United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
JONATHAN R. BURRS, Plaintiff,
UNITED TECHNOLOGIES CORPORATION and WALTER KIDDE PORTABLE EQUIPMENT, INC., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CATHERINE C. EAGLES, DISTRICT JUDGE.
Court by previous order dismissed this case--the third Mr.
Burrs brought against his former employer, defendant Walter
Kidde Portable Equipment, Inc.--on claim preclusion grounds,
Docs. 23, 24, and found that a sanction of attorney's
fees was appropriate under Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure. Doc. 33 at 10-11, 16-17. The Court
authorized the defendants to submit evidence as to those
fees, which the defendants have done. Doc. 34. Mr. Burrs had
an opportunity to object to the amount of the requested fees,
Doc. 33 at 16-17, and he has not done so. The Court finds
that the hours incurred by defense counsel were reasonable,
but will reduce the hourly rates requested, as described
below, and will enter judgment in the defendants' favor
in the sum of $25, 065.08.
speaks in terms of an “appropriate sanction” and
specifically authorizes “reasonable attorney's fees
and other expenses directly resulting from the
violation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(1), (4). What
constitutes a “reasonable” fee in the context of
Rule 11 “must be considered in relation with the
Rule's goals of deterrence, punishment, and compensation,
” and “‘reasonable' does not
necessarily mean actual expenses and attorney's
fees.” Fahrenz v. Meadow Farm P'ship, 850
F.2d 207, 211 (4th Cir. 1988).
the lodestar method, see In Re Kunstler, 914 F.2d
505, 523 (4th Cir. 1990), the Court finds that the time
incurred by defense counsel was reasonable. It appears that
almost all work was done by Mr. Reynolds, see Doc.
34-2, who is listed as “counsel.” Id. at
14. A partner, Mr. Briggs, oversaw the matter but spent very
little time on the case. Id. Thus, the record
indicates that the defendants appropriately staffed the
matter. The time sheets submitted show that only reasonable
tasks were undertaken, that all time was related to the
frivolous claims brought by Mr. Burrs, and that the amount of
time spent on the tasks was reasonable.
Briggs charged an hourly rate of $585 and Mr. Reynolds
charged $275 an hour. Doc. 34-2 at 3, 6, 14, 17. The record
establishes that the hourly rates charged were reasonable for
the Atlanta area, see Doc. 34-1 at ¶ 7, but the
relevant market is the Middle District of North Carolina.
See Design Res., Inc. v. Leather Indus. of Am., No.
1:10CV157, 2016 WL 5477611, at *9-10, 13 (M.D. N.C. Sept. 29,
2016) (explaining that the correct manner of proving
reasonable hourly rates is with affidavits of local lawyers
who are familiar with the skill of the fee applicants and
with the type of work in the relevant community). The burden
is on the movant to show that a fee request is reasonable,
Morris v. Wachovia Sec., Inc., 448 F.3d 268, 284
(4th Cir. 2006), and counsel's own averment as to the
reasonableness of an hourly rate in Atlanta, Georgia, is not
sufficient to establish a reasonably hourly rate in the
Middle District of North Carolina, which is the
“relevant legal community.” Certain v.
Potter, 330 F.Supp.2d 576, 589 (M.D. N.C. 2004);
accord Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560
F.3d 235, 244 (4th Cir. 2009); Morris v. Lowe's Home
Ctrs., Inc., No. 1:10CV388, 2012 WL 5338577, at *4 (M.D.
N.C. Oct. 30, 2012) (Mag. J., memorandum opinion and order).
the absence of specific evidence regarding the prevailing
market rate, the Court may establish a reasonable rate based
upon its own knowledge and experience of the relevant
market.” Irwin Indus. Tool Co. v. Worthington
Cylinders Wis., LLC, 747 F.Supp.2d 568, 593 (W.D. N.C.
2010); accord Morris, 2012 WL 5338577, at *5. In
2012, a Magistrate Judge in this District surveyed
attorney's fee awards in the three judicial districts in
this state and concluded in an employment discrimination case
that $350 an hour was reasonable for a partner's time and
$190 an hour was reasonable for an associate's time.
Morris, 2012 WL 5338577, at *5.
in Morris, 2012 WL 5338577 at *3-4, the evidence
here indicates that the partner involved had relatively
little responsibility and that the brunt of the work was
done, and responsibility assumed, by Mr. Reynolds. It is the
Court's experience and recent cases in nearby districts
reflect, that hourly rates in this market have risen since
2012, when rates were depressed by the recent financial
downtown. Compare Morris, 2012 WL 5338577 at *5,
with Triplett v. N.C. Dep't of Pub. Safety, No.
515-CV-00075-RLV-DCK, 2017 WL 3840422, at *2 (W.D. N.C. Sept.
1, 2017) (approving a $400 hourly rate), and Taylor v.
N.C. Dep't of Revenue, No. 3:12-CV-00860-MOC-DSC,
2015 WL 4093828, at *3 (W.D. N.C. July 7, 2015) (approving
hourly rates of $175 to $385 an hour based on experience). In
light of these factors, the Court will adopt a slightly
higher hourly rate than that approved by the Magistrate Judge
in 2012 for an associate's time.
Court will therefore approve Mr. Reynolds' time at an
hourly rate of $220 and Mr. Briggs' time at an hourly
rate of $350. Multiplied by the reasonable time spent on the
case as reflected in the record, the amount of reasonable
attorney's fees comes to $25, 013, plus costs of $52.08,
for a total of $25, 065.08.
amount also matches up well with Rule 11's goals of
deterrence and punishment. In re Kunstler, 914 F.2d
at 522. As previously explained, Mr. Burrs' conduct was
egregious, and he had several opportunities to withdraw his
case before the Court imposed sanctions. See Doc. 33
at 3-4, 8. Each failure to withdraw increased the
defendants' fees and costs. Two previous monetary
sanctions, one of $2, 350 in expenses and attorney's fees
and another of $1, 535.75 in costs, did not deter Mr. Burrs.
See Text Order 12/14/2017, Burrs v. Walter Kidde
Portable Equip., Inc., No. 16-CV-1149 (Burrs
II); Bill of Costs, Burrs II, No. 16-CV-1149,
Doc. 67 (May 3, 2018). Mr. Burrs has made no showing about
his financial circumstances, and there is nothing to indicate
that he does not have the ability to pay the attorney's
fees the defendants incurred because of Mr. Burrs' bad
faith litigation. Therefore, a significant monetary sanction
is appropriate. See In re Kunstler, 914 F.2d at 523
(listing factors to consider in determining the amount of an
attorney's fee sanction).
ORDERED that the defendants, United
Technologies Corporation and Walter Kidde Portable Equipment,
Inc., are entitled to recover and shall recover $25, 065.08
in attorney's fees and costs from the plaintiff, Jonathan