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Stallsworth v. Mars Petcare US, Inc.

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Central Division

May 8, 2018

JEREMY STALLSWORTH, Individually, and on behalf of all others, Plaintiff,
MARS PETCARE U.S. INC., Defendant.


          NANETTE K. LAUGHREY United States District Judge

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs, Doc. 34, and Defendant's Motion to Take Judicial Notice, Doc. 38. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendant's motion is granted.

         I. Background

         In May 2017, Plaintiff Jeremy Stallsworth applied with Staff Management | SMX for employment at Defendant Mars Petcare US, Inc.[1] Plaintiff was hired, placed in a position at the Defendant's facility, and attended a four hour orientation session. After orientation, Plaintiff was told that he would receive a phone call notifying him of his start date. When Plaintiff did not receive a phone call within a few days, he contacted SMX. Plaintiff learned that SMX had obtained a consumer report concerning him, which it shared with the Defendant, and that he was denied employment with the Defendant due to information in the report.

         On August 23, 2017, Plaintiff filed the present putative class action against Defendant Mars Petcare US, Inc. in the Circuit Court of Cole County, Missouri. On that same day, Plaintiff also filed a separate-but nearly identical-putative class action against SMX.[2] Both cases were based on the same events, and alleged violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act. On September 21, 2017, Defendant removed the case to this Court. On September 28, 2017, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint, Doc. 6. On October 12, 2017, Defendant filed a motion to consolidate this case with Plaintiff's suit against SMX, which is also pending before this Court, and a motion to compel arbitration. Docs. 9, 10. Plaintiff responded to both motions on November 21, 2017.

         On November 30, 2017, just three months after the case was filed, the parties notified the Court that they had reached a settlement. Plaintiff agreed to accept $1, 000, as well as reasonable attorneys' fees and costs, in exchange for a release of his claims against Defendant. The parties further agreed that they would attempt to reach a consensus regarding the amount of attorneys' fees and costs, but that if they could not, the matter would be submitted to the Court for a ruling. The parties were unable to reach such an agreement, and thus Plaintiff filed the present motion for attorneys' fees and costs.

         II. Discussion

         It is undisputed that Plaintiff is entitled to an award of costs and reasonable attorneys' fees under the FCRA. See 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681n(a)(3) and 1681o(a)(2) (providing that a plaintiff may recover costs and reasonable attorney's fees “in the case of any successful action to enforce any liability”). The starting point in determining reasonable attorneys' fees is the lodestar calculation: the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Hanig v. Lee, 415 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2005). There is a strong presumption that the lodestar calculation represents a reasonable fee award. City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 562 (1992).

         The party seeking the award must submit documentation supporting the requested amount, making a good faith effort to exclude hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. Counsel must exercise “billing judgment, ” and be mindful that “hours that are not properly billed to one's client also are not billed to one's adversary pursuant to statutory authority.” Id. (citation omitted). In assessing the amount requested, courts may consider: (1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the legal questions; (3) the skill requisite to handle the case properly; (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee for similar work in the community; (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. United Health Care Corp. v. American Trade Ins. Co., Ltd., 88 F.3d 563, 575 n.9 (8th Cir. 1996) (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 n.3).

         Plaintiff seeks $41, 050.00 in attorneys' fees, and $184.47 in costs and expenses. Plaintiff's request is based on a $550 per hour rate for the two attorneys who prosecuted the case, Jason Brown and Jayson Watkins, as well as legal assistant fees at a rate of $100 per hour. In support of this motion, Plaintiff submitted itemized time records, declarations from Mr. Brown and Mr. Watkins, and a firm resume. The breakdown of hours and grand total sought are as follows:

Attorney Brown

43.5 hours

Attorney Watkins

28.7 hours

Legal Assistant Graham

13.4 hours


85.6 hours

         The amount that Plaintiff seeks for costs and expenses includes only an initial filing fee, and a service fee.

         Defendant does not dispute that Plaintiff is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees and costs, or that a lodestar calculation is the appropriate method. Instead, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's requested amount should be reduced because the number of hours counsel recorded is unreasonable, and because the hourly rates are excessive.

         A. Reasonableness of ...

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