United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
ALLISON D. BURROUGHS U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE.
Yury Rinsky brought this case against Defendant Cushman &
Wakefield, Inc., his former employer, alleging that Defendant
discriminated against him based on his age and disability.
Plaintiff brought his claim pursuant to the New York City
Human Rights Law (“NYCHRL”), which prohibits many
forms of discrimination, including forbidding employers from
discriminating based on age or disability. N.Y.C. Admin. Code
§ 8-107. After a five-day jury trial, on April 14, 2017,
the jury returned a verdict finding that Plaintiff's age
was a substantial factor in Defendant's decision to
terminate him, but that Plaintiff's disability, if any,
was not a substantial factor in the decision to terminate.
[ECF No. 60]. The jury awarded Plaintiff $290, 000 in back
pay, $135, 000 in front pay, $850, 000 in punitive damages,
and nothing for emotional distress, resulting in a total
award of $1, 275, 000. Id. On March 7, 2018, the
Court denied Defendant's motions for judgment as a matter
of law and for a new trial [ECF No. 94], and Defendant
subsequently filed a notice of appeal [ECF No. 99]. Now
before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for attorneys'
fees, costs, and interest. [ECF No. 95]. For the reasons set
forth below, the motion is granted in part and denied in
the NYCHRL, the Court “may award the prevailing party
reasonable attorney's fees, expert fees and other
costs.” N.Y.C. Admin. Code § 8-502(g). “A
district court has ‘considerable discretion' in
determining what constitutes a reasonable fee award.”
Congregation Rabbinical Coll. of Tartikov, Inc.
v. Village of Pomona, 188 F.Supp.3d 333, 337 (S.D.N.Y.
2016) (quoting Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood
Ass'n v. City of Albany, 522 F.3d 182, 190 (2d Cir.
2008)). Calculation of “the lodestar-the product of a
reasonable hourly rate and the reasonable number of hours
required by the case-creates a ‘presumptively
reasonable fee.'” Millea v. Metro-N. R.R.
Co., 658 F.3d 154, 166 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Arbor
Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Assoc. v.
County of Albany, 522 F.3d 182, 183 (2d Cir. 2008)).
“The presumptively reasonable fee boils down to
‘what a reasonable, paying client would be willing to
pay,' given that such a party wishes ‘to spend the
minimum necessary to litigate the case
effectively.'” Simmons v. N.Y.C. Transit
Auth., 575 F.3d 170, 174 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal
quotation marks and citations omitted). In evaluating what a
reasonable client would pay, the Court must consider twelve
(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and
difficulty of the questions; (3) the level of skill required
to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of
employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5)
the attorney's customary hourly rate; (6) whether the fee
is fixed or contingent; (7) the time limitations imposed by
the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved in
the case and the results obtained; (9) the experience,
reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the
“undesirability” of the case; (11) the nature and
length of the professional relationship with the client; and
(12) awards in similar cases.
Arbor Hill, 522 F.3d at 186 n.3 (citing Johnson
v. Ga. Highway Exp., Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th
Cir. 1974), abrogated on other grounds by Blanchard v.
Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87 (1989)). The fee applicant bears
“the burden of documenting the hours reasonably spent
by counsel, and the reasonableness of the hourly rates
claimed.” Beastie Boys v. Monster Energy Co.,
112 F.Supp.3d 31, 48 (S.D.N.Y. 2015) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). “[T]here is no precise
rule or formula” for determining a proper
attorney's fees award;” instead, a district court
must exercise its “equitable discretion” in light
of all the factors to be considered. GMA Accessories,
Inc. v. Olivia Miller, Inc., 139 Fed.Appx. 301, 304 (2d
Cir. 2005) (quoting Fogerty v. Fantasy, 510 U.S.
