Interpreting eleven (11) declarations from attorneys’ on both sides of the FDCPA bar, Magistrate Judge Beeler reduced the rates sought by the Plaintiff’s counsel in an FDCPA case in Bidwal v. Unifund Ccr, No. 3:17-cv-02699-LB, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 147004, at *17-23 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 27, 2019). The facts and outcome were summarized by the Court.
The plaintiff defaulted on a credit-card debt to Citibank and sued the defendants — who assumed the debt — based on their allegedly illegal attempts to collect the debt (allegedly by fraudulent service and an invalid default judgment and writ of execution), in violation of the federal Fair Debt Collections Practices Act (“FDCPA“) and California’s Rosenthal [*2] Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. By September 2018, the parties settled the case for $24,500, stipulated that the plaintiff was the prevailing party, and agreed that the court would decide a fees motion. The plaintiff asked for fees of $381,615 (for 288.6 hours worked by three attorneys for a total of $190,807.50 plus a 2.0 multiplier) and costs of $2,267.48. The defendants challenge the fees as unreasonable but do not challenge costs. The court awards $95,275 in reasonable fees and $2,267.48 in costs.
Magistrate Beeler reduced the rates sought by the Plaintiff’s counsel.
The plaintiff asks for the following hourly rates: $725 for Mr. Trueblood, $600 for Mr. Stempler, and $550 for Mr. Block. The defendants counter that the rates “should be awarded in the range of $350 per hour” and that — while Mr. Block should not receive any compensation at all — any award would be at “an hourly rate commensurate with other junior attorneys practicing in the Northern District.” The court awards $475 for Mr. Trueblood, $375 for Mr. Stempler, and $325 for Mr. Block. . . .In awarding fees, the court considers fee awards in similar cases involving similar work by comparable attorneys in the Northern District of California. The defendants cite FDCPA cases in the Northern District where courts have awarded hourly rates ranging from $250 to $600. See Forto v. Capital One Bank, N.A., No. 14-cv-05611-JD (MEJ), 2017 WL 4168529 (N.D. Cal Sept. 20, 2017) (hourly rate of $250 and $200 respectively to defense partner with 12 years’ experience and an experienced associate in a simple FDCPA/Rosenthal case involving a debt of approximately $3,000 where the plaintiff acted in bad faith and sought to harass the defendant; required the defendants to submit billing records); Jacobson v. Persolve, LLC, No. 14-cv-00735-LHK, 2016 WL 7230873 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 14, 2016) (hourly rates of $500 for attorney with 19 years’ experience and $600 for an attorney with 40 years’ experience in putative FDCPA and Rosenthal class action); Ng v. US Bank, N.A., No. 15-cv-04998-KAW, 2016 WL 7157760 (N.D. Cal Dec. 8, 2016) ($300 hourly rate to attorney with 20 years’ experience in a case alleging wrongful foreclosure, fraudulent concealment, and violations of the FDCPA, Truth in Lending Act, and UCL); Alvarado v. Hovg, LLC, No. 14-cv-02549-HSG, 2016 WL 5462429 (N.D. Cal. Sept. 29, 2016) (hourly rates of $450 and $400 in putative class action where the plaintiff settled for $43,000 for alleged TCPA and FDCPA violations); Jiang v. New Millennium Concepts, Inc., No. 15-cv-04722-JST, 2016 WL 3682474 (N.D. Cal. July 11, 2016) (hourly rate of $500 to experienced plaintiff’s attorney where the court entered a default judgment of $10,462.90 against the defendant [*20] for non-complex FDCPA and Rosenthal violations); Price-Pauline v. Performant Recovery, Inc., No. 14-cv-00850-JD, 2016 WL 310268 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 26, 2016) (hourly rate of $600 to attorney with 28 years’ experience, $500 to attorney with 20 years’ experience, and $375 to attorney with six years’ experience in case alleging violations of the FDCPA, Rosenthal Act, and California UCL where the plaintiff recovered $12,500); Martell v. Baker, No. 14-cv-04723-BLF, 2015 WL 3920056 (N.D. Cal. June 25, 2015) (hourly rate of $500 to attorney with 18 years’ experience in a non-complex FDCPA/Rosenthal case); Garcia v. Resurgent Capital Services, L.P., 2012 WL 3778852 (hourly rate of $400 to an attorney with 18 years’ experience in an individual FDCPA case that settled on the eve of trial); see also Garcia v. Stanley, No. 14-cv-01806-BLF, 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 32550 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 7, 2017) (hourly rates of $500 and $400 for co-counsel who had 19 and nine years’ experience respectively in a non-complex FDCPA/Rosenthal case). The court’s research revealed the following additional cases: Reenders v. Premier Recovery Grp., No. 18-cv-07761-PJH (JSC), 2019 WL 2583595 (N.D. Cal. May 7, 2019) (hourly rate of $225 to attorney with two years’ experience in a simple FDCPA case); Schuchardt v. Law Office of Rory W. Clark, No. 15-cv-01329-JSC, 314 F.R.D. 673, 689 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 28, 2016) (hourly rate of $350 for a senior associate and $400 for other experienced attorneys in a FDCPA class action settlement); [*21] Evans v. Creditor’s Specialty Service, Inc., No. 15-cv-03355-BLF, 2016 WL 730277 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 24, 2016) (hourly rate of $320 for attorney with almost 8 years’ experience in a simple FDCPA case); De Amaral v. Goldsmith & Hull, No. 12-cv-03580-WHO, 2014 WL 1309954 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 1, 2014) (hourly rates of $450 and $350 to experienced FDCPA attorneys in non-complex case where attorneys showed similar past awards in the district).
Applying these cases to this straightforward debt-collection case, the court sets Mr. Trueblood’s reasonable hourly rate at $475 for the following reasons, among others. First, as illustrated above, it is consistent with fee awards in this district in similar non-complex cases to attorneys of similar experience and expertise. Second, while rates for defense attorneys are somewhat informative, they are not rates for plaintiffs’ attorneys. See Santiago v. Equable Ascent Fin., No. C-11-3158-CRB, 2013 WL 3498079, at *3 (N.D. Cal. July 12, 2013) (while the court “does not doubt that the statements by these attorneys reflect their clients’ preferences, they have not addressed the reasonable assertion made by [the plaintiff] that the market for lawyers who represent plaintiffs in consumer actions, and often work on a contingency basis, demand a higher rate than what is appropriate for defense attorneys.”) [*22] (emphasis in the original); see also Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin’l, Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 981 (9th Cir. 2008) (“In order to encourage able counsel to undertake FDCPA cases, as Congress intended, it is necessary that counsel be awarded fees commensurate with those which they could obtain by taking other types of cases.”). Third, despite the expert declaration that hourly rates in northern and southern California are the same, Mr. Trueblood has not cited cases in this district except for an uncontested fees order in a class-action settlement, which is a different type of case. Moreover, the general proposition that rates are the same in law firms is unremarkable and not obviously applicable to non-complex FDCPA cases (or cases of similar complexity) presumably taken on a contingency basis. Fourth, when a plaintiff fails to meet its burden, the district court may place significant weight on its own knowledge of attorney’s fees in the relevant community. Ingram v. Oroudjiani, 647 F.3d 925, 928 (9th Cir. 2011). Given the cases and plaintiffs-side lawyers’ declarations, and the court’s own knowledge of fee awards in equivalent cases, see Camacho, 523 F.3d at 981, $475 is on the high side for this kind of case. (A higher hourly rate might be justifiable in a more complex case.) Applying the analysis to Mr. Stempler and Mr. Block results in hourly rates of $375 and $325, respectively.