Superior Court of Massachusetts, Suffolk, Business Litigation Session
Juan Juan Chen et al. 
Wen Jing Huang No. 134629
September 7, 2016
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR
ATTORNEYS FEES AND COSTS
Kenneth W. Salinger, Justice
fifteen plaintiffs are owed wages totaling $51, 390.54 for
work they did as employees of Millennium Daycare, Inc. By
law, Plaintiffs are entitled to recover treble damages
totaling $154, 171.62, plus reasonable attorneys fees and
litigation costs. Defendant Wen Jing Huang is personally
liable for these amounts because she was Millennium's
president and managed the corporation's business. See
G.L.c. 149, § 148. Final judgments allowing Plaintiffs
to recover their individual treble damages have already
entered in each Plaintiff's favor against Ms. Huang.
have requested an additional $2, 245, 932.61 in attorneys
fees and litigation costs, which is almost fifteen times the
treble damage award they obtained against Ms. Huang. They
seek fees and costs incurred primarily in bankruptcy court to
establish Plaintiffs' damages and to defeat efforts by
Ms. Huang and Millennium to have these debts discharged.
Plaintiffs' lead counsel worked for Greater Boston Legal
Services (" GBLS"), which seeks $232, 715 in
attorneys fees (claiming 664.9 hours of work at $350 per
hour) plus $13, 089.55 in expenses. She was assisted by
successive New York City law firms that assigned eight
bankruptcy lawyers to the case. These firms seek $1.95
million in attorneys fees (claiming 3, 027.8 hours of work at
rates ranging from $360 to $1, 085 per hour) plus $54, 134.56
Court finds that the amount requested by Plaintiffs is
excessive, and that Plaintiffs are entitled to recover
attorneys fees in the amount of $321, 580 plus expenses in
the amount of $10, 709.91, for a total additional recovery of
$332, 289.91. Although this amount is still twice the treble
damages awarded under the Wage Act, the Court finds that it
is reasonable under the circumstances of this case.
Plaintiffs' Burden and Court's Obligation
statute, Plaintiffs are entitled to recover " the costs
of the litigation and reasonable attorneys fees, " in
addition to " liquidated damages" equal to three
times their unpaid wages. G.L.c. 149, § 150. Where
attorneys fees and costs are awarded pursuant to a
fee-shifting statute, " postjudgment interest on [the]
award shall accrue from the date of entry" of the fee
award. Haddad v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. (No. 2), 455
Mass. 1024, 1028, 920 N.E.2d 278 (2010) (rescript) (citing
G.L.c. 235, § 8); accord, Craft v. Kane, 65
Mass.App.Ct. 322, 328, 839 N.E.2d 854 (2005) (under G.L.c.
231, § 6C, statutory award of interest on claim for
attorneys fees begins to run upon order establishing amount
of reasonable legal fees).
Plaintiffs have the burden of proving that their request for
attorneys fees and costs is reasonable. See, e.g., Stowe
v. Bologna, 417 Mass. 199, 204, 629 N.E.2d 304 (1994)
(" Stowe II "). " In applying for
judicial approval of a fee award, it is the plaintiff's
burden to furnish the evidence required, not the court's
burden to seek it out." Weinberger v. Great N.
Nekoosa Corp., 925 F.2d 518, 527 n.11 (1st Cir. 1991).
turn, the Court has an affirmative obligation to determine
whether and to what extent Plaintiffs have met that burden,
even though Defendant has not opposed the pending motion for
attorneys fees and costs. The Court is not required to accept
Plaintiffs' request for fees and costs merely because it
has not been challenged by the defendant. Id. ;
WHTR Real Estate Ltd. Partnership v. Venture
Distributing, Inc., 63 Mass.App.Ct. 229, 237, 825 N.E.2d
105, rev. denied, 444 Mass. 1105, 829 N.E.2d 225 (2005).
Huang was defaulted, and judgments awarding damages to each
Plaintiff were entered, after Ms. Huang failed to respond to
the complaint. No damage assessment hearing was required
because the treble damage amounts owed to each Plaintiff had
already been determined by the bankruptcy court, as explained
below, and thus were all for a " sum certain"
within the meaning of Mass.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(1). Plaintiffs then
served and filed their pending motion for an award of
attorneys fees and litigation costs.
pending motion for fees and costs is not a request for an
assessment of compensatory damages that would be subject to
the procedures required under Mass.R.Civ.P. 55(b)(2). Cf.
