• November 14, 2012

The bell rings for round one.  A seasoned fighter leaves his corner and stands over the prostrate body of his opponent, down for the count before the first punch is thrown.  What should be “the purse” for such a bout?

When one sues an opponent who rolls over and does not even put up a fight, surely one is not entitled to $7,470.40 in legal fees and costs, right?  Particularly if it is a “cookie-cutter” complaint in a garden variety FDCPA case.

In essence, that’s what Sr. U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson (D. Minn.) decided in the case brought by Thomas J. Lyons for Alex Peterson.  Lyons brought a claim under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act for Peterson.  The adversary, in a cry from the heart, admitted liability and lamented “pro se” to the Court that he could not settle because Lyons’ claimed attorneys’ fees were too punishing for the small debt collector defendant.  How could there be such legal fees before the case was even litigated?

The small debt collector’s lament apparently did not fall on deaf ears.

[T]he amount of attorney’s fees Plaintiff claims are patently unreasonable. Plaintiff claims that attorney Tommy Lyons spent more than 14 hours on this case. But Mr. Lyons did not draft the Complaint; his associate Andrea Weber did that, in a single hour. Nor did Mr. Lyons draft the Motion for Default. Again, Ms. Weber drafted that Motion in an hour. Mr. Lyons proactively billed 2.5 hours (at $375 per hour) for his appearance at the default hearing, but he did not appear at that hearing. It is difficult to determine from the billing records what exactly Mr. Lyons’s role…

Lyons, undeterred, brought a motion to alter or amend the judgment to be awarded more legal fees.  Judge Magnuson pointed out:

[Lyons] rather vehemently argues that the Court mis-read his time records, a rather ironic argument given that the Court requested additional documentation regarding attorney’s fees and counsel responded that the documentation submitted with the Motion for Default was sufficient.

This lawsuit’s allegations are thin, the Complaint is boilerplate, and there was no discovery or any motion practice save the default judgment. And even that motion was forthcoming only after Magistrate Judge Keyes insisted that Plaintiff file applications for default. Plaintiff is clearly not entitled to the full amount of attorney’s fees he seeks.

One should not recover anything more than minimal attorneys’ fees for doing battle against someone who has surrendered before the first shot is fired.  To rule otherwise would simply burden courts with uncontested disputes, only disputed because one side thinks it deserves a windfall…just because…

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