Continental Cas. Co. v. Assicurazioni Generali, SPA, Civ. A. No. 6:94-0627.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. Southern District of West Virginia
Citation903 F. Supp. 990
Decision Date13 November 1995
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 6:94-0627.

Stephen M. Fowler, Cleek, Pullin, Knopf & Fowler, Charleston, WV, for plaintiff.

Daniel A. Ruley, Jr., Ruley & Everett, Parkersburg, WV, for defendant.


HADEN, Chief Judge.

Pending is Defendant's motion for an award of attorney fees and costs. Plaintiff filed this declaratory judgment action seeking a determination of which party was legally responsible for providing insurance coverage for a tractor trailer-automobile accident that occurred on June 1, 1993. After the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment, this Court, by Memorandum Opinion and Order entered April 25, 1995, granted declaratory judgment in favor of the Defendant and ordered the Plaintiff to provide primary insurance coverage. Defendant moved for attorney fees and costs on July 26, 1995. This action was brought pursuant to the Court's diversity jurisdiction. 28 U.S.C. § 1332 (1988).1

Plaintiff does not dispute the availability or reasonableness of the costs and fees requested by Defendant.2 Rather, Plaintiff asserts only Defendant's motion is untimely under Rule 54(d)(2)(B), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 54(d)(2)(B) provides, in pertinent part, "unless otherwise provided by statute or order of the court, the motion for attorney fees must be filed and served no later than 14 days after entry of judgment." Id.; see K.R. by M.R. v. Anderson Community Sch. Corp., 887 F.Supp. 1217, 1229 (S.D.Ind.1995); Vitug v. Multistate Tax Comm'n, 883 F.Supp. 215, 218 (N.D.Ill.1995); Ventana Investments v. 909 Corp., 879 F.Supp. 676, 677 (E.D.Tex.1995). Defendant's motion was filed well after the expiration of the fourteen-day period contained in Rule 54(d)(2)(B). This apparent untimeliness, however, is not necessarily dispositive of Defendant's entitlement to reimbursement. Rather, the Court must determine whether a statute trumps the otherwise applicable procedural rule.

Rule 54(d)(2)(B) and its fourteen-day deadline apply only when an alternative time is not "otherwise provided by statute." F.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2)(B). Defendant asserts 28 U.S.C. § 2202 controls here. Section 2202 is part of the Federal Declaratory Judgment Act and provides as follows: "Further necessary or proper relief based on a declaratory judgment or decree may be granted, after reasonable notice and hearing, against any adverse party whose rights have been determined by such judgment." Id.

District courts typically rely on § 2202 as a vehicle for modifying or granting relief in addition to the initial relief awarded by the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201(a).3 Section 2202 thus accords a district court some measure of flexibility to enter subsequent orders to effectuate the intent of an earlier § 2201(a) judgment. See, e.g., Burford Eqpt. Co., Inc. v. Centennial Ins. Co., 857 F.Supp. 1499, 1502 (M.D.Ala.1994). Further, the provision "has been interpreted as providing for `supplemental' relief which may be granted in a proceeding even subsequent to the original declaratory judgment." Horn & Hardart Co. v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 659 F.Supp. 1258, 1261 (D.D.C.1987), aff'd, 843 F.2d 546 (D.C.Cir.), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 849, 109 S.Ct. 129, 102 L.Ed.2d 102 (1988) (emphasis added). At least one court has commented on the "broad authority" conferred on the district court by § 2202. Gant v. Grand Lodge of Texas, 12 F.3d 998, 1003 (10th Cir.1993), cert. denied, ___ U.S. ___, 114 S.Ct. 1834, 128 L.Ed.2d 462 (1994).

Specifically, § 2202 has been used to recover attorney fees after a § 2201(a) action has concluded where the state law governing the action, or some other independent basis, allows for such fees.4 Gant, 12 F.3d at 1003; Mercantile Nat. Bank v. Bradford Trust Co., 850 F.2d 215, 218 (5th Cir. 1988); Iowa Mut. Ins. Co. v. Davis, 689 F.Supp. 1028, 1029 (D.Mont.1988); Omaha Indemnity Ins. Co. v. Cardon Oil Co., 687 F.Supp. 502, 503-04 (N.D.Cal.1988), aff'd, 902 F.2d 40 (1990); Horn, 659 F.Supp. at 1268-69; Western World Ins. Co., Inc. v. Harford Mut. Ins. Co., 602 F.Supp. 36, 37 (D.Md. 1985), aff'd in part, rev'd in part on other grounds, 784 F.2d 558 (4th Cir.1986); National Indemnity Co. v. Harper, 295 F.Supp. 749, 757 (W.D.Mo.1969); see 10 George L. Bounds et al., Federal Procedure Declaratory Judgments §§ 23:64, 23:77 (1994).

