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Plaintiffs awarded $33K in damages, $324K in fees

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//September 19, 2023

Plaintiffs awarded $33K in damages, $324K in fees

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//September 19, 2023//

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Where the plaintiffs’ attorneys sought $649,228.50 in attorney’s fees, but some of their fees were incurred for claims on which they did not prevail, and they only sought $32,966.49 in compensatory damages, the fee award was reduced to $323,625.38.

Background

Binta P. Mamadou and Visions Braid Bar LLC filed suit against the Bae defendants (Bae’s Woodberry LLC; Chan Hee Bae and Young Woo Bae) and the Shadetree defendants (Shadetree Management LLC, Ellen Kim and Stanley Kyungjin Cho). Plaintiffs alleged discrimination and tortious interference with prospective economic relations based on defendants’ alleged refusal to lease commercial property to plaintiffs on account of Mamadou’s race and West African ancestry. On Nov. 6, 2020, the court granted summary judgment in favor of the Bae defendants, leaving only the Shadetree defendants remaining in the case.

On Feb. 19, 2021, plaintiffs moved for default judgment as to liability against the Shadetree defendants. The magistrate judge then recommended default judgment be entered against the Shadetree defendants as to Counts One and Two but limited its recommendation to those two “discrimination counts in violation of federal law because they are central allegations in this matter, and the facts alleged support a finding of liability.”

The court thereafter entered judgment against the Shadetree defendants as to their liability on Counts One and Two. Default was not, and has not, been entered against the Shadetree defendants on the remaining Counts Three-Five.

Plaintiffs later moved for a default judgment as to damages, attorney’s fees and costs against the Shadetree defendants. The magistrate judge ultimately recommended granting the motion and awarding in full the requested $32,966.49 in compensatory damages, $10,099.43 in costs and $649,228.50 in attorney’s fees.

On June 6, 2023, the court ordered plaintiffs to advise on their position as to how the case should proceed with respect to the outstanding Counts Three-Five. Plaintiffs proposed “to withdraw Counts III through V in the Complaint so long as doing so does not affect their right to full recovery as recommended by Magistrate Judge Davis.”

Remaining counts

The court will dismiss Counts Three-Five because the allegations supporting Counts One and Two largely mirror those required to support the other three counts, and whether default judgment is entered on the three remaining counts would not alter the court’s findings with respect to compensatory damages because plaintiffs sought damages jointly on all counts based on the evidence proffered. Additionally, the court would decline to award attorney’s fees for any work performed in furtherance of Counts Three-Five at this stage of the litigation.

Damages and costs

Having conducted a de novo review of the record, the court adopts and incorporates the findings and recommendations of the magistrate judge in full with respect to the award of $32,966.49 in compensatory damages and $10,099.43 in costs.

Attorneys’ fees

Warren T. Allen II and Ray D. McKenzie collectively billed 961.8 hours at $675 per hour, equating to a lodestar of $649,228.50 after they applied certain deductions. Allen and McKenzie purported to not request fees related to work performed only with respect to the dismissed Bae defendants; however, they seem to have missed certain line items.

Additionally, the court finds the deductions insufficient insofar as work was performed as to both the Bae and Shadetree defendants. Simply put, the court will not permit plaintiffs to recover attorney’s fees in full with respect to work performed, even partially, as to defendants that were awarded summary judgment in their favor.

Accordingly, the court will reduce line items in the fee request by half where it is either clear that the work applied to both sets of defendants, or where the billing descriptions are insufficient for the court to determine how to attribute the work performed. Ultimately, after applying the aforementioned reductions, the court finds the lodestar amount to be $431,500.50.

After consideration of the relevant factors, the court finds that while certain factors pull in different directions, the most important factor – the results obtained – weighs heavily in favor of an award below the revised lodestar amount. In their motion for default judgment as to damages, plaintiffs sought only $32,966.49 in compensatory damages. This can hardly be described as a particularly favorable result for the purposes of seeking twenty times as much in attorney’s fees. Accordingly, the court will apply a 25 percent reduction to the revised lodestar and award $323,625.38 in attorney’s fees.

Counts Three-Five in the Amended Complaint are dismissed. Report and Recommendation adopted in part. Plaintiffs’ motion for a default judgment as to damages, attorney’s fees and costs granted in part, denied in part.

Mamadou v. Cho, Case No. 1:20-cv-146, Aug. 30, 2023. EDVA at Alexandria (Trenga). VLW 023-3-525. 41 pp.

VLW 023-3-525

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