Understand the complexities and nuances of the Bankruptcy Code to better advise clients and prepare for court.
By Diane Davis
M&T Bank must pay more than $35,000 in attorneys’ fees for violating the discharge injunction in a Chapter 13 case, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Oklahoma held Ridley v. M & T Bank (In re Ridley) , 2017 BL 254140, Bankr. E.D. Okla., No. 16-8008-TRC, 7/21/17 .
The time spent and services rendered by the attorneys were reasonable, necessary, and beneficial to Charles Ridley’s case, Judge Tom R. Cornish wrote July 21.
Ridley successfully sued M&T Bank to force it to correct its records to reflect that his home mortgage account was current after successfully completing his Chapter 13 plan in bankruptcy. Ridley also had to force M&T Bank to remove false and unsubstantiated fees from his account and to stop any foreclosure processes that the bank was charging him to undertake, the court said.
He was awarded actual and punitive damages plus reasonable fees and costs.
Ridley asked for $41,255 in attorneys’ fees and $644 in expenses; M&T sought a substantial reduction.
Ridley’s case was a “classic” Chapter 13 struggle with mortgage servicers who refuse to acknowledge the Chapter 13 process, the court said.
The court found no reason to reduce the amount of fees awarded based on settlement negotiations. It was M&T Bank who prevented settlement of the case by failing to provide a representative who could participate in settlement discussions, the court said.
The $300 hourly rate charged by Ridley’s attorney Greggory Colpitts was reasonable and customary for the jurisdiction for an attorney with his extensive background and experience, the court said. The $200 hourly rate charged by first-year attorney Lauren Colpitts, however, was too high, and based on the quality of her work and qualifications, $150 per hour was more reasonable, the court said. It reduced the award accordingly.
Ridley’s final total award, including fees, expenses, lost wages and punitive damages, was more than $48,000.
The Colpitts Law Firm, Tulsa, Okla., represented Charles Ridley; Stites & Harbison PPLC, Atlanta; and Kivell, Rayment and Francis P.C., Tulsa, Okla., represented M&T Bank. Chapter 13 Trustee William Mark Bonney, Muskogee, Okla., represented himself.
To contact the reporter on this story: Diane Davis in Washington at DDavis@bna.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jay Horowitz at JHorowitz@bna.com
Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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