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Edwards v. Cornell

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

July 11, 2018

FABIAN EDWARDS and KENVILLE EDWARDS, Plaintiffs,
v.
MATTHEW CORNELL, CHRISTOPHER MAY, and THE CITY OF HARTFORD, Defendants.

          RULING ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES

          WILLIAM I. GARFINKEL UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Following a jury trial and judgment entered in his favor, Kenville Edwards (“Plaintiff”) has moved for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). For the reasons that follow, the Court awards Plaintiff $141, 505.00 in fees and $7, 024.70 in costs.

         Background

         This case, a civil rights action, was brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The plaintiffs, Fabian Edwards and his brother Kenville Edwards, brought claims against the City of Hartford and Harford police officers Matthew Cornell and Christopher May, alleging that the officers used excessive force against them during an incident occurring at the Edwards' home on June 14, 2012. On April 27, 2017, after a jury trial, a jury found in favor of Officer Cornell on claims brought by Fabian Edwards, and found in favor of Kenville Edwards on claims against Officer May.[1] The jury found that Officer May violated Kenville Edwards' civil rights by using excessive force against him; it awarded $135, 000.00 in compensatory damages and $275, 000.00 in punitive damages. The Court subsequently ordered remittitur of the punitive damages award to $75, 000, which Plaintiff accepted.

         The parties engaged in fairly extensive post-trial motion practice: both the City and Officer May filed Motions for Judgment as a Matter of Law, which the Court denied in large part [Doc. # 170, 174, 199, 214]. Officer May also filed a Motion for a New Trial, which the Court denied. [Doc. # 150, 214]. The Court also denied a Joint Motion for Vacatur in Aid of Settlement. [Doc. # 215, 216, 218]. Finally, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Bond, which was granted on January 12, 2018. [Doc. # 210, 219].

         Now before the Court are Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees [Doc. # 166] and Amended Motion for Attorney's Fees [Doc. # 222].

         Discussion

         In a Section 1983 case, “the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 1988. “By awarding attorneys' fees, the judicial system ‘encourage[s] the bringing of meritorious civil rights claims which might otherwise be abandoned because of the financial imperatives surrounding the hiring of competent counsel.'” Payne v. Kirkland, No. 14-CV-7098 (ALC), 2017 WL 5952707, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Nov. 30, 2017) (citing Kerr v. Quinn, 692 F.2d 875, 877 (2d Cir. 1982)). The prevailing party should ordinarily recover fees “unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). The amount of the fee is determined “on the facts of each case.” Id. In ascertaining whether a fee is warranted under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), the court must first determine whether the plaintiff is a prevailing party, and then, if so, what fee is reasonable.

         A. Prevailing Party

         A plaintiff is considered a prevailing party for attorneys' fees purposes if he succeeds on “any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. A plaintiff prevails “when actual relief on the merits of his claim materially alters the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the defendant's behavior in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff.” Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12 (1992).

         Defendants argue that Plaintiff did not “prevail” because he only succeeded in his excessive force claim against Officer May and not in his excessive force claim against Officer Baumgarten. The Court disagrees and finds that Plaintiff is a prevailing party. He obtained actual relief on an issue significant to - if not defining of - the litigation: whether one or more of the officers used excessive force against him. It is well-established that a plaintiff can prevail even when he succeeds on only some, but not all, of his claims. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. Thus, the Court finds Plaintiff is entitled to an award of fees and will now determine what constitutes a reasonable award in this case.

         B. Reasonable Fee

         A prevailing party seeking fees bears the burden of showing that the requested fee is reasonable. See Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 897 (1984). In calculating a reasonable fee, courts are instructed to multiply the hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate in the district in which the court sits. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. This is considered the “presumptively reasonable fee.” Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass'n v. Cty. of Albany & Albany Cty. Bd. of Elections, 522 F.3d 182, 190 (2d Cir. 2008). “The reasonable hourly rate is the rate a paying client would be willing to pay, ” considering that a “paying client wishes to spend the minimum necessary to litigate the case effectively.” Id. Courts should consider “case-specific variables … relevant to the reasonableness of attorney's fees in setting a reasonable hourly rate.” Id. “Those variables include the time and labor required to litigate the case, the novelty and difficulty of the issues and level of skill necessary to address them, the attorneys' customary hourly rates and their experience, reputation and ability, and the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client.” Jaeger v. Cellco P'ship, No. 3:11-CV-1948 SRU, 2015 WL 1867661, at *3 (D. Conn. Apr. 23, 2015). In determining a reasonable hourly rate, the district court can take judicial notice of local prevailing rates, based on both rates awarded in other cases and the court's own familiarity with them. Chabad Lubavitch of Litchfield County, Inc. v. Borough of Litchfield, No. 3:09-CV-1419 (JCH), 2018 WL 2332075, at *8 (D. Conn. May 23, 2018). A party seeking an award of fees must submit time records indicating “for each attorney, the date, the hours expended, and the nature of the work done.” N.Y. State Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1148 (2d Cir. 1983).

         Here, Plaintiff seeks $177, 800.00 in fees, which represents $142, 240.00 in actual fees plus an upward adjustment of 25%. He also seeks $7, 024.70 in costs. Plaintiff has submitted invoices from the law firm of Eagan, Donahue, Van Dyke & Falsey, LLP, which contain the required information, to support his request. The invoices attached to the preliminary motion reflect a total of $127, 520.00 in fees billed at a rate of $400.00 per hour, and a total of 344.8 hours billed. The 344.8 represents the total hours spent on this matter, but not the total number of hours for which Plaintiff is seeking compensation. Plaintiff's counsel did not charge for work done on other plaintiffs' claims, or for duplicative work. The invoice attached to the amended motion reflects an additional 36.8 hours billed at a rate of $400.00 per hour, for a total of $14, 720.00. Plaintiff also provides the Court with ...


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