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Heien v. Archstone

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

September 14, 2016

CHRISTOPHER HEIEN, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; ANNA NGUYEN, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; ANNA MINIUTTI, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; BENJAMIN SPILLER, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; ANTONIA PEABODY, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; ENDICOTT PEABODY, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; HUMOUD AL SABAH, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; BRIAN EPSTEIN, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; LAURA NESCI, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; RON LEVY, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; ANDREA MANGONE, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated; NICOLAI JAKOBSEN, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs, Appellants,
v.
ARCHSTONE; ARCHSTONE COMMUNITIES, LLC; ASN PARK ESSEX, LLC; ASN QUINCY, LLC; ASN QUARRY HILLS, LLC; ASN NORTH POINT I, LLC; ARCHSTONE NORTH POINT, LLC; ARCHSTONE CRONIN'S LANDING; ASN WATERTOWN, LLC; ASN KENDALL SQUARE, LLC; ARCHSTONE AVENIR, LP; ASN BEAR HILL, LLC, Defendants, Appellees.

         APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF MASSACHUSETTS [Hon. William G. Young, U.S. District Judge]

          Edward Foye, with whom Michael Brier, Kevin Thomas Peters, Arrowood Peters LLP, Matthew J. Fogelman, Fogelman & Fogelman LLC, Joshua N. Garick and Law Offices of Joshua N. Garick were on brief, for appellants.

          Craig M. White, with whom Baker & Hostetler LLP, Thomas H. Wintner and Mintz, Levin, Cohn, Ferris, Glovsky and Popeo, P.C. were on brief, for appellees.

          Before Torruella and Barron, Circuit Judges, and Lisi, [*] District Judge.

          LISI, District Judge.

         The Plaintiffs in this class action are former and current tenants of residential property in Massachusetts leased to them by Defendants Archstone and several related entities. In their suit, the Plaintiffs challenged certain "amenity use fees, " which, they alleged, were imposed by the Defendants in violation of the Massachusetts Security Deposit Statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 186, § 15B, and Chapter 93A of the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 93A, § 1 et seq. The underlying litigation having long been resolved with a complete settlement between the parties, this appeal springs solely from class counsel's dissatisfaction with the amount of attorneys' fees awarded to them by the district court. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion in fashioning the fee award, we affirm.

         A. Background

         1. The Hermida Litigation

         In the related case of Hermida v. Archstone et. al, C.A. No. 10-12083-WGY (D. Mass., U.S. District Judge William G. Young presiding), other Archstone tenants had previously brought identical claims against one of the Defendants' corporate affiliates. The Hermida plaintiffs were represented by the same law firms as in the instant case.

         On November 29, 2011, the district court granted summary judgment on liability in favor of the Hermidas, determining that the amenity use fees charged by the Defendants violated the Massachusetts Security Deposit Statute. Hermida v. Archstone et. al, 826 F.Supp.2d 380 (D.Mass. 2011). Eventually, the Hermida case was settled and the district judge awarded attorneys' fees and costs of $62, 714.38, which was less than half of the lodestar amount requested by counsel. Hermida v. Archstone et. al, 950 F.Supp.2d 298 (D.Mass. 2013). In a detailed Memorandum and Order, the district judge explained the reduction in fees for time spent by counsel on travel, on performing clerical and administrative tasks, and for the practice of block billing. Id. at 311-315.

         2. The Heien Litigation

         On May 17, 2012, after the question of liability had already been decided in Hermida, the Plaintiffs filed a class action suit against Archstone and eleven other related entities. In their complaint, the Plaintiffs stated that "the principal common issues with respect to the class are whether Archstone's charging of the amenity fee violated the Security Deposit statute and chapter 93A." Complaint at ¶ 71 (ECF No. 2-1) The Plaintiffs acknowledged that "Judge Young's decision in the Hermida v. ASN Reading case, Docket No. 1:10-CV-12083-WGY, is precisely on point." Id.

         On August 23, 2012, the district court stayed the instant class action, pending waiver or resolution of all appeals of the judgment entered in Hermida. Electronic Order (ECF No. 41). In a September 30, 2012 status report, the Plaintiffs informed the district court that the parties were in settlement discussions. Status Report (ECF No. 43).

         On March 13, 2014, the Plaintiffs filed an unopposed motion in which they requested, inter alia, preliminary approval of a proposed settlement. Pltfs.' Mot. for Settlement (ECF No. 47). The settlement agreement reflects that the case was being settled simultaneously with Hermida and that "by virtue of the settlement in Hermida there will be no appeals and therefore there is no longer a reason to stay the Action." Class Action Settlement Agreement (ECF No. 49 at Page 2 of 29). The settlement fund was capped at $1, 300, 000 for payment of individual claims and attorneys' fees and costs. Id. at Page 3 of 29. Under the terms of the settlement agreement, the Defendants agreed "[t]o not object to the payment of attorneys' fees and expenses from the Class Settlement Fund in an amount up to 15% of the total Fund amount ($1, 300, 000.00)." Id. at Page 5 of 29. Any sums remaining in the settlement fund after payment of all individual claims, administration expenses, and attorneys' fees were to be returned to the Defendants. Id. at Page 8 of 29. The district court granted the Plaintiffs' motion to approve the settlement on March 27, 2014. Electronic Order (ECF No. 50).

         On June 3, 2014, Plaintiffs' counsel filed a motion for attorneys' fees and costs, in which they requested payment of $429, 000 (33% of the maximum settlement fund) for their services in this case. Pltfs.' Mot. for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (ECF No. 53). In their motion, the Plaintiffs acknowledged that the case "by itself did not involve intense litigation, given the imposition of the stay, " and they conceded that the case "only was filed because Judge Young concluded that the Hermidas did not have standing to assert claims against the defendants in this action." Id. at 7. Counsel's submissions in support of the fee motion included billing records that showed lodestar attorneys' fees of $58, 693. Exhibits A-F to Pltfs.' Mot. for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (ECF Nos. 53-1, 53-2, 53-3). The Defendants responded with an objection to the motion, suggesting that the district court ...


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