Judge Cites ‘Limited Success’ in FDCPA Case in Reducing Plaintiff’s Attorney’s Fees by 50%

A District Court judge in Wisconsin has lowered the attorney’s fees awarded to counsel representing a plaintiff in a Fair Debt Collection Practices Act case by 50%, ruling that their “limited success” in the case merited such a discount.

A copy of the ruling in the case of Gould v. Monarch Recovery Management can be accessed by clicking here.

The plaintiff filed suit after receiving a letter that indicated that, “As of the date of this letter, you owe $932.30.” The plaintiff did not dispute the amount owed with the agency, instead she filed a class-action lawsuit, alleging the use of the phrase “as of” indicated that the amount that was owed could change and was not static.

The plaintiff filed a motion to withdraw certification of the class during the course of the case. After the plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment, the defendant made an offer of judgment, which was accepted, for $1,001. The offer of judgment also allowed for “reasonable ” attorney’s fees and costs. The plaintiff’s counsel then sought to receive $57,073,37 in fees and $1,503.21 in costs.

While not disputing the hourly rate charged by the three attorneys who represented the plaintiff, the defendant, and Judge William Griesbach of the District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin did question the amount of hours the counsel said they worked in achieving the outcome in this case. Judge Griesbach first adjusted the lodestar amount in the case to $43,601.11, then, looking at the “relatively straightforward nature of the case,” sought to adjust the lodestar amount, per his discretion.

Judge Griesbach specifically mentioned in reducing the attorney’s fees by 50% that he was not casting “aspersions” on the plaintiff’s counsel, saying they “zealously” represented their client. But, the fact of the matter was, he said, settling for $1 more than was statutorily owed “is not a sign of great success.” Had the defendant chosen to defend itself, he said, it likely would have prevailed. But it would have cost a lot more than the $1,001 it offered to the plaintiff to settle.

At the end of the day, given the “limited success and the relatively straightforward nature of the case,” Judge Griesbach reduced the amount of attorney’s fees by 50%, awarding them $21,800.56 in fees and $1,503.21 in costs.

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