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Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Co. v. Jones-Atchison

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 11, 2018

KEISHA JONES-ATCHISON, et al., Defendants.



         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company's Motion for Attorney's Fees [Doc. No. 18]. The motion is unopposed. Upon review, the Court finds Hartford's motion should be granted as follows.


         Hartford is the carrier of a group policy (the “Policy”) with basic life insurance benefits and other coverages not relevant to this action for its policy holder- Siemens Corporation (“Siemens”). David Lamare Atchison II (“Mr. Atchinson”) was employed by Siemens and was a participant in the Policy. Mr. Atchison died after being shot by an unknown person(s) on January 8, 2017. His wife, Keisha Jones-Atchison, submitted a claim for benefits payable on Mr. Atchison's death. However, Mr. Atchison's father, David Lamare Atchison, Sr., submitted a Preference Beneficiary Affidavit (“PBA”). In the PBA, Mr. Atchison, Sr. claimed entitlement to some or all of the Policy's benefits, by way of the Policy's succession provision.

         To date, there have been no arrests in connection with the death of Mr. Atchison, although court filings in this case state that Ms. Jones-Atchison has not been ruled out as a suspect and the circumstances surrounding Mr. Atchison death remain unclear.[1] Citing the existence of competing claims to the Policy proceeds, Hartford filed this interpleader action under Rule 22, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On October 19, 2017, the Court granted Hartford permission to deposit the proceeds into the Clerk's registry and discharge it from this action [Doc. No. 22]. Hartford now seeks an attorney's fee award of $7, 511.50 from the deposit as reimbursement of its fees incurred in bringing this action.


         The prevailing principle in interpleader actions is that it is within the discretion of the court to award the stakeholder costs, including reasonable attorney's fees, out of the deposited fund. Melton v. White, 848 F.Supp. 1513, 1514 (W.D. Okla. 1994). The Court normally taxes such fees in favor of a stakeholder who: (1) is “disinterested, ” i.e., does not itself claim entitlement to any of the interpleader fund; (2) does not appear to be culpable; (3) concedes its liability in full; (4) deposits the disputed fund in court; and (5) seeks discharge. Irwin v. Principal Life Ins. Co., 404 F.Supp.2d 1271, 1278 (D. Kan. 2005). It is undisputed that Hartford has met these requirements.

         In the present action, there has been no allegation Hartford was culpable in causing the controversy over the Policy proceeds. Moreover, Hartford has disclaimed any interest, conceded liability, deposited the proceeds and has been discharged from this lawsuit. Accordingly, the Court finds Hartford is entitled to an award of its reasonable attorney's fees to be paid out of the deposited funds.


         In determining reasonable attorney's fees, the starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the “lodestar” figure - “the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Anchondo v. Anderson, Crenshaw & Assocs., LLC, 616 F.3d 1098, 1102 (10th Cir. 2010) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983)). If a party is seeking compensation for services of a non-lawyer, such as a legal assistant, the Court must scrutinize the reported hours and suggested rates in the same manner. Case v. Unified School Dist. No. 233, 157 F.3d 1243, 1249 (10th Cir. 1998). The party seeking an award of fees has the burden of proving both the number of hours spent and reasonableness of the hourly rates. United Phosphorus, Ltd. v. Midland Fumigant, Inc., 205 F.3d 1219, 1233 (10th Cir. 2000). Once this burden is met, a claimant is entitled to the presumption this lodestar amount reflects a “reasonable” fee. Robinson v. City of Edmond, 160 F.3d 1275, 1281 (10th Cir. 1998).

         Once the Court determines the lodestar, it must then determine whether any upward or downward adjustments should be made to the lodestar “to account for the particularities of the suit and its outcome.” Zinna v. Congrove, 680 F.3d 1236, 1242 (10th Cir. 2012) (citation omitted). In assessing whether adjustments should be made, courts often consider the twelve factors set out in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., which include:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill required; (4) preclusion of other employment; (5) the customary fee in the community; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the attorneys; (10) the undesirability of the case; (11) the nature and relationship of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

         488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974). The Tenth Circuit has approved these factors for determining reasonableness. Brown v. Phillips Petro. Co., 838 F.2d 451 (10th Cir. 1988). It is rare that all factors are met. Uselton v. Commercial Lovelace Motor Freight, Inc., 9 F.3d 849, 853 (10th Cir. 1993). Although these factors may be considered, the court does not need to consider “the factors [ ] subsumed within the initial calculation of hours reasonably expended at a reasonable hourly rate.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 n. 9. The lodestar calculation is meant to be the primary consideration when awarding fees rather than the Johnson factors. Anchondo, 616 F.3d at 1103 (citing Perdue v. Kenny A ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542 (2010)).

         As stated, Hartford seeks $7, 511.50 in attorney's fees. In support, it submits time records showing its attorneys and paralegals spent 33.2 hours working on this matter. Jodi Dishman was the primary attorney in the matter, and she submitted time records showing 10.2 hours spent litigating the case. Andrew Morris, the other attorney in this matter, submitted records showing he expended ...

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