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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Toufighjou v Tritschler, 2016 WL 6122465 (M.D. Florida, 2016)[Canada] [Attorneys’ fees, Costs, and Expenses]

           In Toufighjou v Tritschler, 2016 WL 6122465 (M.D. Florida, 2016) the Magistrate Judge recommended that Plaintiffs motion for attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses under 22 U.S.C. § 9007(b)(3) be granted in part. Plaintiff incurred $16,675 in legal fees for 44.33 hours expended by Mr. Arenstein, at $600 per hour, and Mr. Min, at $300 per hour. This included costs of $2,155.07, which included expenses for airline, transportation, and lodging incurred by counsel, to attend the hearing ($1,343.83); costs for the filing fee ($400); the special admission fee for Mr. Min to appear pro hac vice ($150); the attorney admission fee for Mr. Arenstein to practice in the Middle District of Florida ($191); the fee for a certificate of good standing for Mr. Arenstein ($18).  The Magistrate found that  the documented hours were necessarily expended and related to the return of A.R.T. Additionally the costs incurred for travel and lodging constituted necessary expenses. The Magistrate also found that $4,564 in legal fees for 12.40 hours expended by Ms. Kay, at $350 per hour, and 1.60 hours expended by a paralegal at $140 per hour, as well as $1,225 in costs, which included the filing fee ($400) and the fee for a transcript of the evidentiary hearing ($825) were necessarily expended during the action and related to the return of A.R.T. Plaintiff was also entitled to recover $400 for the filing fee and costs are recoverable as fees of the clerk under 28 U.S.C. § 1920(1)   Additionally, Plaintiff was entitled to  recover  the costs incurred for airfare, car rental, and parking related to traveling to Florida to attend the evidentiary hearing and returning A.R.T. to Canada. However, the costs incurred for meals while in Florida were not recoverable, as those costs were not related to the return of A.R.T. Plaintiff’s total allowable expenses amounted to $4,732.02.

  The Magistrate rejected defendants argument that she was justified in removing her daughter to Florida, as having no bearing on the propriety of Plaintiff’s claimed expenses. The Court rejected defendants argument that plaintiff’s representation was excessive in light of the straightforward nature of the claims at issue. Defendant did not argue the reasonableness of the rates or hours for Plaintiff’s counsel, only that Plaintiff had too many lawyers because “[o]ne attorney would have been sufficient.” The Magistrate Judge indicated that the cases hold that there is nothing inherently unreasonable about a client having multiple attorneys, and they may all be compensated if they are not unreasonably doing the same work and are being compensated for the distinct contribution of each lawyer. An award for time spent by two or more attorneys is proper as long as it reflects the distinct contribution of each lawyer to the case and the customary practice of multiple-lawyer litigation. The billing records indicated that the hours requested reflected the distinct contribution of each attorney. 

          However, the Court found merit to defendants argument that she had no financial means to pay the requested fees. In cases arising under ICARA, the court may reduce a fee award based on the respondent’s financial situation and resulting inability to pay. E.g., Souratgar v. Lee Jen Fair, 818 F.3d 72, 81 (2d Cir. 2016). Defendant averred  that she was a stay-at-home mother during her marriage and received no spousal or child support from Plaintiff, from whom she had recently divorced, leaving her without assets or income to pay the requested fees.  In light of this the  Court found that a reduction was warranted to account for Defendant’s straitened financial circumstances. Plaintiff’s attorneys’ fees were therefore reduced by 25%, for a total award of $15,554.25 in attorneys’ fees; $1,584 in costs; $4,732.02 in expenses for Plaintiff; and $1,343.83 in expenses for Plaintiff’s counsel, for a total award of $23,214.10.