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Felders v. Bairett

United States District Court, D. Utah

January 25, 2017

SHERIDA FELDERS, et al., Plaintiffs,
BRIAN BAIRETT, et al., Defendants.


          Clark Waddoups United States District Judge


         This matter is before the court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorney Fees (Dkt. Nos. 361 and 413). The court has carefully reviewed the motions and supporting evidence, the opposition memoranda and evidence, and considered the oral argument of counsel and supplemental filings. The court previously ruled that the Plaintiffs are the prevailing parties with respect to Defendant Bairett, but not with respect to Defendant Malcom, and rejected Defendant Bairett's Motion to Strike the Motion for Attorney Fees on the basis of an alleged Offer of Judgment. (Dkt. No. 403).

         In a federal civil rights action, “the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.” 42 U.S.C. §1988(b). Section 1988 provides for attorney fees to be awarded to the prevailing plaintiffs in an action brought under 42 U.S.C. §1983. The purpose of the statute is to encourage competent counsel to pursue civil rights cases to vindicate the rights of parties whose constitutional rights have been violated, but who would otherwise likely lack the financial means to protect those rights and seek an appropriate remedy for the violation. See City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 574-75 (1986). In considering a request for such an award, the court must determine what is a reasonable fee generally by beginning with a “lodestar” figure based on multiplying the hours counsel reasonably spent on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate. Jane L. v. Baangerter, 61 F.3d 1505, 1509 (10th Cir. 1995). Both of these factors are to be judged by the complexity of the issues raised and the experience of counsel involved. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983). The request for attorney fees must be supported by detail specifying the dates, tasks accomplished, and the time spent on the various tasks. Jane L., 61 F.3d at 1510. The same support is required for fees and costs claimed for secretarial and paralegal assistance. Missouri v. Jenkins by Agyei, 491 U.S. 274, 285 (1989).

         Once the court determines the lodestar amount, the court may in its discretion adjust the fee to be awarded by taking into account the result achieved, the complexity of the litigation, the time required to bring the litigation to conclusion and other factors such as unnecessary duplication of effort, delay, and the importance of the rights being protected. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434-36. In this case, Defendant Bairett does not contest that attorney fees may be awarded in a civil rights case, but does object to the amount of fees being requested, arguing that they are excessive and unreasonable under the facts of this case.[1]

         The Lodestar Amount

         In this case Plaintiffs' counsel incurred a total of 1, 431 hours in attorney time from the commencement of the case through September 28, 2016. At the hourly rates in effect at the time the services were provided, the amount of attorney fees was $480, 570 before any reduction or adjustments. (Dkt. No. 435, Schedule 1). The fee amount is supported by detailed billing records and sworn statements (declarations or affidavits) from the counsel providing the service. (Dkt. Nos. 361, 435). Plaintiffs further request that the lodestar amount of $480, 570 be enhanced by $22, 577 to a total, prior to adjustment, of $503, 147 to account for the increase in billing rates by Plaintiffs' attorneys from the time the services were provided to the time the fees are now being requested. (Dkt. No. 435, Schedules 1 and 2).

         Defendant Bairett's Objections and the Court's Adjustment to the Fees

         The amount of itemized lodestar fees included time spent in pursuing claims against both Defendants Bairett and Malcom. As noted, the court found that Plaintiffs were not the prevailing parties against Defendant Malcom and denied any request for attorney fees against him. Defendant Bairett submitted an opposition to the request for attorney fees, including a detailed and careful analysis in a spreadsheet format classifying fees for attorney time as (1) reasonable, (2) not compensable because they apply only to Defendant Malcom, (3) not compensable because they were incurred for public relations or unrelated and unsuccessful claims, and (4) not compensable because they are not adequately supported in the billing records (“block billing”). Based on this analysis, Defendant Bairett argues that the allowable attorney fees should not exceed $131, 372.50. (Dkt. No. 406 and attached exhibits). Defendant Bairett objects to the amount of attorney fees requested principally on grounds that (1) the lodestar amount includes fees that were unnecessarily incurred, (2) fees incurred in pursuing claims against Defendant Malcom should be excluded, (3) fees related to public relations should not be allowed, and (4) the fees allowed should be reduced to reflect the result and failure of Plaintiffs to accept offers to settle the case.

         The court heard argument on Plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees and Defendant Bairett's objections and at the conclusion of the hearing requested counsel to provide additional information, including additional detail on the time spent pursuing claims against Defendant Malcom. (Dkt. No. 434). In response, Plaintiff provided an additional Affidavit of Robert B. Sykes Regarding Allocation of Attorney Time to Malcom. (Dkt. No. 435). In that Affidavit, Mr. Sykes responded to the following issues and requests raised by the court during the oral argument:

a. Divide out and show from all the submissions time essentially dedicated to motions for summary judgment regarding Malcom, as opposed to the other Defendant, Bairett.
b. Divide out and show time relating to defending the Malcom appeal to the Tenth Circuit.
c. Provide the court some kind of a spreadsheet whereby the court would move time around if it wished to do so, since the court informed counsel that no time would be awarded for matters directly relating to prosecuting the case against Malcom. However, the court also noted that this does not require counsel to split out time for general case and trial preparation. Only the time exclusively ...

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