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ALTERGOTT v. MODERN COLLECTION TECHNIQUES

September 16, 1994

LISA ALTERGOTT, Plaintiff,
v.
MODERN COLLECTION TECHNIQUES, INC., et al., Defendants.


Kocoras


The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES P. KOCORAS

CHARLES P. KOCORAS, District Judge:

 This matter is before the Court on the plaintiff's petition for attorneys' fees and costs. The plaintiff, Lisa Altergott ("Altergott"), obtained a favorable ruling on summary judgment finding the defendant, Modern Collection Techniques, Inc. ("MCT"), liable under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act ("FDCPA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. Altergott now seeks attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the fee shifting provision of the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. 1692k(a)(3). Section 1692k(a)(3) authorizes recovery in "any successful action" of "the costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court." 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). We grant Altergott's motion for attorneys' fees and costs, subject to the adjustments noted below.

 BACKGROUND

 This petition for attorneys' fees and costs follows a June 22, 1994 ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment in which this court held the defendant, MCT, liable for violations of the FDCPA, 15 U.S.C. §§ 1692g and § 1692e(11). The facts of the underlying suit are as follows: In 1990, the plaintiff, Altergott, bought a car, and the car dealer placed a loan with First Midwest Bank. Altergott met this loan obligation for the first two years of the loan. In 1992, Altergott traded in the car to a used car dealer and did not pay off the loan. According to Altergott, the used car dealer was supposed to pay off the loan, but it failed to do so and declared bankruptcy. Eventually, the bank repossessed the car from the dealer and sold the car for a price less than the outstanding loan balance, resulting in a deficiency. The bank turned the collection of that sum over to the defendant, MCT.

 MCT sent four collection letters to Altergott between September, 1992 and April, 1993. Altergott did not file a written dispute of the claimed debt with MCT during this time. In April, 1993, the bank authorized MCT to file suit against Altergott, and MCT contacted attorneys who drafted a complaint. That complaint was never filed. In August, 1993, Altergott was released from the loan by the bank, in exchange for her agreement not to pursue the bank for allegedly improperly repossessing the car.

 Altergott, through her attorneys at Edelman & Combs, filed the instant lawsuit against MCT in July, 1993, alleging various violations of the FDCPA. The complaint set forth allegations about each of the four collection letters sent to Altergott and requested statutory damages, actual damages, and attorneys' fees and costs.

 On June 22, 1994, ruling on cross-motions for summary judgment, this court held that MCT was liable for violations of the FDCPA and awarded modified statutory damages of $ 300.00 to Altergott. Costs and attorneys' fees were to be requested by a separate motion. Altergott now petitions this court for attorneys' fees and costs incurred during the course of this litigation. Specifically, Altergott seeks $ 9308.25 in attorneys' fees and $ 431.00 in costs.

 DISCUSSION

 Where liability is found under the FDCPA, section 1692k(a)(3) allows the successful party to recover "the costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court." 15 U.S.C. 1692k(a)(3). The method for determining an appropriate fee award in such cases was set forth by the United States Supreme Court in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983). *fn1" Initially, the number of hours reasonably expended on the case is multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. Id. at 433. The resulting figure is referred to as the lodestar amount, and this may be adjusted upward or downward. Perez v. Perkiss, 742 F. Supp. 883, 888 (D.Del. 1990). The Seventh Circuit requires the District Court to subtract specific dollar amounts from the lodestar figure if it finds that downward adjustment is appropriate. Lynch v. Milwaukee, 747 F.2d 423, 428-29 (7th Cir. 1984). The plaintiff bears the burden of proving the fees sought are reasonable. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437. In the present case, Altergott received a judgment in which MCT was found liable under the FDCPA. As the successful party in the dispute, Altergott's attorneys are therefore entitled, under 15 U.S.C. 1692k(a)(3), to reasonable fees and costs.

 Edelman & Combs, the firm which represented Altergott in her dispute with MCT, is requesting an award of $ 9308.25 in attorneys' fees and an additional $ 431.00 in costs. The attorneys assert that this figure actually represents 3/4 of the time actually spent on the case. This is to reflect the fact that the court denied the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment as to the liability of one defendant.

 We will first examine the number of hours claimed by Altergott's attorneys. The total number of hours claimed by the attorneys at Edelman & Combs is 95.8. This total reflects hours worked by five people: one partner, two associates, and two legal assistants/law clerks.

 From the outset, we note that the time records submitted by Edelman & Combs contain numerous instances in which excessive time was used to perform a given task. In other instances, unnecessary duplication occurred. We will address several of these instances below.

 Daniel Edelman, a named partner, submitted time records asserting 6.0 hours spent on Altergott's case. His work on the case consisted of preparing the complaint and demand letters, preparing FDCPA discovery, and revising some papers for which his staff and associates billed an abundant amount of time. Edelman bills out at $ 275.00 per hour. We note that he has been practicing law since 1976 and is an attorney with considerable skill and experience in consumer cases like the one before us. See Declaration of Daniel A. Edelman, Appendix A, Plaintiff's Petition for Attorney Fees and Costs. While this skill and experience may justify his high hourly rates, it also makes the amount of time that Edelman spends on a ...


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