The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glasser, District Judge.
The plaintiffs moved this court pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(2) for an order awarding them costs and attorneys'
This action was commenced by the filing of a complaint on
February 23, 1981 alleging that the defendants violated the
plaintiffs' rights under the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3601-3619
(Title VIII of the Civil Rights Act) by applying
their zoning regulations to restrict private multi-family
housing projects to an urban renewal area populated
predominantly by minorities. The plaintiffs sought to enjoin
that application of the defendants' zoning regulations and to
recover damages. Several months after the complaint was filed,
a motion to dismiss the complaint was filed by the defendants.
That motion was granted upon the ground that the plaintiffs did
not have standing to sue. The plaintiffs appealed that
determination and on September 28, 1982 the United States Court
of Appeals for the Second Circuit reversed and remanded the
case to this court. The defendants petitioned the United States
Supreme Court for a writ of certiorari which was denied.
The plaintiffs then moved for the certification of a class
which was granted in 1983. Extensive discovery then ensued and
in May 1984 a motion to dismiss and/or for summary judgment
was filed by the defendants. That motion was denied, as were
subsequent motions to reargue. Preparation for trial proceeded
apace. Requests for admissions were exchanged, a pretrial
order drafted and trial memoranda written. The trial occupied
several weeks and over the month that followed closing
statements were heard and proposed findings of fact,
conclusions of law and post-trial briefs were filed. The
judgment rendered by this court in the defendants' favor was
later reversed by the United States Court of Appeals and, as
directed by that court, judgment was entered for the
plaintiffs. The defendants sought review of the Court of
Appeals decision in the United States Supreme Court which
summarily affirmed the decision.
Subsequent proceedings were conducted by this court in which
the parties were heard regarding the terms of the final
judgment eventually entered and briefs submitted in that
regard were considered. This summary narrative of the history
of the case is designed to place in proper perspective the
extensive proceedings culminating in this application for an
award of attorneys' fees.
There are four issues to be decided in considering this fee
1. What "lodestar" fee are plaintiffs' attorneys entitled
to? This encompasses both the question of what rate is
"reasonable" and whether there exist grounds to "enhance" that
reasonable fee, as asserted by plaintiffs.
2. How many hours will the court approve as "reasonable"?
3. What "multiplier" is appropriate?
4. Should plaintiffs' application for expert witness fees be
What fee is reasonable is determined by "the prevailing
market rates in the relevant community" for "similar services
by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and
reputation." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895-96 & n. 11, 104
S.Ct. 1541, 1547-48 & n. 11, 79 L.Ed.2d 891 (1984). The Second
Circuit has stated that the "relevant community" is the
district in which the district court sits, unless a showing is
made that special expertise of counsel from a distant district
was required. Polk v. New York State Dep't of Correctional
Servs., 722 F.2d 23, 25 (2d Cir. 1983). Both sides agree that
the "market" involved is the market for counsel in civil rights
cases. Thus, this court must determine what the market rate is
for lawyers with the skill and experience of plaintiffs'
attorneys who litigate civil rights cases in the Eastern
District of New York.
Plaintiffs claim that $240/hour for partners and $150/hour
for associates are the current prevailing market rates. They
assert by affidavit that this is what they currently charge
clients in this area. Affidavits of third parties submitted by
plaintiffs support these rates, or rates of $225/$135 per hour
(in the case of those affidavits executed in 1988, when the
first fee application was made to the Second Circuit).
In response, defendants have submitted affidavits of town
attorneys in which they represent the rate they charge the
various municipalities who are their clients. This
information, however, has no relevance in determining the
proper fee to be awarded the attorneys for the private
plaintiffs in this case. Many cogent reasons could easily be
listed as to why lawyers for municipalities are induced to
bill those clients at lower rates than would be billed for
similar services performed on behalf of private clients. Even
defendants' opposition affidavits themselves assert that the
affiant attorneys (including defendants' attorneys) charge
lower rates to municipalities than they do to private clients.
The proper rate to be awarded to plaintiffs' attorneys is not
the rate customarily charged to municipalities, but a rate
comparable to that charged to private clients. Miele v. New
York State Teamsters Conference on Pension & Retirement Fund,
831 F.2d 407, 409 (2d Cir. 1987).
Of some small relevance is a survey from the February 9,
1990 edition of the Suffolk Lawyer, submitted by defendants,
which indicates that firms similar to Steel & Bellman in size
generally charge between $150-$200/hour for partners and
$100-$150/hour for associates, with one firm charging $250/hour
and $175/hour, respectively. Plaintiffs respond by referring to
a survey conducted by the Suffolk County Bar Association, which
indicated that in 1988 small law firms in Suffolk County
charged from $150-$250/hour for partners' time, ...