Plasko v. Orser, 373 Mass. 40, 44, 364 N.E.2d 1220
(1977) (where attorneys fees were sought from defaulted
defendant as part of request for damages, pursuant to terms
of promissory note, Rule 55(b)(2) damage assessment hearing
was required); see generally Hermanson v.
Szafarowicz, 457 Mass. 39, 50, 927 N.E.2d 982 (2010)
(compensatory damages cannot be awarded against defaulted
defendant under Rule 55(b)(2) without " [s]ome type of
hearing" and " factual findings"). Since
Plaintiffs are seeking the award of reasonable attorneys fees
and costs pursuant to the statutory mandate of the Wage Act,
their request is not for " damages" within the
meaning of Rule 55(b)(2). Cf. Trust Ins. Co. v. Bruce at
Park Chiropractic Clinic, 430 Mass. 607, 608 n.3, 722
N.E.2d 438 (2000) (attorneys fees " allowable by statute
. . . 'are more analogous to costs' than to damages,
" and thus " there is no right to a jury trial for
attorneys fees") (quoting Patry v. Liberty
Mobilehome Sales, Inc., 394 Mass. 270, 272, 475 N.E.2d
392 (1985), which provides that attorneys fees awarded
pursuant to statute " are not part of the damages
suffered, " and thus interest on such fees may not
assessed under G.L.c. 231, § 6B).
Court nonetheless has an affirmative obligation to determine
whether and to what extent Plaintiffs have met their burden
of proving what amount of fees and costs is reasonable in the
circumstances of this case. By analogy, when a judge assesses
damages after a defendant has been defaulted, the judge
" has an obligation to assure that there is a legitimate
basis for any damage award it enters, and to assure that
damages are not awarded solely as the result of [a] . . .
defendant's failure to respond[.]" Johnny's
Oil Co. v. Eldayha, 82 Mass.App.Ct. 705, 710, 978 N.E.2d
86 (2012), quoting Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. Philpot,
317 F.3d 1264, 1266 (11th Cir. 2003). " This obligation
is important to protect the integrity of the litigation
process and to advance the goal of fair treatment to all
parties." Jones v. Boykan, 464 Mass. 285, 294,
982 N.E.2d 1093 (2013). These principles apply even where the
defaulting defendant never appears and does not object to a
request for an award of damages, and even where damages are
assessed after a trial rather than pursuant to Rule 55(b)(2).
See Shafnacker v. Raymond James & Assocs., Inc., 425
Mass. 724, 737, 683 N.E.2d 662 (1997). The same principles
apply to an unopposed request for reasonable attorneys fees
and costs under a statute, such as the Wage Act, that is not
part of a claim for compensatory damages. Stowe II,
417 Mass. at 204 (judge must " exercise[ ] independent
judgment" as to whether attorney fee request under
fee-shifting statute is reasonable, even where request is not
challenged by opposing party); see also Stowe v.
Bologna, 415 Mass. 20, 21-23, 610 N.E.2d 961 (1993)
(fees at issue in Stowe were awarded pursuant to
Cambridge Rent Control Act, which provided that prevailing
tenants were entitled to award of reasonable attorneys fees
and costs). " Courts are not authorized to be generous
with the money of others, and it is as much the duty of
courts to see that excessive fees and expenses are not
awarded as it is to see that an adequate amount is
awarded." American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia
v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 428 (11th Cir. 1999); accord
Smith v. Consalvo, 37 Mass.App.Ct. 192, 196, 638
N.E.2d 501 (1994) (" When legal expenses are collected
from a party other than the one who received the legal
services, a degree of conservatism in fee determination is in
Ms. Huang waived any right to an evidentiary hearing by not
responding to the pending motion. If Plaintiffs were seeking
attorneys fees as part of their compensatory damages, then an
assessment of damages hearing would have to be conducted
pursuant to Rule 55(b)(2) before any fees were awarded. See
Shawmut Bank, N.A. v. Chase, 34 Mass.App.Ct. 266,
269, 609 N.E.2d 479 (1993). But, as noted above, Plaintiffs
are seeking attorneys fees pursuant to a fee-shifting
statute, not as part of their compensatory damages. Under
these circumstances, Huang would have been entitled to an
evidentiary hearing if she had asked for one, but her failure
to do so constitutes a waiver of that right. See
Manganaro Drywall, Inc. v. White Constr. Co., Inc.,
372 Mass. 661, 666-67, 363 N.E.2d 669 (1977); J.P.
Constr. Co., Inc. v. Stateside Builders, Inc., 45
Mass.App.Ct. 920, 699 N.E.2d 358 (1998) (rescript).
