Added on top of previous $25 million judgment
The Court has just ruled on the request by Gibson’s Bakery for attorney’s fees and costs against Oberlin College on top of the $25 million judgment.
For background on the attorney’s fees issue, see these posts:
- Gibson’s Bakery seeks $9-13 million in attorney’s fees against Oberlin College
- Gibson’s Bakery v. Oberlin College: $5 million attorney’s fees may be a floor, not a ceiling
- Gibson’s Bakery says Oberlin College’s scorched earth defense justifies large legal fee award
MORE TO FOLLOW
Here are some key findings (emphasis added):
$290 Hourly Rate
“Plaintiffs presented evidence of hourly rates for their attorneys and paralegal/support staff that ranged from $675.00 per hour on the high end and $115.00 per hour on the low end, creating an average hourly rate of $395.00 per hour. Defendants’ average hourly rates for attorneys and paralegals/support staff ranged from $400.00 per hour on the high end and $100.00 on the low end, creating an average hourly rate of $250.00 per hour. The Court hereby finds that a reasonable average hourly rate in this community, given the complexity of the issues and experience of the attorneys handling the case, is $290.00 per hour.”
14,417 Billable Hours Reasonable
“In sum, Plaintiffs tallied 14,417 hours of billed hours in this matter. At the hearing Plaintiffs argued that all of their hours were reasonable, and referenced the fact that Defendants’ counsel – who did not bear the burden of proof – tallied 15,626 hours (1,209 more billed hours than Plaintiffs’ counsel).
Defendants argued that Defendants’ counsel’s hours were not relevant to the reasonableness of Plaintiffs’ counsel’s hours simply because Defendants’ counsel was not seeking to have their attorneys’ fees awarded. The Court fails to understand the distinction, particularly given the fact that both Defendants’ and Plaintiffs’ counsel’s fees are subject to the reasonableness standard of Prof. Cond. R. 1.5(a). The Court’s lodestar analysis is not limited to a comparison with Defendants’ fee bills, it just serves as a helpful reference point to the lodestar analysis because Defendants’ counsel prepared for and tried the same case….
Though the case was not filed until November 2017, Plaintiffs’ counsel’s invoices reflect that this case began for Plaintiffs in April of 2017. After the complaint was filed, nearly every phase of the case was vigorously contested, including the trial which encompassed twenty-four days over the course of nearly six weeks. Plaintiffs’ counsel’s billing invoices are reflective of, and consistent with, a case of this magnitude. Furthermore, the Court finds that due to the nature of claims at issue in this case, it is not possible to separate the time spent on recoverable punitive damage claims (or related litigation expenses for experts) from non-recoverable punitive damage claims. See Bittner, at 145. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiffs’ counsel’s 14,417 billable
hours were hours reasonably expended on the case.”
“Applying the above, Plaintiffs’ counsel’s reasonable hourly rate ($290.00 per hour) times the number of hours reasonably expended (14,417) equates to a lodestar amount of $4,180,930.”
“The parties strongly debated the appropriateness of a multiplier. Plaintiffs’ counsel believes the lodestar should be multiplied 2 to 3 times, which would result in a total fee between $8,361,860 and $12,542,790 (using the Court’s lodestar amount in Paragraph C above). Plaintiffs’ argument for enhancement lies in the application of factors (1 ), (4), (7), and (8).
Defendants believe the Court should not utilize a multiplier because the relevant 1.5(a) factors are subsumed by the lodestar analysis and based on the United States Supreme Court’s decision in Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel Winn, 559 U.S. 542 (2010)….
Here, the Court has determined that not all of the factors are entirely subsumed within the lodestar calculation precluding enhancement. Here, factor (1) – the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly, while a component of the lodestar calculation, it was not entirely subsumed by it. The case presented extraordinary challenges for the plaintiffs. Similarly, factor (7) – the experience, reputation, and ability of the lawyer or lawyers performing the services – was a component of the lodestar calculation. But when considered with other relevant factors such as factor (3) – the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services, factor (4)- the amount involved and the results obtained; and factor (8) – whether the fee is fixed or contingent, the Court believes a multiplier of one and a half (1.5) times the lodestar calculation is appropriate and necessary.
The Court therefore finds that the Plaintiffs’ should be awarded $6,271,395.00 in reasonable attorneys’ fees.”
In addition to attorneys’ fees, Plaintiffs’ also seek $404,139.22 in litigation expenses. Defendants and their expert believe Plaintiffs’ proposed expenses are excessive and that several categories are not properly includable as expenses. Defendants believe the proper amount of litigation expenses total $241,247.84. This Court agrees that the expenses should be limited, albeit not to the extent requested by Defendants….
Therefore, in addition to attorneys’ fees of $6,271,395.00, Plaintiffs are hereby awarded the above litigation expenses, which total $294,136.79. In addition court costs are assessed to the Defendants….”
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but the final substantive words in the Order were: “Case Closed.”
Bet the Judge was happy to write those words.
So How Does The Attorney’s Fees Award Work?
The Judge’s decision does not address how the award of attorney’s fees works as between the Gibsons and their lawyers.
The lawyer’s took the case on a 40% contingent fee, which on the $25 million damages judgment is $10 million.
How this calculation will work? My assumption is that the attorney’s fees awarded by the court are not subject to the contingent fee. So if and when the judgment is collected, and putting aside interest on the judgment, the lawyers get $10 million out of the $25 million, and the Gibson’s get the roughly $6.3 million attorney fee award. So the Gibson’s walk away with $15 million on the judgment and plus the attorney’s fees, totaling between $21-22 million. If I can confirm this, I’ll update.
[Featured Image: Four generations of Gibsons after Jury Verdict][Photo Credit Legal Insurrection Foundation]
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