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Matthews v. E.I. Du Pont De Nemours and Co.

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 13, 2018

E.I. du PONT de NEMOURS AND COMPANY, a Delaware Corporation; Defendant.


         Currently pending before the court are cross-motions for attorneys' fees and costs filed by Plaintiff Mark Matthews and Defendant E.I. duPont de Nemours and Company ("DuPont"). (D.I. 84; D.I. 95). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs motion is granted in part and denied in part, and DuPont's motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Plaintiff filed his initial complaint in this action on December 2, 2014 and an amended complaint on April 21, 2015. (D.I. 1; D.I. 19). The amended complaint asserted four counts against Defendants DuPont and Hewitt Associates, LLC (collectively, "Defendants"). (D.I. 19 at ¶¶ 49-68). Count I sought a recovery of Plan benefits under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), codified at 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). (Id.). Count II sought a tax "gross-up" for any Plan benefits recovered. (Id.). Count III alleged that Defendants breached a fiduciary duty by making material misrepresentations. (Id.). And Count IV alleged that Defendants should be equitably estopped based on the same misrepresentations. (Id.).

         On September 4, 2015, Plaintiff moved for summary judgment on Count I to recover Plan benefits. (D.I. 36). In support of his motion, Plaintiff argued that: (1) Defendants incorrectly calculated the offset from Plaintiffs Qualified Domestic Relations Order ("QDRO"); (2) Defendants incorrectly calculated Plaintiffs partial years of service by assuming there were 30 days in each calendar month and 360 days in a calendar year; and (3) Defendants incorrectly calculated Plaintiffs Primary Social Security Benefit ("PSSB") by excluding any social security earnings from 1966 to 1973, when Plaintiff did not work at DuPont. (D.I. 37 at 12-20; D.I. 47 at 1-3). In his reply brief, Plaintiff raised an additional argument regarding the PSSB calculation: that Dupont improperly excluded his social security earnings from 2013. (D.I. 47 at 2).

         The court treated Plaintiffs motion as a cross-motion for summary judgment and granted partial summary judgment in Defendants' favor on Count I. Specifically, Hewitt won on all three arguments, because Plaintiff could not recover any benefits from Hewitt as a matter of law. (D.I. 47 at 6; D.I. 48). DuPont won on all three arguments under Count I, except the part of the PSSB argument related to Plaintiffs social security earnings from 2013. (D.I. 47; D.I. 48). For the argument related to the 2013 earnings, the court instead ordered that the parties provide further information. (D.I. 48). Plaintiff subsequently notified the court that he would not further pursue the dispute over the 2013 earnings, because it was "de minimis." (D.I. 51). Thus, judgment for Defendants on Count I could be entered when the court issued its ruling on the remaining counts. (Id.). After a bench trial, the court issued an opinion on June 28, 2016, finding in favor of Defendants on Counts II, III, and IV. (D.I. 63). Judgment was entered that same day. (D.I. 64).

         On July 26, 2016, Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal with the Third Circuit. (D.I. 65). Plaintiffs appeal encompassed only one sub-issue of Count I: the court's summary judgment decision regarding the QDRO. (See Appellant's Opening Brief Nov. 7, 2016 at p.2). On March 16, 2017, the Third Circuit agreed with Plaintiff on the QDRO issue and reversed the judgment as to DuPont on Count I. See Matthews v. E.I. DuPont De Nemours & Co., 682 Fed.Appx. 148, 150 (3d Cir. 2017). The parties agree that, as a result, Plaintiff is entitled to past due benefits in the amount of $9, 170.00. (D.I. 105). On March 30, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Motion and Application for an Award of Attorney's Fees with the Third Circuit. The Third Circuit referred Plaintiffs Motion for Attorney's Fees to this court. (D.I. 74). Thereafter, DuPont filed its cross-motion for attorneys' fees. (D.I. 95).

         B. Plaintiffs Fee Request

         After applying a billing discretion reduction, Plaintiff requests a grand total of $166, 261.66 in fees and costs for 579.01 hours of work. (D.I. 92 at 2; D.I. 85 at 10-11; D.I. 96 at 13). According to Plaintiff, these hours do not include time spent on Counts II-IV. (D.I. 85 at 3 n. 4). Plaintiffs fee request reflects an hourly rate of $350 for lead counsel and $200 for law clerks. (Id. 85 at 5). Finally, Plaintiff requests pre- and post-judgment interest at 8.25% per annum, and asks that the interest be applied to his past due benefits as well as his attorneys' fees and costs. (Id. at 11, 20).

         DuPont does not contest that Plaintiff is entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and costs, nor does it contest the amount of fees requested (other than the request for 8.25% interest). (D.I. 96 at 3). Nevertheless, two adjustments, due to typos, must be made to Plaintiffs numbers. First, in his opening brief, Plaintiff requested $133, 388.00 in fees and $4, 112.16 in costs. (D.I. 85 at 20). The $133, 388.00 in fees is composed of two amounts: $74, 213.00 from certain activities in the District Court and $59, 175.00 from certain activities in the Third Circuit. (Id. at 6-7). Adding up the underlying numbers shows that $74, 213.00 should actually be $74, 210.30. (See Id. at 8-10). Thus, Plaintiff should have initially requested $133, 385.30 in fees (not $133, 388.00) and $4, 112.16 in costs.

         Second, the amounts requested in Plaintiffs opening brief represent activity only until August 31, 2017. (D.I. 85 at 17, 20). Plaintiff later requested, via letter, an additional $27, 465.00 in attorneys' fees and $1, 306.00 in costs to cover activity between September 1, 2017 and January 31, 2018. (D.I. 92). The February 2, 2018 letter contains another typo. According to the letter, the grand total request in fees and costs (reached by adding together the totals provided in the opening brief and the letter) is $166, 261.66. (Id.). But adding up the underlying numbers shows that $166, 261.66 (without correcting the earlier typo) should be $166, 271.66. (Id. at 2). After correcting for both typos, Plaintiff actually seeks a grand total of $166, 268.96.

         C. DuPont's Fee Request

         DuPont requests $123, 048.25 in attorneys' fees and costs for succeeding on all but one issue. (D.I. 96 at 1 & 3). DuPont's request is comprised of two numbers: $92, 906.25 for trial work and $30, 142.00 for work related to the fee applications. (Id. at 12). DuPont's fee request reflects 269 hours of trial work. (Id. at 12). In its fee request, DuPont applies the same blended rate of $350.00 per hour used by Plaintiff (which resulted in a further reduction of its trial counsels' fees). (Id. at 13-14). Finally, DuPont argues that its request for attorneys' fees should be offset against Plaintiffs request for attorneys' fees. (Id. at 20).

         II. ...

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