Federal judge: Request for attorney fees 'excessive' in case involving Tampa commercial debt company

By Marian Johns | May 13, 2019

U.S. Courthouse, Tampa   Ebyabe [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

TAMPA — A federal court has ruled that a $400,000 fee request from attorneys for an Alabama marine supply company was "excessive" in a breach of contract and deceptive trade practices case they won against a Tampa commercial debt settlement company.

According to an April 29 U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida Tampa Division filing, plaintiffs McNider Marine LLC and John Bruce McNider filed a motion for sanctions, attorney fees and non-taxable costs in a case it won against defendants Cain & Daniels Inc., Robert Kolodner and Max Lora.

McNider was represented in the action by attorneys Justin Proper and Shane Heskin, of the firm of White & Williams LLP, of Philadelphia, and attorney Kersteen Heskin Martinez, of the Heskin Martinez Law Group, of Orlando.

The case stems from McNider's hiring of Cain & Daniels, a debt settlement services company, to help settle an approximately $334,000 debt owed to Wells Fargo. McNider alleged Cain & Daniels stated they would "cut" McNider's debt "to about half" at no charge, but they failed to do so and charged McNider for their services. 

McNider alleged Cain & Daniels violated Florida's Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act (FDUTPA) and claimed fraudulent inducement and breach of contract. A jury verdict came back in favor of McNider and awarded him $100,000 in compensatory damages, $300,000 in punitive damages and $25,000 for breach of contract, as well as $6,200 for the FDUTPA violation claim.  A court then amended the judgment to a total of $6,200 on both breach of contract and FDUTPA claims, according to the court filing. 

Among McNider's request for $367,055 in attorney fees, there were 725 billable hours for "senior" associates at $575 per hour, $425 for "less senior associates" and $300 an hour for paralegal's services.

The court found that the requested hourly rate "is not reasonable." U.S. District Judge Susan Bucklew concluded: "After considering the prevailing market rate in the relevant legal community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skills, experience, and reputation, the court concludes that their reasonable hourly rate should be reduced to $425 for senior associates." 

Bucklew also ruled that the $375 rate for "less senior associates" was unreasonable and reduced it to $300 with the paralegal rate reduced to $150. The court also found that 725 billable hours related to the case needed to be reduced by 10 hours. 

The court declined to award McNider's requested $100,000 in sanctions for Cain & Daniels' "litigation misconduct." A final $214,847.50 award was given to McNider for attorney fees and $2,900 in costs.

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U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida Tampa Division White and Williams

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