Northfield, and Owatonna, and defendants Lee Phillippe, Eric Kline, Matt Knutson, David Orr, Patrick Nelson, Mark Dukatz, Jeffrey Gigstad, Billy Houts, Steve Klostermeier, Mischelle Watkins, and Kyle Parr.


          Patrick J. Schiltz United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on the motion of plaintiff Jared Taylor for an award of attorney's fees and costs under 18 U.S.C. § 2724. Taylor seeks attorney's fees in the amount of $117, 383.14 and costs in the amount of $10, 523.69 from a group of defendants to whom the Court will refer as the “Remaining Defendants.”[1] The Remaining Defendants concede that Taylor is entitled to an award of attorney's fees and costs, but they argue that Taylor's request for attorney's fees is inflated by over $31, 000.00 and his request for costs is inflated by about $6, 000.00. After reviewing the materials submitted by the parties, the Court finds that Taylor is entitled to recover $105, 357.04 in attorney's fees and $4, 707.53 in costs.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Taylor filed this action against 34 municipalities and counties-along with numerous employees designated as “John Doe” or “Jane Doe”-alleging that the defendants had unlawfully obtained, disclosed, or used information contained in his driver's-license record on hundreds of occasions in violation of the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (“DPPA”), 18 U.S.C. §§ 2721 et seq. See generally ECF No. 1. Following discovery, Taylor amended his complaint to identify by name the individual employees who had unlawfully accessed his driver's-license record. ECF No. 97.

         During the three-year course of this litigation, the claims against some of the defendants were dismissed, and the claims against other of the defendants were settled, leaving only the Remaining Defendants. After the case was scheduled for trial, the Remaining Defendants extended-and Taylor accepted-an offer of judgment in the amount of $55, 100.00. The parties also agreed that Taylor could seek an award of the reasonable attorney's fees and costs that he had incurred in litigating his claims against the Remaining Defendants. ECF No. 186-1. As noted, Taylor now seeks attorney's fees in the amount of $117, 383.14 and costs in the amount of $10, 523.69.


         The parties agree that Taylor prevailed on his DPPA claims against the Remaining Defendants and therefore is entitled to recover reasonable attorney's fees. See 18 U.S.C. § 2724(b)(3). The starting point for calculating a fee award is the lodestar-that is, “the number of hours reasonably expended . . . multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.“ See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (finding the lodestar method to be the “most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee”).

         A. Hourly Rate

         Taylor is represented by a team of six lawyers and three legal assistants who have ably represented numerous plaintiffs in DPPA cases in this District. Taylor argues that his attorneys should be compensated at the following rates:

• Larry Fett (35 years of legal experience) at $450.00 per hour;
• Kenneth C. Edstrom (33 years) at $400.00 per hour;[2]
• Jonathan Strauss (19 years) at $400.00 per hour;
• Sonia Miller-Van Oort (19 years) at $400.00 per hour;
• Robin Wolpert (15 years) at $400.00 per hour; and
• Kenneth Fukuda (4 years) at $225.00 per hour.[3]

         ECF No. 189 at 14-15; ECF No. 191 (“Miller-Van Oort Decl.”) ¶ 17. The billing rate of all three legal assistants-who recorded their time under the initials “D.H., ” “P.A.R., ” and “K.L.T.”-is $100.00 per hour. Miller-Van Oort Decl. ¶ 17; id. Ex. A, ECF No. 191-1.

         In support of his fee request, Taylor submitted an affidavit from Marshall Tanick, a prominent litigator in the Twin Cities. Based on his knowledge of the rates charged in the Twin Cities for comparable legal work, Tanick opines that the hourly rates charged by Taylor's legal team were “very reasonable in light of the background, experience and quality of the work performed by them in this matter.” ECF No. 190 ¶ 8; see also Emery v. Hunt, 272 F.3d 1042, 1048 (8th Cir. 2001) (“A reasonable hourly rate is usually the ordinary rate for similar work in the community where the case has been litigated.”). Moreover, in other DPPA cases handled by members of the same legal team, similar hourly rates have been found reasonable by judges of this District. See, e.g., Myers v. Aitkin Cty., No. 14-CV-0473 (JRT/LIB), 2017 WL 1134575, at *1-2 (D. Minn. Mar. 27, 2017) (awarding attorney's fees for the same attorneys based on the same hourly rates in a similar DPPA action); Rasmusson v. City of Bloomington, No. 12-CV-0632 (SRN/JSM), 2013 WL 3353931, at *2-3 (D. Minn. July 3, 2013) (awarding attorney's fees based on hourly rates between $100.00 and $400.00 in a similar DPPA action).

         In light of these authorities, and in light of the Court's own knowledge of the prevailing rates in the Twin Cities legal market, the Court finds that the rates charged by the attorneys and legal assistants who represented Taylor are reasonable. See Hanig v. Lee, 415 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2005) (“When determining reasonable hourly rates, district courts may rely on their own experience and knowledge of prevailing market rates.”) (citation omitted).

         B. Number of Hours Reasonably Expended

         There is no dispute that the Remaining Defendants should pay for any task that related solely to a claim against one of the Remaining Defendants (assuming that the amount of time billed was reasonable and is adequately supported). But many of the tasks performed by Taylor's attorneys and legal assistants-for example, attending a Rule 16 conference or researching a particular legal issue-related both to claims against the Remaining Defendants and to claims against other defendants. To calculate the share of these fees that should be paid by the Remaining Defendants, Taylor has used what he calls a “per-access analysis.” ECF No. 189 at 5.

         Taylor has divided the litigation into four stages; for example, the first stage begins with the filing of the original complaint and ends with the entry of the Court's order granting in part the defendants' motions to dismiss. For each stage, Taylor has identified the total number of accesses of his driver's-license record that were being litigated, and Taylor has identified the number of those accesses that were attributable to the Remaining Defendants. For example, during the first stage of the litigation, there were 353 accesses that were at issue, and 45 (or about 12.7%) of those accesses were attributable to the Remaining Defendants. Taylor then seeks to hold the Remaining Defendants responsible for their share of the time that his attorneys devoted to general tasks. ECF No. 189 at 4-7.

         The Remaining Defendants do not seem to object to this methodology, but they argue that Taylor got some of his numbers wrong. See generally ECF No. 194; ECF No. 196 (“Angolkar Aff.”) Ex. 1, ECF No. 196-1. Specifically, the Remaining Defendants argue that “‘sequential accesses occurring within a several-minute time span should be considered as one obtainment rather than several.'” ECF No. 194 at 2 n.2 (quoting Tichich v. City of Bloomington, 835 F.3d 856, 867 (8th Cir. 2016)); Angolkar Aff. ¶ 3. Thus, say the Remaining Defendants, there were 296 (instead of 353) accesses that were being litigated during the first stage of the case.

         The Court will accept Taylor's allocation. Taylor's allocation is required to be reasonable, not perfect, and the Court finds that Taylor's methodology and its application are reasonable.

         The Remaining Defendants also object to numerous specific entries on the time sheets of Taylor's attorneys. The Court ...

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