517, 534 (1994)).
initial matter, Defendant argues that the underlying judgment
is invalid, and thus, it cannot serve as the basis for an
award of attorneys' fees. Defendant contends that the
Court lacks jurisdiction to consider Plaintiff's claim
under the NYCHRL because the impact of the alleged
discrimination was felt in Massachusetts, not New York, and
further, that Plaintiff waived his NYCHRL claim because he
did not plead a non-existent Massachusetts city claim in his
complaint. The Court has already conducted a comprehensive
evaluation of these arguments and found them wanting, as
discussed in its March 7, 2018 Memorandum and Order Denying
Defendant's Post-Trial Motions [ECF No. 94]. Defendant
acknowledges that these arguments are raised primarily for
the purpose of preserving its rights on appeal, and thus, no
further discussion is warranted.
to the merits of the motion for attorneys' fees,
Defendant asserts that the Court should reduce the amount
sought by Plaintiff by 30% due to block billing and excessive
time dedicated to conversations between
co-counsel. Plaintiff was represented by two
attorneys, Mr. Szal and Mr. Dennehy. Mr. Szal's records
reflect extensive block billing, but few conversations with
co-counsel, while Mr. Dennehy rarely engaged in block
billing, but frequently recorded time spent speaking with
Circuit case law concerning block billing provides only
limited guidance as to whether a reduction for block billing
is appropriate, “as some authorities impose fee
reductions based on this practice, and others find the
practice tolerable.” United States v. Sixty-One
Thousand Nine Hundred Dollars & No Cents, 856
F.Supp.2d 484, 490 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (comparing Miroglio
S.P.A. v. Conway Stores, Inc., 629 F.Supp.2d 307, 314
(S.D.N.Y. 2009), with Rodriguez ex rel. Kelly v.
McLoughlin, 84 F.Supp.2d 417, 425 (S.D.N.Y. 1999)).
“The key question is whether the court, upon review of
all the time entries, can determine whether the total amount
of time was reasonable considering all of the activities
undertaken.” Id. (further explaining that
“no lawyer is going to actually make a notation every
six minutes as to what he [or she] did that last six minutes,
” and thus, “some level of reconstruction and
approximation is unavoidable”). In general, courts make
reductions for block billing where:
(1) there is reason to believe that the hours billed were
(2) the block billing involved aggregating tasks that were
not all compensable; or
(3) the number of hours block billed together was so high
(such as five hours or more) so as to create an unacceptable
risk that the aggregated total exceeded the reasonable hours
worked on compensable tasks.
Benihana, Inc. v. Benihana of Tokyo, LLC, No. 15
CIV. 7428 (PAE), 2017 WL 6551198, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 22,
case, virtually all of Mr. Szal's hours are block billed.
On only a handful of days did he create separate entries for
separate tasks. At the same time, however, on many days he
billed less than two hours, allowing the Court to easily
evaluate the reasonableness of the hours billed. Beginning in
February 2017, two months before trial, Mr. Szal began
devoting more time to the case, and at that point, his
entries frequently exceed five hours per day. Mr. Szal billed
a total of 295.8 hours in entries that consist of five or
more hours at once. As the practice of block billing is
disfavored, the Court will apply a five percent reduction to
those entries, resulting in a reduction of 14.8 hours from
Mr. Szal's total hours expended on this case. Although a
reduction is warranted given the block billing, only a slight
reduction is necessary here, where Mr. Szal's proposed
hourly rate and requested fee are both very reasonable
overall. See Kerr v. John Thomas Fin., No.
14-cv-9168, 2017 WL 435826, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 31, 2017),
report and recommendation adopted as modified, No.
14-CV-9168 (KBF), 2017 WL 1609224 (S.D.N.Y. May 1, 2017)
(applying 5% reduction for block billing, and citing other
cases also applying a 5% reduction); Pilitz v. Inc. Vill.
of Freeport, No. CV 07-4078 (ETB), 2011 WL 5825138, at
*6 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 17, 2011) (reducing certain attorneys'
hours by 5% due to block billing).
Defendant objects to the amount of time Mr. Dennehy billed
for conversations with co-counsel. Defendant correctly points
out that district courts within the Second Circuit will
reduce a fee award where counsel spent an excessive amount of
time conferencing or coordinating with co-counsel. See
ACE Ltd. v. CIGNA Corp., No. 00 CIV. 9423 (WK), 2001 WL
1286247, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 22, 2001) (explaining that a
fee reduction is appropriate for “over-staffing,
excessive hours, and office conferences”); Motown
Record Co., L.P. v. Motown Beverage Co. of Ohio, No. 96
CIV. 4785 (LAP), 2001 WL 262587, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 14,
2001), aff'd as modified, 28 Fed.Appx. 107 (2d
Cir. 2002) (reducing hours billed by 10% due to excessive
time spent coordinating efforts of multiple attorneys).
Similarly to Mr. Szal's hours, the Court determines that
a reduction in hours is warranted, but because the hours Mr.
Dennehy spent conferencing with co-counsel are not ...