Legal Standards for Awarding Fees
While the amount of a reasonable attorneys fee is largely
discretionary, a judge 'should consider the nature of the
case and the issues presented, the time and labor required,
the amount of damages involved, the result obtained, the
experience, reputation and ability of the attorney, the usual
price charged for similar services by other attorneys in the
same area, and the amount of awards in similar cases."
Twin Fires Investment, LLC v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter
& Co., 445 Mass. 411, 429-30, 837 N.E.2d 1121 (2005)
(reviewing award of attorneys fees under c. 93A), quoting
Linthicum v. Archambault, 379 Mass. 381, 388-89, 398
N.E.2d 482 (1979). " No one factor is determinative, and
a factor-by-factor analysis, although helpful, is not
required." Id. at 430, quoting Berman v.
Linnane, 434 Mass. 301, 303, 748 N.E.2d 466 (2001).
" [T]rial courts need not, and indeed should not, become
green-eyeshade accountants" in determining what amount
of attorneys fees is reasonable in a particular case. Fox
v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 838-45, 131 S.Ct. 2205, 180
L.Ed.2d 45 (2011). " The essential goal in shifting fees
(to either party) is to do rough justice, not to achieve
auditing perfection." Id.
The " Lodestar" Method
The basic measure of reasonable attorneys fees is a 'fair
market rate for the time reasonably spent preparing and
litigating a case.'" Stowe II, 417 Mass. at
203, quoting Fontaine v. Ebtec Corp., 415 Mass. 309,
326, 613 N.E.2d 881 (1993); accord Killeen v. Westban
Hotel Venture LP, 69 Mass.App.Ct. 784, 790, 872 N.E.2d
731 (2007) (applying this methodology to attorney fee award
under the Wage Act). Plaintiffs have " the burden of
showing that the claimed rate and number of hours are
reasonable." Commonwealth v. Ennis, 441 Mass.
718, 722, 808 N.E.2d 783 (2004), quoting Society of Jesus
of New England v. Boston Landmarks Comm'n, 411 Mass.
754, 759, 585 N.E.2d 326 (1992).
method for determining what amount of attorneys fees should
be awarded where authorized by a statute was "
[d]eveloped after the practice of hourly billing had become
widespread" in markets for legal services. Perdue v.
Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 551, 130 S.Ct.
1662, 176 L.Ed.2d 494 (2010). It has come to be known as the
" lodestar" method and, " as its name
suggests, [has] become the guiding light of our fee-shifting
jurisprudence."  Id., quoting Gisbrecht v.
Barnhart, 535 U.S. 789, 801, 122 S.Ct. 1817, 152 L.Ed.2d
996 (2002), and Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557,
562, 112 S.Ct. 2638, 120 L.Ed.2d 449 (1992); accord, e.g.,
Fontaine, supra, at 325.
lodestar method is intended to produce an " award that
roughly approximates the fee that the prevailing
attorney would have received if he or she had been
representing a paying client who was billed by the hour in a
comparable case" (emphasis in original). Kenny A.,
supra, quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886,
895, 104 S.Ct. 1541, 79 L.Ed.2d 891 (1984); accord
Stratos v. Department of Pub. Welfare, 387 Mass.
312, 322, 439 N.E.2d 778 (1982) (statutory fee award "
should reflect an objective 'market' value for
comparable legal services"). " [A] reasonable
attorneys fee is one that is adequate to attract competent
counsel, but that does not produce windfalls to
attorneys." Kenny A., 559 U.S. at 552, quoting
Blum, 465 U.S. at 897; accord Stratos,
Court is aware that many lawyers who handle Wage Act claims
do so on a contingent-fee basis. The lodestar method and its
focus on hourly billable rates is nonetheless applicable. It
governs attorney fee awards even where the prevailing
party's lawyers were in fact retained under a
contingent-fee agreement, and thus also applies to categories
of cases that are typically accepted on the basis of such an
agreement. See Fontaine, 415 Mass. at 326 n.14;
Dague, 505 U.S. at 564-65; Blanchard v.
Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87, 93-96, 109 S.Ct. 939, 103 L.Ed.2d
67 (1989); see also Cambridge Trust Co. v. Hanify & King
Professional Corp., 430 Mass. 472, 479, 721 N.E.2d 1