The time in which one may seek further relief under § 2202 is quite flexible. The statute itself imposes no outer limit, requiring only that relief be sought "after reasonable notice."5 Both courts and commentators have generously construed this open-ended provision. See, e.g., Omaha Indemnity, 687 F.Supp. at 503 (stating "the court may grant relief under section 2202 `long after the declaratory judgment has been entered, provided that the party seeking relief is not barred by laches'."); Horn, 659 F.Supp. at 1263 (stating "a petition for further relief can be brought so long as the petitioner is not barred by laches" and holding a request for further relief "filed less than two months after the decision of the Court of Appeals affirming the court's prior decision ... was undoubtedly timely."); 10A Charles A. Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2771 (2d ed. 1983) (same). There is a dearth of authority, however, on whether a movant can utilize § 2202 to recover attorney fees after the period set forth in Rule 54(d)(2)(B) has elapsed.6

Several factors militate in favor of construing § 2202 as a statutory override to Rule 54(d)(2)(B). First, § 2202 uniformly has been interpreted as permitting further relief long after the original declaratory judgment was granted and such further "relief" has been held to include requests for attorney fees within its scope. Thus, construing § 2202 as an exception to the fourteen-day filing period would be consistent with settled precedent.

Second, the "otherwise provided by statute" phraseology utilized by the drafters of Rule 54(d)(2)(B) is quite broad. The Rule does not require any otherwise providing statute contain an alternative specific period of time within which to file the petition for attorney fees.7

Third, other courts have refused to hold § 2202 requests subject to particular deadlines set forth in other provisions of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See, e.g., Omaha Indemnity, 687 F.Supp. at 503 (holding a request for relief under § 2202 was not barred when made after the ten-day period set forth in Rule 59(e), Federal Rules of Civil Procedure). For these reasons and others, the Court concludes § 2202 is a statutory override to Rule 54(d)(2)(B).8 The Court further concludes Defendant (1) has given Plaintiff reasonable notice of the reimbursement request under § 2202; and (2) is not barred by laches from seeking relief under § 2202.

Defendant seeks both the fees and costs of defending the insured in state court and of prosecuting the federal declaratory judgment action. Given Plaintiff has not challenged the reasonableness of the fees and costs requested by Defendant, the issue need not long detain the Court. In determining the reasonable amount of fees Defendant is entitled to, the Court is guided by the twelve-factors set forth in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir.1974). See, e.g., Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 n. 9, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1940 n. 9, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983); Trimper v. City of Norfolk, 58 F.3d 68, 73 (4th Cir.1995); Daly v. Hill, 790 F.2d 1071, 1077 (4th Cir.1986).9 These factors are used to initially calculate the reasonable hourly rate and the reasonable number of hours expended by counsel. Trimper, 58 F.3d at 73. The resulting product or "lodestar" fee obtained by multiplying these two figures is presumed to be fully compensatory. Id. at 73-74.

While the Court considers equally all of the Johnson factors, factors one, two, three, five, eight and nine have particular application in this case. Regarding the first and fifth factors, the Court has reviewed the time expended and the requested hourly rate, as evidenced by the affidavit and supporting documentation submitted by Defendant's counsel.10 The rate requested and the hours listed appear neither exorbitant nor unreasonable compared with similar litigation presided over by the Court. On factors two and three, the novelty of the issues and the skill required to pursue the case, Plaintiff concedes the declaratory judgment action "involved a novel issue of law."

Next, the Court looks to perhaps the most important factor — the results obtained by counsel. See Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, ___, 113 S.Ct. 566, 574, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992) (stating "`the most critical factor' in determining the reasonableness of a fee award `is the degree of success obtained.'"). The Court previously granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiff's case. Defendant thus prevailed completely. As for the ninth factor, the experience, reputation and ability of the attorney involved, defense counsel is well respected, has practiced in the State of West Virginia for over forty years, and is now associated with one of the State's largest law firms.

Given these considerations, and after carefully reviewing the remaining Johnson factors, the Court concludes the requested hourly rates and the time expended by counsel are reasonable. Accordingly, counsel is entitled to $10,508.75 in attorney fees and $747.95 in costs.11

1 28 U.S.C. § 1332 states, in pertinent part:

(a) The district courts shall have original jurisdiction of all civil actions where the matter in controversy exceeds the sum or value of $50,000, exclusive of interest and costs, and is between —

(1) citizens of different States;

(2) citizens of a State and citizens or subjects of a foreign state;

(3) citizens of different States and in which citizens...

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