United States District Court, D. New Mexico
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
STEPHAN M. VIDMAR United States Magistrate Judge.
MATTER is before the Court on Plaintiff Fowler's Motion
for Reasonable Attorney's Fees and Cost[s] pursuant to
the . . . Offer of Judgment and Acceptance [Doc. 94], filed
on February 3, 2017. Briefing is complete, [Docs. 95, 104,
109], and oral argument was held on June 19, 2017. Having
considered the briefing, record, oral argument, and the
relevant law, the Court finds that Defendant has shown that
it would be unreasonable, inequitable, or excessive to award
Plaintiff Fowler more than $47, 073.61 in attorney fees and
Stan Fowler was traveling in an automobile owned by Principal
Mobility and insured by Defendant Auto-Owners Insurance
Company (“AOI”) in July of 2012 when it was
struck from behind by a vehicle driven by a State Farm
insured. State Farm's driver was at fault for the
accident. State Farm contributed its $100, 000 liability
policy limits to satisfy the claims of the various injured
parties, including Plaintiff Fowler. As a result of the
accident, Plaintiff Fowler received $46, 168.90 from State
Farm. [Doc. 104] at 2. Plaintiff Fowler also attempted to
recover from Pekin Insurance, through which he had a
motorcycle policy, but he was not successful. Id.;
see [Doc. 109] at 4.
Fowler made an underinsured motorist claim to Defendant for
$939, 231.42, which included his $30, 530 in medical bills.
[Doc. 104] at 2; [Doc. 109] at 3. Defendant did not pay that
amount, and Plaintiff Fowler filed suit. [Doc. 1-1].
Eventually, Defendant tendered an Offer of Judgment to
Plaintiff Fowler for “the total amount of Fifty
Thousand Dollars ($50, 000.00), plus a reasonable amount of
attorney[']s fees and costs as agreed upon by the parties
or, if an agreement cannot be reached, as determined by the
Court.” [Doc. 78] at 1. Plaintiff accepted the Offer of
Judgment on September 29, 2016, but the parties cannot agree
on a “reasonable amount of attorney[']s fees and
costs.” Id. Plaintiff requests $89, 850.57.
[Doc. 109] at 8. Defendant argues that only $46, 300.03 would
be reasonable. [Doc. 104] at 1-2.
[W]here contracting parties have agreed that [one] party will
be liable for attorneys' fees, the purpose of the award
is to give the parties the benefit of that bargain, and the
court's responsibility is to enforce that bargain.
Normally, where the court is merely enforcing a contractual
provision authorizing attorneys' fees, the fees are
routinely awarded and the contract is enforced according to
its terms. See Fortier v. Dona Anna Plaza Partners,
747 F.2d 1324, 1337-38 (10th Cir. 1984) (applying New Mexico
. . . . This does not mean, however, that the trial court
should simply award the full amount billed by the [moving]
party's attorneys. . . . Clearly, the trial court has
discretion to adjust or even deny a contractual award of fees
if such an award would be inequitable or unreasonable.
. . . .
. . . . In considering whether a fee is unreasonable or
excessive, the trial court need not wholly disregard the
familiar factors from the federal cases awarding fees in a
statutory context [such as the number of hours reasonably
spent in the litigation, reasonable hourly rate, reduction
for claims lost, and enhancement for exceptional success].
See, e.g., Ramos v. Lamm, 713 F.2d 546[, 553-58]
(10th Cir. 1983). . . .
United States ex rel. C.J.C., Inc. v. W. States Mech.
Contractors, Inc., 834 F.2d 1533, 1548-50 (10th Cir.
1987) (internal citations omitted). The payor bears the
burden of proving that the fees are unreasonable,
inequitable, or excessive. Simplot v. Chevron Pipeline,
Co., 563 F.3d 1102, 1119 (10th Cir. 2009).
disputed amounts can be divided into three categories. First,
the parties dispute whether Plaintiff is entitled to fees for
his efforts to obtain settlements from State Farm and Pekin.
See Defendant's Exhibit 6 [Doc. 104-2] at 16-19
(fees disputed on this ground). Defendant argues that such
efforts would have been incurred regardless of whether
Plaintiff had pursued any claim against Defendant. [Doc. 104]
at 5-7; see Exhibit 6 [Doc. 104-2] at 16-19 (billing
entries). In other words, these fees were not incurred in
connection with this litigation. [Doc. 104] at 5-7. Plaintiff
argues that Defendant should pay the fees because Defendant
benefitted from the work. Defendant's ability to pay
underinsured motorist benefits is reduced, or offset, by the
liability proceeds received from State Farm. Therefore, as
Plaintiff sees it, Defendant benefitted from the work and
should pay for it. [Doc. 94] at 3; [Doc. 109] at 3-4.
Court agrees with Defendant. Under the circumstances of this
case, Plaintiff's efforts to recover from State Farm and
Pekin are too attenuated from Plaintiff Fowler's claims
against Defendant in this litigation. Plaintiff would have
incurred these fees irrespective of the claims against
Defendant in this litigation. Plaintiff asks the Court to
interpret the phrase “a reasonable amount of
attorney['s] fees” as “any and all
attorney's fees incurred by Plaintiff between the date of
the accident and the settlement of Plaintiff's claims
against Defendant.” That is an unreasonable
interpretation. The Court believes the reasonable
interpretation to be, “all reasonable attorney's
fees incurred in obtaining a settlement of Plaintiff's
claims raised in this litigation.” It would be
unreasonable and inequitable to interpret a “reasonable
amount of attorney[']s fees and costs” as ...