Saxerud v. T-H Prof'l & Med. Collections, 4:20-CV-00683-JAR

CourtUnited States District Courts. 8th Circuit. United States District Court (Eastern District of Missouri)
Decision Date09 November 2021
Docket Number4:20-CV-00683-JAR



No. 4:20-CV-00683-JAR

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

November 9, 2021



This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Sierra Saxerud's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs. (Doc. 63). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. For the reasons discussed below, the motion will be granted in part.


On April 23, 2020, Plaintiff Sierra Saxerud filed a complaint in Missouri state court alleging that Defendant T-H Professional & Medical Collections, Ltd. violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1692 et seq. (“FDCPA”). (Doc. 4). Plaintiff claimed that Defendant called her in late November or early December 2019 concerning a debt owed to Central Illinois Radiological Associates (“CIRA”). (Doc. 4 at ¶ 6). Plaintiff primarily alleged that Defendant violated the FDCPA by falsely stating that her debt to CIRA had “hit the credit bureaus.” (Id. at ¶ 17). Defendant removed the action to this Court on May 22, 2020. (Doc. 1).

This Court held a short jury trial beginning August 30, 2021. The parties finished presenting evidence by the end of that day and returned on August 31, 2021 to deliver closing arguments. The jury deliberated for slightly more than one hour before returning a verdict in favor


of Plaintiff. The jury awarded Plaintiff $0 in actual damages and $200 in statutory damages. (Docs. 55, 56, 61). Plaintiff now seeks $30, 205.00 in attorneys' fees and $1, 700.65 in costs pursuant to 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). (Doc. 63). Defendant responds that Plaintiff is not entitled to any fees or costs considering its de minimis victory or, alternatively, the Court should substantially reduce the proposed fee award. (Docs. 65, 66).[1]


Under the FDCPA, a debt collector must pay costs and reasonable attorneys' fees to a successful plaintiff. 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3) (“[I]n the case of any successful action to enforce the foregoing liability, ” the debt collector is liable to the plaintiff for “the costs of the action, together with a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the court.”). “Where a debtor brings a successful action against a debt collector for violations of the FDCPA, an award of attorney's fees is mandatory.” Kramer & Frank, P.C. v. Wibbenmeyer, No. 4:05-CV-2395 RWS, 2008 WL 11390852, at *2 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 13, 2008) (emphasis in original). If the plaintiff brings a successful action, the “starting point in determining attorney fees is the lodestar, which is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by the reasonable hourly rates.” Fish v. St. Cloud State Univ., 295 F.3d 849, 851 (8th Cir. 2002) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). As discussed further below, the Court may adjust the lodestar figure after considering twelve factors set out in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974) (limited by Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87 (1989)). See also Winter v. Cerro Gordo Cty. Conservation Bd., 925 F.2d 1069, 1074 n.9 (8th Cir. 1991).



De Minimis Victory

The jury awarded Plaintiff $0 in compensatory damages and $200 in statutory damages. Defendant contends that Plaintiff is not entitled to attorneys' fees for this de minimis victory. There is a “split among circuit courts as to what constitutes a ‘successful action' for purposes of awarding attorney fees under the FDCPA.” Schultz v. Sw. Credit Control Sys., LP, No. 16-CV-2033-LRR, 2018 WL 9988204, at *2 (N.D. Iowa May 14, 2018) (citations omitted); see also Jerman v. Carlisle, McNellie, Rini, Kramer & Ulrich LPA, 559 U.S. 573, 598 n.16 (2010) (“Lower courts have taken different views about when, and whether, § 1692k requires an award of attorney's fees.”). Certain courts have found that a technical violation of the FDCPA mandates a fee award even where the plaintiff has not obtained any actual or statutory damages. See, e.g., Emanuel v. Am. Credit Exch., 870 F.2d 805, 809 (2d Cir. 1989). Other courts have held that a “successful action” necessarily requires an award of compensatory or statutory damages. See, e.g., Dechert v. Cadle Co., 441 F.3d 474, 475 (7th Cir. 2006) (“The plaintiff was entitled to an award of fees and costs only if his suit could be characterized as a successful action . . ., meaning liability for either actual or statutory damages.”).

While it appears the Eighth Circuit has not addressed this particular issue, the Court finds that Plaintiff brought a “successful action” against Defendant under any court of appeals' interpretation of the phrase. The jury awarded Plaintiff $200 in statutory damages after finding Defendant violated the FDCPA. See Schultz, 2018 WL 9988204, at *2 (emphasis added) (“The plain language of the statute requires the conclusion that a plaintiff must be awarded actual or statutory damages in order to be entitled to costs or attorney fees.”). The gap between Plaintiff's recovery and the fee award sought does not affect this Court's determination of whether Plaintiff


brought a successful action. As courts in this circuit have noted, “the amount of attorneys' fees is often higher than the underlying damages recovered by the plaintiff” in consumer protection cases. Pineda v. P&B Cap. Grp., LLC, No. 4:11-503-CV-DGK, 2011 WL 6356866, at *2 (W.D. Mo. Dec. 19, 2011) (declining to reduce fee award where plaintiff only obtained $301 in damages).

Declining to award attorneys' fees where Plaintiff has obtained a favorable verdict and statutory damages would be contrary to the FDCPA's objectives of “eliminat[ing] abusive practices by debt collectors . . . and [] promot[ing] consistent State action to protect consumers against debt collection practices.” Harstad v. L.C. Sys., No. Civ. 12-1712 RHK/AJB, 2013 WL 1136579, at *2 (D. Minn. Jan. 29, 2013) (citation omitted); see also Phenow v. Johnson, Rodenberg & Lauinger, PLLP, 766 F.Supp.2d 955, 959 (D. Minn. 2011) (“[C]onsumer-protection statutes, including the FDCPA . . . are designed to make it possible for consumers to prosecute violations of the law and thus incentivize defendants to behave in a way that does not violate consumers' legitimate interests.”); Egge v. Healthspan Servs. Co., 208 F.R.D. 265, 272 (D. Minn. 2002) (citation omitted) (“Congress intended the ‘private attorney general' enforcement of the FDCPA to facilitate the deterrent and curative effect of eliminating abusive collection practices.”). The relatively modest nature of Plaintiff's victory is relevant to the reasonableness of the fee request sought, not whether she has brought a successful action under the FDCPA. See Jerman, 559 U.S. at 597-99 (“[T]he FDCPA contains several provisions that expressly guard against abusive lawsuits” and “courts have discretion in calculating reasonable attorney's fees under this statute.”).

Applying the Lodestar Method

The “starting point in determining attorney fees is the lodestar, which is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by the reasonable hourly rates.” Fish, 295 F.3d at 851


(citation omitted). Plaintiff's counsel has submitted an invoice containing detailed information regarding 86.3 hours spent litigating this case. (Doc. 64-1 at 4-9). Multiplying these hours by the proposed rate of $350 per hour, Plaintiff seeks $30, 205 in fees. Defendant has not challenged the reasonableness of the hourly rate but contends that 41.6 of the hours were unnecessary and excessive. (Doc. 65...

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