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Ellington v. Hayward Baker, Inc.

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Charleston Division

August 28, 2019




         The following matter is before the court on defendant Hayward Baker, Inc.'s (“HBI”) motion for attorney's fees, ECF No. 15. For the reasons set forth below, the court grants HBI's motion and awards $12, 630.00 in attorney's fees.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The court dispenses with a recitation of the facts, as they can be found in the court's previous orders in the case. On February 28, 2019, the court entered an order granting HBI's motion to dismiss and compelling arbitration. ECF No. 13. Judgment in favor of HBI was entered on March 1, 2019. HBI then filed a motion for attorney's fees and a bill of costs on March 14, 2019. ECF Nos. 15 and 16. Ellington responded to both on March 27, 2019, ECF No. 17, and HBI replied on April 3, 2019, ECF No. 18. On June 26, 2019, the court issued an order granting HBI's costs and taking HBI's motion for attorney's fees under advisement. ECF No. 22. The court ordered HBI's counsel to submit its relevant billing records for this case to the court so that the court could review them in camera. HBI provided the court with its counsel's invoices and also sent a copy to Ellington's counsel. With the court's permission, Ellington filed a sur reply to address the invoices, ECF No. 23, and HBI filed a sur sur reply, ECF No. 24.

         II. STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) provides that “costs-other than attorney's fees-should be allowed to the prevailing party.” Under the American Rule, each party normally pays its own attorney's fees, absent some statutory or contractual provision stating otherwise. Key Tronic Corp. v. United States, 511 U.S. 809, 814-15 (1994); see Baron Data Sys., Inc. v. Loter, 377 S.E.2d 296, 297 (S.C.1989) (“The general rule is that attorney's fees are not recoverable unless authorized by contract or statute.”). If a ground exists for payment of attorney's fees, then “a claim for attorney's fees and related nontaxable expenses must be made by motion unless the substantive law requires those fees to be proved at trial as an element of damages.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2).


         In its June 26, 2019 order, the court determined that HBI, as the prevailing party in this matter, was entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to the terms of the contract between Ellington and HBI. The remaining question before the court is whether HBI's requested fees are reasonable. HBI seeks $17, 466.00 in attorney's fees and provided an affidavit of Michael Eckard, counsel for HBI, as support for that amount. The affidavit provides the billing rate for the three attorneys who worked on this case and the total amount of fees requested. HBI supplemented its evidence for the basis of its requested fees in its reply by providing the number of hours each attorney spent on the case and citations to cases awarding fees and the accompanying affidavits of other South Carolina attorneys to show that the attorneys' rates are within the prevailing market rates. Then, pursuant to the court's order, HBI produced its invoices for this matter that detail the labor and time expended on this case.

         “In calculating an award of attorney's fees, a court must first determine a lodestar figure by multiplying the number of reasonable hours expended times a reasonable rate.” Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243 (4th Cir. 2009). Pursuant to Fourth Circuit case law and the local rules of this court, the factors that a district court must consider in determining the reasonableness of the hours and rate are:

(1) the time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised; (3) the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the attorney's opportunity costs in pressing the instant litigation; (5) the customary fee for like work; (6) the attorney's expectations at the outset of the litigation; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount in controversy and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship between attorney and client; and (12) attorneys' fees awards in similar cases.

Barber v. Kimbrell's, Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 (4th Cir. 1978); Local Civ. Rule 54.02(A) (D.S.C.) (requiring petitions for attorney's fees to comply with Barber). “After determining the lodestar figure, the ‘court then should subtract fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful ones.'” Robinson, 560 F.3d at 244 (quoting Grissom v. The Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 321 (4th Cir. 2008)). Finally, in the last step of this process, the court “then awards some percentage of the remaining amount, depending on the degree of success enjoyed by the plaintiff.” Id.

         A. Calculation of Lodestar Figure

          Pursuant to this procedure, the court will first determine the lodestar figure by considering the Barber factors. See E.E.O.C. v. Serv. News Co., 898 F.2d 958, 965 (4th Cir. 1990) (“[T]hese factors should be considered in determining the reasonable rate and the reasonable hours, which are then multiplied to determine the lodestar figure which will normally reflect a reasonable fee.”). When considering the Barber factors, the district court must make detailed findings of facts. 577 F.2d at 226. However, the court need only to consider the Barber factors that apply to the case before it. In re A.H. Robins Co., Inc., 86 F.3d 364, 376 (4th Cir. 1996).

         a. Time and ...

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