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Singer Oil Co. LLC v. Newfield Exploration Mid-Continent Inc

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

June 8, 2018

SINGER OIL COMPANY, LLC, an Oklahoma limited liability company, Plaintiff,
v.
NEWFIELD EXPLORATION MID-CONTINENT, INC., a foreign corporation domesticated to do business in Oklahoma; and HALLIBURTON ENERGY SERVICES, INC., a foreign corporation domesticated to do business in Oklahoma, Defendants.

          ORDER

          VICKI MILES-LAGRANGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is plaintiff's First Amended with Correct Affidavit Motion to Recover Attorney Fees, filed December 1, 2017. On December 15, 2017, defendant Newfield Exploration Mid-Continent Inc. (“Newfield”) filed its response. On January 2, 2018, plaintiff filed its reply, and on January 26, 2018, Newfield filed its surreply. Based upon the parties' submissions, the Court makes its determination.

         In this case, plaintiff alleged that one of its vertical wells had been impacted by the completion of a horizontal well owned and operated by Newfield. This case was tried to a jury from November 8, 2017 through November 15, 2017. After deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff and against Newfield on plaintiff's private nuisance claim, negligence claim, and breach of contract claim and awarded damages in the amount of $257, 000.00. On November 20, 2017, the Court entered judgment consistent with the jury's verdict. Plaintiff now moves this Court to award it attorney fees in the amount of $226, 990.50.[1]

         “The right to recover attorneys' fees is substantive and therefore determined by state law in diversity cases.” Pub. Serv. Co. of Colo. v. Cont'l Cas. Co., 26 F.3d 1508, 1520 (10th Cir. 1994) (internal citation omitted). Under Oklahoma law, attorney fees may be awarded only when authorized by statute or under the terms of an enforceable contract. See Burrows Constr. Co. v. Indep. Sch. Dist. No. 2 of Stephens Cty., 704 P.2d 1136, 1137 n.2 (Okla. 1985). Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 940(A) provides:

In any civil action to recover damages for the negligent or willful injury to property and any other incidental costs related to such action, the prevailing party shall be allowed reasonable attorney's fees, court costs and interest to be set by the court and to be taxed and collected as other costs of the action.

         Okla. Stat. tit. 12, § 940(A). Newfield does not dispute that plaintiff is entitled to attorney fees pursuant to § 940(A) based upon plaintiff prevailing on its negligence claim.

         Regarding an award of attorney fees, the amount of fees must be grounded on the touchstone of reasonableness. Under Oklahoma law, the reasonableness of attorney fees is determined using the following Burk[2] factors: (1) the time and labor required, (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions presented, (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly, (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case, (5) the customary fee, (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent, (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances, (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 length of the professional relationship with the client, and (12) awards in similar cases. See Burk, 598 P.2d at 661.

         Newfield does not object to the reasonableness of plaintiff's counsel's hourly rate of $275. Newfield, however, does object to the number of hours expended by plaintiff's counsel. Newfield contends that the amount of hours expended by plaintiff's counsel is excessive. Newfield further contends that certain categories of time for which plaintiff is seeking attorney fees are not recoverable.

         First, Newfield asserts that plaintiff cannot recover attorney fees for time incurred in unsuccessfully pursuing claims against defendant Halliburton Energy Services, Inc. (“Halliburton”). On October 6, 2017, the Court granted Halliburton's motion for summary judgment. On November 20, 2017, the Court entered judgment in favor of Halliburton and against plaintiff.

A defendant should not be required to compensate a plaintiff for attorney hours devoted to the case against other defendants . . . who are found not to be liable.

Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1185 (3d Cir. 1990) (internal quotations and citations omitted). Because Halliburton is a separate defendant who prevailed in this case, the Court finds that plaintiff cannot recover attorney fees for any time incurred by plaintiff's counsel in pursuing plaintiff's claims against Halliburton. Having reviewed plaintiff's attorney's time entries, the Court finds plaintiff is not entitled to attorney fees for the 48.74 hours ($13, 403.50) plaintiff's counsel spent solely working on plaintiff's claims against Halliburton.

         Second, Newfield asserts that plaintiff cannot recover attorney fees for the majority of time incurred before the lawsuit began. Having reviewed the parties' submissions, the Court finds that plaintiff is only entitled to recover attorney fees for the time incurred before the lawsuit began that directly relates to the filing of this litigation. Having carefully reviewed plaintiff's attorney's time entries, the Court finds plaintiff is not entitled to attorney fees for the 10.01 hours ($2, 752.75) plaintiff's counsel spent before the lawsuit began on matters not directly related to the filing of this litigation.

         Third, Newfield asserts that plaintiff cannot recover attorney fees for its voluntarily dismissed ultrahazardous claim. In the parties' Joint Stipulation of Dismissal with Prejudice of Plaintiff's Ultrahazardous and Inherently Dangerous Activity Claim for Strict Liability [docket no. 50], the parties state that all parties are to bear their own attorney fees in relation to this claim. Accordingly, the Court finds that plaintiff may not recover attorney fees for any time spent on its ultrahazardous claim. Having carefully reviewed plaintiff's attorney's time entries, the Court finds plaintiff is not entitled to attorney fees for the 11.5 hours ($3, 162.50) plaintiff's counsel spent on plaintiff's ultrahazardous claim.

         Fourth, Newfield asserts that plaintiff cannot recover attorney fees for time incurred learning about the ...


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