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Feed Commodities International, Inc. v. Gray

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

June 6, 2016

DANIEL G. GRAY, ET AL., Defendants.


          KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON United States Magistrate Judge

         Following a jury's verdict for Feed Commodities International, Inc., the Plaintiff in counterclaim ("Plaintiff"), this case is before the court on Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $155, 708.42 (Dkt. No. 192). Daniel G. Gray, Matthew C. Gray, and Edwin C. Gray, Defendants in counterclaim ("Defendants"), oppose the amount of attorneys' fees that Plaintiff has requested (Dkt. No. 201). For the following reasons, and as more fully set forth below, the court denies Plaintiff's motion without prejudice.

         I. Background

         A. Defendants Original Complaint and Plaintiff's Counterclaim

         A recitation of the history of this case is necessary to the court's decision. Defendants are partners who own and operate Full Flight Game Farm in Bernardston, Massachusetts, which raises game birds for sale (Dkt. No. 1-1 at ¶¶1, 2; Dkt. No. 116 at ¶ 2). Plaintiff, a Vermont corporation, sells feed for game birds (Dkt. No. 1-1 at ¶3). "In early June 2010 [Defendants] began noticing that some of Full Flight Game Farm's four-week old game birds were showing signs of stunted growth, poor feather growth, deformities, joint issues that were causing birds to limp, extra long wing feathers, respiratory issues, increased water consumption, watery feces and increased mortality" (id. at ¶8). "At the same time [Defendants] started noticing a loss in egg production and hatching issues in their breeders and hatchery" (id.). Testing determined that the feed that Plaintiff had delivered in April 2010 did not meet previously agreed upon specifications and caused the birds' deaths and deformities, as well as decreased egg production and other damages (id. at ¶¶5, 7, 11, 13, 15). Plaintiff delivered an additional load of out-of-specification feed to Defendants in 2011, which resulted in losses (id. at ¶23).

         Defendants originally filed suit against Plaintiff in state court seeking damages based on breach of contract (count I), breach of the express warranty (count II), breach of the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose (count III), breach of the implied warranty of merchantability (count IV), negligence (count V), and unfair business practices under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, § 11 (hereafter "original case") (Dkt. No. 1-1). Plaintiff removed the original case from state court to this court on September 11, 2013 (Dkt. No. 1). On October 2, 2013, Attorney Dawn D. McDonald, who entered her appearance for Plaintiff (Dkt. No. 12), answered the complaint (Dkt. No. 14), and filed a counterclaim and a third party complaint against Defendants (Dkt. No. 13) (hereafter "counterclaim"). In the counterclaim, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants Edwin C. Gray and Full Flight Game Farm breached their contract with Plaintiff (counts I and II), and that Full Flight Game Farm was unjustly enriched (count III) due to Defendants' failure to pay for feed that Plaintiff delivered to Defendants (Dkt. No. 13).

         After discovery, the original case, which arose from the defective feed that was delivered in April 2010 and in 2011, was settled by alternative dispute resolution on June 11, 2015 (Dkt. No. 101; Dkt. No. 116 at 3 n.2). On June 23, 2015, Plaintiff moved for an order to temporarily restrain the settlement proceeds (Dkt. No. 104), which this court denied on July 7, 2015 (Dkt. Nos. 111, 114). On July 17, 2015, Plaintiff filed an emergency motion to amend the counterclaim and third party complaint to add trustee defendants (Dkt. No. 115), and moved for trustee process attachment of the settlement proceeds as security in the event that Plaintiff obtained a favorable judgment on the counterclaim (Dkt. No. 116). The court allowed the motions on July 23, 2015 (Dkt. Nos. 123, 124).

         Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on the counterclaim in August 2015 (Dkt. No. 134). After a hearing in October 2015, this court denied the motion and scheduled the trial to begin on February 22, 2016 (Dkt. Nos. 144, 145).

         Plaintiff filed four motions in limine (Dkt. Nos. 151, 152, 153, 168), which the court denied (Dkt. Nos. 163, 164, 166, 188). On February 19, 2016, the court allowed Plaintiff's emergency ex parte motion to attach Defendants' real estate (Dkt. Nos. 180, 182). Plaintiff filed a second amended counterclaim to name the proper parties (Dkt. Nos. 179, 183).

         Trial commenced before the court and a jury on February 22, 2016, and continued on February 23 and 24, 2016, when the jury returned verdicts for the Plaintiff on all three counts of the counterclaim (Dkt. No. 198). The jury awarded damages as follows: $250, 126.10 for the feed that Plaintiff delivered to Defendants; interest at the rate of 9% per year in the amount of $104, 422; "attorney fees as described on [the] credit application and agreement form;" and costs (id.).

         B. Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs and Defendants' Response

         Plaintiff submitted a motion for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $155, 708.42 (Dkt. No. 192). The motion was supported by counsel's affidavit and approximately fifty-three pages of monthly invoices that counsel submitted to Plaintiff for services furnished from November 4, 2013 through February 26, 2016 (Dkt. Nos. 192-1, 192-2). The bills, which were redacted, presumably on the basis of attorney-client privilege, itemize the dates, the descriptions of services performed, the individuals who performed the services, the amount of time each person expended to perform the tasks, and the charge for the services based upon each individual's hourly rate (Dkt. No. 192-2). The invoices separately list the costs that were incurred during each billing period (id.). Trial counsel's supporting affidavit states her hourly billing rate, and the hourly billing rates of four other attorneys and a paralegal who performed work on the case (Dkt. No. 192-1 at ¶¶3 - 8). Counsel avers that "[t]he hourly rates charged by counsel in this matter are reasonable given the experience and skill level of counsel and are consistent with charges customarily made by law firms handling matters of this type" and that the hours spent by counsel are "reasonable based on the complexity of legal issues, litigiousness of the Defendants and a variety of delays and procedural problems generated by the Defendants" (Dkt. No. 192-1 at ¶¶9, 12). Counsel explained that the cost of securing the presence of their expert witness from North Carolina was a necessary trial expense (Dkt. No. 192-1 at ¶10).

         Defendants objected to the amount of Plaintiff's requested attorneys' fees (Dkt. No. 201). Defendants' counsel was not familiar with the qualifications and experience of the four attorneys who assisted trial counsel and questioned whether their time was "'excessive, redundant or otherwise unnecessary'" (Dkt. No. 201 at 3 ¶2). Defendants asserted that Plaintiff submitted bills for work that pertained to the original suit, which settled in June 2015 (Dkt. No. 201 at 3 ¶3). According to Defendants' counsel, who also represented Defendants in the original case, each party was responsible for its own fees and costs for the litigation of the original case and "[t]wo different insurance companies paid legal fees for occurrences in 2010 and 2011, " which were the subject of the that suit (id.). In addition, Defendants ...

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