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Boadi v. Center for Human Development, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

November 8, 2017

GRACE BOADI, Plaintiff



         I. Introduction

         Now before the court is Plaintiff Grace Boadi's ("Plaintiff") motion for attorneys' fees and costs filed in accordance with 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(3). Plaintiff's motion follows a jury's finding that Plaintiff's former employer, the Center for Human Development ("CHD"), and her former supervisor, Candy Pennington (collectively "Defendants"), were liable for interfering with Plaintiff's rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2654.

         The parties have consented to this court's jurisdiction. See 28 U.S.C. § 636(c); Fed.R.Civ.P. 73. Plaintiff requests attorneys' fees and costs of $225, 405.99. Defendants have opposed the motion and Plaintiff has responded to Defendants' opposition. For the reasons that follow, the court awards Plaintiff $196, 293 in attorneys' fees and $16, 137.99 in costs for a total of $212, 430.99.

         II. Background

         The following summary of the facts and procedural history is provided as background for the determination of a reasonable fee award.

         This case arose out of a series of events that culminated in Defendants terminating Plaintiff's employment on April 21, 2013 while she was hospitalized. During the seven day period beginning on Sunday, April 14, 2013, Plaintiff was scheduled to work from Wednesday, April 17, through Sunday, April 21, 2013. She was hospitalized due to the sudden onset of a mental impairment from April 15 through April 24, 2013. On five occasions during Plaintiff's hospitalization, Plaintiff's son, James Takyi, notified Pennington and other CHD personnel that Plaintiff was very sick, was in the hospital, and was not able to work. Notwithstanding these notices, CHD terminated Plaintiff's employment as of April 21, 2013 due to her failure to personally notify CHD of her absences from work as its call-in policy required. CHD maintained its position that Plaintiff had abandoned her job and voluntarily resigned and denied Plaintiff FMLA leave after she presented Defendants with proof of her hospitalization and her physician's certification that she would be able to return to her full duties in a month.

         On September 5, 2014, Plaintiff sued CHD and Pennington for interfering with her rights under the FMLA and for violating the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Massachusetts anti-discrimination statute, Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B ("Chapter 151B") (Dkt. No. 1).[1] On March 6, 2017, the court granted summary judgment in Defendants' favor as to the ADA and Chapter 151B claims and denied it as to Plaintiff's FMLA interference claim (Dkt. No. 84). See Boadi v. Ctr. for Human Dev., Inc., 239 F.Supp.3d 333, 355 (Mass. 2017). Thereafter, Defendants moved for a psychological examination of Plaintiff pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 35, Plaintiff contested the motion, and the court denied it on May 31, 2017 (Dkt. Nos. 74, 76, 100).

         The case was referred for alternative dispute resolution ("ADR") on April 3, 2017 and an ADR hearing was scheduled for April 13, 2017 (Dkt. Nos. 90, 91). Counsel complied with the court's order to provide mediation memoranda (Dkt. No. 95; Dkt. No. 134-1 at 23). On April 12, 2017, Plaintiff's counsel notified the court that Plaintiff no longer wished to engage in mediation, and the ADR hearing, which was scheduled for the next day, was cancelled (Dkt. No. 95).

         The jury trial commenced on June 19, 2017 (Dkt. No. 117). Plaintiff's case included the testimony of an expert, Dr. Frederick Kadushin, who opined that Plaintiff was not capable of following CHD's call-in policies and procedures while she was hospitalized. On June 23, 2017, the jury found that Plaintiff had a "serious health condition" as defined by the FMLA, that she or her spokesperson provided adequate notice of her need for FMLA leave, and that Defendants were liable for interfering with her FMLA rights (Dkt. No. 129). The jury awarded Plaintiff $112, 592.34 for lost wages and $29, 448.90 for lost benefits from April 21, 2013 through the date of the verdict, for a total of $142, 041.24 plus interest (id.). On September 21, 2017, the court awarded Plaintiff liquidated damages in an amount equal to lost wages and benefits, $142, 041.24, plus interest (Dkt. No. 144). See 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(iii).

         III. Analysis

         "The court in . . . an [FMLA] action shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff, allow a reasonable attorney's fee, reasonable expert witness fees, and other costs of the action to be paid by the defendant." 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(3). Plaintiff seeks $209, 268 in fees for the work of two attorneys, Dawn D. McDonald and Shawn M. Willis, and a paralegal. Attorney McDonald's itemized billing statement charges $300 per hour, while Attorney Willis charges $275, and the paralegal charges $150 (Dkt. No. 134-1 at 36). Plaintiff seeks $180, 780 for 602.60 hours of work Attorney McDonald performed beginning on March 20, 2015 when she took over the case from Attorney Willis (id. at 6). Attorney Willis' fees are $19, 635 for 71.40 hours of work and the paralegal's fees are $8, 853 for 59.02 hours (id. at 36). Plaintiff also seeks $16, 137.99 in expert witness fees and costs. Defendants oppose Plaintiff's motion on various grounds.

         A. Attorneys' Fees

         1. Legal Standard

         "Attorneys' fees are calculated by determining a 'lodestar amount' and then, if necessary, adjusting that amount to ensure that the fee amount is reasonable." Cheng v. Romo, Civil Action No. 11-10007-DJC, 2014 WL 882796, at *1 (D. Mass. Mar. 6, 2014) (citing Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 564-65 (1986)). "Federal courts in this circuit customarily use the lodestar approach to determine fee amounts." Id. (citing Burke v. MacDonald, 572 F.3d 51, 56 n.5 (1st Cir. 2009)). In calculating this lodestar amount, the judge "applies prevailing rates in the community (taking into account the qualifications, experience, and specialized competence of the attorneys involved)" to the time counsel spent on the case, reduced by "duplicative, unproductive, or excessive hours." Gay Officers Action League v. Puerto Rico, 247 F.3d 288, 295 (1st Cir. 2001). See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-34 (1983); Lipsett v. Blanco, 975 F.2d 934, 937 (1st Cir. 1992). In making this calculation, "'the presiding judge must "draw[] on [her] own experience and wisdom [in] deciding whether the time spent on each phase was in excess of a reasonable amount."'" Alfonso v. Aufiero, 66 F.Supp.2d 183, 192 (D. Mass. 1999) (quoting United States v. Metro. Dist. Comm'n, 847 F.2d 12, 18 (1st Cir. 1988)) (alterations in original).

         "The party seeking an award of attorneys' fees bears the burden of establishing and documenting the hours expended and the hourly rates charged." Cheng, 2014 WL 882796, at *1 (citing Torres-Rivera v. O'Neill-Cancel,524 F.3d 331, 340 (1st Cir. 2008)). Plaintiff's lead counsel, Attorney Dawn D. McDonald, submitted thirty-four pages of invoices, which appropriately itemized the amount of time each member of her law firm spent on specific tasks (134-1 at 2-36). Counsel did not use disfavored "block billing" as Defendants allege (Dkt. No. 136 at 5-6). See E.E.O.C. v. AutoZone, Inc., 934 F.Supp.2d 342, 354 (D. Mass. 2013) ("'Block billing' is an industry term used to describe 'the time keeping method by which an attorney lumps together the total daily time spent working on a case, rather than itemizing the time expended on specific tasks'") ...

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