428 F.3d 536 (5th Cir. 2005), 05-20145, In re Cahill

Docket Nº:05-20145
Citation:428 F.3d 536
Party Name:In the Matter of Bobby CAHILL, Janice Cahill, Debtors. Walker & Patterson, P.C., Appellant.
Case Date:October 12, 2005
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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Page 536

428 F.3d 536 (5th Cir. 2005)

In the Matter of Bobby CAHILL, Janice Cahill, Debtors.

Walker & Patterson, P.C., Appellant.

No. 05-20145

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

Oct. 12, 2005

Page 537

Johnie Joe Patterson, II, Walker & Patterson, Houston, TX, for Appellant.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas.

Before KING, Chief Judge, and DAVIS and STEWART, Circuit Judges.

PER CURIAM:

Appellant law firm Walker & Patterson, P.C., represented debtors Bobby and Janice Cahill in a Chapter 13 bankruptcy proceeding. Walker & Patterson now appeals the district court's order affirming the bankruptcy court's award of reduced attorneys' fees in that proceeding. For the following reasons, we AFFIRM.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

On September 11, 2003, Walker & Patterson filed a Chapter 13 case on behalf of Bobby and Janice Cahill in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the Southern District of Texas. Walker & Patterson initially filed with the petition a Chapter 13 plan proposing sixty monthly payments of $226.34 to the trustee to pay three secured claims, two Internal Revenue Service priority claims, and $2500 of attorneys' fees. 1 The plan also allotted $382.53 to unsecured creditors (roughly a one-percent payment of the unsecured claims) and proposed that the Cahills continue to make monthly payments on their mobile home and on a fishing boat used purely for recreational purposes. After responding to motions from various creditors and moving to postpone

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the confirmation hearing, Walker & Patterson filed an amended plan that, among other things, increased the balance of attorneys' fees to be paid under the plan to $3000.

After the bankruptcy court confirmed the Cahills' amended Chapter 13 plan, Walker & Patterson filed a fee application together with contemporaneous time records. According to the time records, Walker & Patterson spent 13.20 attorney hours on the case, 2.05 paralegal hours, and $12.33 in out-of-pocket expenses. Based on its hourly rates, Walker & Patterson claimed a total amount of $3758.08.

Although no objection was filed to the fee request, the bankruptcy court sua sponte entered an order for a hearing on the request. After the hearing, the bankruptcy court found that Walker & Patterson's initial fee request was unreasonably high given that "[t]here was nothing terribly unusual about the case," and, "[i]f anything, the case appear[ed] to involve less activity than most." In re Cahill, Order Allowing Fees for Debtors' Counsel, No. 03-43024-H2-13, at 2 (Bankr.S.D.Tex. Sept. 19, 2004).

Applying the criteria for "reasonable compensation" enumerated in 11 U.S.C.§ 330(a)(3) (2000) and the factors set forth in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir.1974), the bankruptcy court awarded Walker & Patterson $1737 2 in attorneys' fees plus $12.33 in expenses based on the following findings: (1) the time spent by Walker & Patterson greatly exceeded that spent by other counsel in a typical Chapter 13 case, and in some cases Walker & Patterson's attorneys duplicated each other's efforts; (2) the rates that Walker & Patterson charged exceeded the reasonable and customary hourly rate for Chapter 13 practitioners in the area; (3) Walker & Patterson performed unnecessary work pertaining to the payment of a secured claim to keep a boat used solely for recreational purposes; (4) Walker & Patterson did not adequately prepare the case for the first confirmation hearing and did not perform its services in a particularly timely manner; (5) the proposed fee amount substantially exceeded the customary compensation for comparably skilled non-bankruptcy practitioners, and no adequate basis for a premium was shown; (6) the case was less novel, less complicated, and less undesirable than most; (7) the fee was not contingent; (8) neither the case nor the client imposed exceptional time constraints; (9) the attorney-client relationship was not a factor in this case; and (10) the typical attorneys' fee award in similar cases totaled $1737. The bankruptcy court determined that, given the totality of these findings, $1737 was a reasonable fee for a "typical" Chapter 13 proceeding such as this one. The bankruptcy court made this determination relying on the lodestar calculation in General Order 2004-5, "Order Regarding Chapter 13 Debtors' Counsel's Fees," U.S. Bankr.Ct. Rules S.D. Tex., 427-36 (as entered Apr. 14, 2004) (West 2005), a per curiam order setting forth standards to guide bankruptcy courts in awarding Chapter 13 attorneys' fees in "typical" cases. 3

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Walker & Patterson appealed the bankruptcy court's award of fees to the district court, contending that the bankruptcy court erred by relying on the General Order 2004-5 "typical case" lodestar calculation to determine the total fee awarded instead of using the traditional lodestar approach, and that Walker & Patterson should have received the full amount requested in its fee application. The district court affirmed the bankruptcy court's fee award. This appeal followed.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standards of Review

We review the district court's decision by applying the same standard of review to the bankruptcy court's conclusions of law and findings of fact that the district court applied. In re Jack/Wade Drilling, Inc., 258 F.3d 385, 387 (5th Cir.2001). We therefore review the...

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