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Feed Commodities International Inc. v. Gray

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 21, 2016

DANIEL G. GRAY, et al., Defendants.


          KATHERINE A. ROBERTSON United States Magistrate Judge.

         I. Introduction

         Following a jury's verdict for Feed Commodities International, Inc., the Plaintiff in counterclaim ("Plaintiff"), this case is before the court on Plaintiff's renewed motion for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $152, 168.42 (Dkt. No. 204). For the following reasons, and as more fully set forth below, the court allows Plaintiff's renewed motion, as modified.

         II. Background

         A. Defendants' Original Complaint and Plaintiff's Counterclaim

         A recitation of the history of this case is necessary to the court's decision. Daniel G. Gray, Matthew C. Gray, and Edwin C. Gray, defendants-in-counterclaim ("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 (count VI) (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 and requested an equitable attachment (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 pre-trial motions (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 First Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs, Defendants' Response, and the Court's Order

         On February 26, 2016, Plaintiff submitted a motion for attorneys' fees and costs in the total amount of $155, 708.42 (Dkt. No. 192). The motion was supported by the affidavit of lead counsel, Attorney McDonald, 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 on the basis of attorney-client privilege, itemized 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; Dkt. No. 204-2 ¶8 n.2). Attorney McDonald's supporting affidavit stated her hourly billing rate, and the hourly billing rates of four other attorneys and a paralegal from her law firm who performed work on the case (Dkt. No. 192-1 at ¶¶3 - 8). The invoices separately listed the costs that were incurred during each billing period (Dkt. No. 192-2). 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, $148, 939, but did not quibble about the payment of the amount of costs that Plaintiff submitted, $6, 769.42 (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 objected to the amount of time that was billed for litigation of the counterclaim on the grounds that the case was not complex and the parties stipulated to certain evidence (id. at 4 ¶¶4, 5, 6).

         Based on Defendants' arguments and the lack of detailed support for the Plaintiff's attorneys' hourly rates, the court denied Plaintiff's original motion for fees and costs, without prejudice, on June 6, 2016 (Dkt. No. 203).

         C. Plaintiff's Renewed Motion for ...

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