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Perry v. Isle of Wight County

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Norfolk Division

April 26, 2018

LISA T. PERRY, Plaintiff,
v.
ISLE OF WIGHT COUNTY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER

          Raymond A. Jackson United States District Judge

         Before the Court is the petition of Lisa T. Perry's ("Plaintiff) Motion for Further Relief. ECF No. 72. Plaintiff, by counsel, requests further relief in the form of pre-judgment interest, in addition to Plaintiffs Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs. Id.; ECF No. 70. Both of these Motions stem from successfully suing the Isle of Wight County ("Defendant") for failing to reinstate Plaintiff in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"). Plaintiff was employed by Defendant and was not reinstated to her position after her FMLA leave ended. These matters have been fully briefed and are ripe for disposition. A hearing will not aid judicial determination. For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiffs Motion for Further Relief is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part and Plaintiffs Motion for Attorneys' Fees is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         On May 12, 2015, Defendant removed this action from Isle of Wight Circuit Court. ECF No. 1. On October 28, 2015, Plaintiff filed an Amended Complaint alleging that Defendant had engaged in (1) retaliation in violation of the FMLA and (2) failure to reinstate in violation of the FMLA. ECF No. 16. On January 24, 2017, after full briefing by the parties, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. ECF No. 48. The Court dismissed Count I of the Amended Complaint, leaving Count II as the only remaining claim of the Amended Complaint. Id. The Court held a bench trial on March 7, 2017. ECF No. 59. On August 10, 2017, the Court issued its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, as required by Rule 52(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 68. The Court found Defendant liable for violating the FMLA and entered judgement for Plaintiff, in the amount of $747, 320.66. Id.

         Plaintiff filed a Motion for Attorneys' Fees on August 24, 2017, and a Motion for Further Relief on August 28, 2017. ECF Nos. 70-71, 72-73. On September 7, 2017, Defendant filed a Response to both Motions. ECF Nos. 74, 80. Plaintiff filed a Reply to the Motion for Attorneys' Fees on September 11, 2017. ECF No. 79. Plaintiff did not file a Reply on the Motion for Further Relief. On September 7, 2017, Defendant appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ("the Fourth Circuit"), but Defendant filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss the appeal on January 8, 2018. ECF Nos. 77, 85-86.

         Plaintiff requests a total of $136, 646.33 in attorneys' fees and costs together. ECF No. 70; see also ECF No. 79 at 7. Specifically, Plaintiff requests $129, 929.65 in attorneys' fees at rates ranging from $200 and $385 per hour for 431.60 hours of work. ECF No. 70; see also ECF No. 79 at 4-5. Plaintiff also requests $6, 716.68 in costs. Id. Lastly, Plaintiff requests a total of $8, 507.00 in pre-judgment interest. ECF Nos. 72-73. Plaintiff bases the pre-judgment interest award on a United States Prime Rate ("Prime Rate") of 4.25%, compounded annually. Id.

         II. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Pre-Judgment Interest

         According to the FMLA, pre-judgment interest on FMLA damages is mandatory rather than discretionary. See 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(ii) (2008); Dotson v. Pfizer, Inc., 558 F.3d 284, 302 (4th Cir. 2009). "Under the FMLA, an employer 'shall be liable' for the pre-judgment interest on the amount of 'any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to [an employee] by reason of the [FMLA] violation.'" Dotson, 558 F.3d 284 (citing 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(i)-(ii)). Pre-judgment interest also does not constitute the kind of "additional" relief that requires briefing-unlike other FMLA remedies like front pay and liquidated damages, which the district court has the discretion to reduce or deny outright. Id. at 302. Pre-judgment interest automatically becomes part of the damages award under the plain terms of the statute. Id.; see also 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(i)-(ii). Pre-judgment interest should be awarded at the prevailing rate. See 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(1)(A)(ii). The statute does not define the "prevailing rate"; and as a result, the district court has the discretion in determining the rate." See, e.g., Bell v. Prefix, Inc., 500 Fed.Appx. 473, 474 (6th Cir. 2012). To calculate the prejudgment interest, "the best starting point is to award interest at the market rate, which means an average of the prime interest rate for the years in question." Cememt Div., Nat'l Gypsum Co. v. City of Milwaukee, 144 F.3d 1111, 1114 (7th Cir. 1998). The prime interest rate includes the period of time from date of injury through entry of judgment. Id.

