Federal judge rejects settlement between K-9 officers, Mobile over overtime pay
In most lawsuits, if the plaintiffs and defendants reach an agreement out of court, the judge has no role. But the lawsuit filed last year by three K-9 officers was based on the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires judicial approval.
U.S. District Judge Kristi DuBose ruled this week that the proposed settlement gives away too many of the plaintiffs’ rights. She also took issue with legal fees that would be paid to the officers’ lawyer.
“The assessment of fairness is guided by prevailing FLSA case law and a review of the specific terms of the parties’ proposed settlement agreement.,” she wrote. “Here, the settlement terms contain disfavored provisions that encumber approval of any FLSA settlement agreement.”
The judge gave the parties until June 23 to file a revised settlement that addresses the deficiencies she identifies.
A Mobile spokesman said the city would have no comment. Tom Loper, an attorney who represented the plaintiffs, could not immediately be reached for comment.
The officers alleged that the city was not paying them overtime for the hours they spent at home caring for the dogs when they were off duty. Under the proposed settlement, the city agreed to pay $220,290 to two K-9 officers and a former officer, and to provide an extra hour of overtime for all handlers in the unit. The settlement also included $32,500 in attorney’s fees.
DuBose ruled that the terms of the settlement were overly broad in giving up the plaintiffs’ rights to pursue future litigation – even including to enforce provisions of the settlement if the city were to violate it.
“A more appropriate release would narrow the scope of release, for instance, to ‘any and all charges, claims, damages, causes of action or lawsuits of the claims specifically pled in this civil action under’” the act, the judge wrote.
The judge also determined that Loper failed to submit enough documentation justifying his legal fees. She wrote that there was no breakdown of the litigation costs, other than a one-time $402 filing fee. The lawyer should have included invoices and billing statements, the judge wrote.
DuBose also wrote that the filing refers to an attachment that was not filed. She indicated that the filing is insufficient to determine if all of the work that Loper performed qualifies for attorney’s fees since non-legal work a lawyer might do – such as secretarial or administrative tasks – does not qualify.
“Moreover, Loper has provided no information with regard to his billing rate,” she wrote. “Further, there is no information as to whether his billing rate is reasonable in the relevant legal community (Mobile, Alabama).”
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