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NAACP v. TOWN OF HUNTINGTON

October 23, 1990

HUNTINGTON BRANCH NAACP, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE TOWN OF HUNTINGTON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Glasser, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

The plaintiffs moved this court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(2) for an order awarding them costs and attorneys' fees.

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.

Defendants do not seriously dispute plaintiffs' entitlement to costs and fees; rather, they dispute the amounts claimed by plaintiffs. Plaintiffs seek an award of $1,142,237.10. For the reasons stated below, the court grants plaintiffs' application for costs and fees, but in an amount reduced from that sought.

There are four issues to be decided in considering this fee application:

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 allowed?

I. Lodestar

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, ...


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