A District Court judge in Florida has chopped the amount of attorney’s fees to be awarded to the plaintiff’s counsel in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case by 75%, and called out the counsel for having a “vastly excessive” number of lawyers and paralegals work the case, which showed “a lack of judgment, poor case assessment, and poor common sense.”
A copy of the ruling in the case of McCray v. Dietsch and Wright can be accessed by clicking here.
The case involved a class-action that was filed against the defendant for sending two collection letters, one of which allegedly included language that overshadowed the validation notice and one that created a false sense of urgency. The case was ultimately settled, with the class receiving $10,000 and the named plaintiff receiving $1,000. The plaintiff’s attorneys then sought to receive $92,562 in fees and costs in the amount of $2,888.03.
Judge William Jung of the District Court for the Middle District of Florida, Tampa Division first took issue with the fact that five lawyers and five paralegals worked the case for the defendants, noting that the case could have “easily” been worked by one lawyer and one paralegal. “This was a straightforward case with a fixed statutory recovery,” Judge Jung wrote. “Although Plaintiff’s counsel asserts particular and unique skills were required in this case, none have been required in this case and the skill of plaintiff’s counsel was not tested or put on display in this small, basic case.”
Judge Jung first adjusted the hourly rate for each of the lawyers and paralegals down to what he determined were more appropriate levels, and then looked at the number of hours that those individuals worked on this case. Rather than go line by line on an 11-page, single-spaced list of billing records in “remarkably small font,” Judge Jung opted to cut the number of hours for all those involved in representing the plaintiff by 65%. Ultimately, the plaintiff’s counsel received $23,840 in fees and $525.70 in costs.
“This case involves two form letters and was not complicated, particularly in view of the experience of the attorneys,” Judge Jung wrote. “Defendant filed no motions directed to the complaint and answered with one affirmative defense, which it later withdrew.”