         B. Post-Judgment Interest

         Under the post-judgment statute, post-judgment interest "shall be allowed on any money judgment in a civil case recovered in a district court. . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 1961 (2000). Section 1961 further provides that "[s]uch interest shall be calculated from the date of the entry of the judgment, at a rate equal to the weekly average 1-year constant maturity Treasury yield, as published by the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System, for the calendar week preceding the date of the judgment." Id. The Supreme Court has stated that "[t]he purpose of post-judgment interest is to compensate the successful plaintiff for being deprived of compensation for the loss from the time between the ascertainment of the damage and the payment by the defendant." Kaiser Aluminum & Chem. Corp. v. Bonjorno, 494 U.S. 827, 835-36 (1990) (internal quotations and citation omitted).

         The Federal Circuit defers to the relevant circuit for interpretation of the post-judgment statute. Transmatic Inc. v. Gulton Indus. Inc., 180 F.3d 1343, 1347-48 (Fed. Cir. 1999). Accordingly, the Fourth Circuit has stated that "awarding post-judgment interest on the entire [damages] amount. . . including pre-judgment interest, most closely comports with the purpose of post-judgment interest articulated by the Supreme Court." Quesinberry v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., 987 F.2d 1017, 1031 (4th Cir. 1993) (citing Bonjorno, 494 U.S. at 835). Further, post-judgment interest on a money judgment begins to accrue "from the date the judgment is entered until payment is made in full at the federal rate of interest as calculated using the formula set forth in 28 U.S.C. § 1961." Brinn v. Tidewater Transp. Dist. Comm'n, 113 F.Supp.2d 935, 939 (E.D. Va. 2000) (citing Hitachi Credit Am. Corp. v. Signet Bank, 166 F.3d 614, 633 (4th Cir. 1999)).

         C. Attorneys' Fees and Costs

         The touchstone of any award of attorneys' fees and expenses is reasonableness. SunTrust Mortg., Inc. v. AIG United Guar. Corp., 933 F.Supp.2d 762, 769 (E.D. Va. 2013) (quoting E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Co. v. Kolon Indus., Inc., No. 3:09cv058, 2013 WL 458532, at *2 (E.D. Va. Feb. 6, 2013)). The fee applicant bears the burden of demonstrating the reasonableness of its fee request, Kenney v. Touch of Patience Shared Hous., Inc., 779 F.Supp.2d 516, 525 (E.D. Va. 2011), and of "providing sufficient detail in [its] records to explain and support [its] requests for fees and costs." Andrade v. Aerotek, Inc., 852 F.Supp.2d 637, 645 (D. Md. 2012). Indeed, "the party who seeks payment must keep records in sufficient detail that a neutral judge can make a fair evaluation of the time expended, the nature and need for the service, and the reasonable fees to be allowed." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 441 (1983) (Burger, C.J., concurring).

         To calculate an award of attorneys' fees the court must determine a "lodestar fee." Grissom v. Miller Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 320-21 (4th Cir. 2008); Brodziak v. Runyon, 43 F.3d 194, 196 (4th Cir. 1998). The Supreme Court of the United States ("Supreme Court") has stated that there is a "strong presumption" that the lodestar figure represents a reasonable attorneys' fee award, which may be overcome only "in those rare circumstances in which the lodestar does not adequately take into account a factor that may properly be considered in determining a reasonable fee." Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 553-54 (2010).

         The lodestar fee is calculated by multiplying the number of reasonable hours expended times a reasonable rate. Id. The Fourth Circuit has held that the Johnson factors must be applied in determining the reasonable hourly rates and hours expended. See Daly v. Hill, 790 F.2d 1071, 1077 (4th Cir. 1986). These factors include:

(1) the time and labor required;
(2) the novelty and difficulty of the ...

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