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SOLER v. G & U


July 15, 1992

FRANCISCO SOLER, et al., Plaintiffs,
G & U, INC., CHARLES GRATZ, d/b/a CHARLES GRATZ FARM, et al., Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: CHARLES H. TENNEY

TENNEY, District Judge.

 Plaintiffs' counsel in this case, Farmworker Legal Services of New York ("Legal Services") submits this application for attorney's fees and costs, pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), in the amount of $ 374,149.74. *fn1" Defendants maintain that the fee award should be reduced for several reasons, each of which will be discussed in turn. For the reasons set forth below, Legal Services' request for attorney's fees is granted in the amount of $ 238,288.08.


 This matter is before the court after a fourteen year journey through the federal judicial system. The case began in 1978 with an action filed by approximately 100 migrant farm workers ("workers") under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq (1988) ("FLSA"), against defendant farm owners ("owners"), who employed the plaintiffs during various growing seasons, and the United States Secretary of Labor. See Soler v. G & U, Inc., et al., 615 F. Supp. 736 (S.D.N.Y. 1985), rev'd, 833 F.2d 1104 (2d Cir. 1987), cert. denied, 488 U.S. 832, 102 L. Ed. 2d 64, 109 S. Ct. 88 (1988). The workers alleged that the owners had violated the minimum wage provisions of the FLSA by improperly deducting from the workers' wages the cost of on-site housing provided to them. See Soler, 615 F. Supp. at 738. According to the workers, the deductions were improper because the housing was primarily for the benefit and convenience of the owners, rather than that of the workers. *fn2" See id.

 In June 1978, the workers petitioned the Wage and Hour Administrator of the United States Department of Labor ("Administrator") to determine the fair value of the housing. See Soler v. G & U, Inc., et al., 477 F. Supp. 102 (S.D.N.Y. 1979). The initial period of the litigation, from December 1978 to August 1986, involved both an administrative proceeding and the first application by the parties for judicial review. See id. ; Soler, 615 F. Supp. 736. During this period, an Administrative Law Judge ("ALJ") conducted a twenty-nine day administrative hearing and found that the owners were entitled to deduct the cost of housing from the workers' wages because the housing primarily benefited the workers. See Soler, 615 F. Supp. at 739-40. In November 1983, the Administrator adopted most of the AIJ's findings, but adjusted the rental value of the housing. Soler v. G & U, Inc., et al., 833 F.2d at 1106. Because the rental value determined by the Administrator was less than the amount that was deducted from the workers' wages, the owners were found liable to the workers for the difference between the two. Both parties then sought judicial review of the Administrator's decision pursuant to the Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2) (1988) ("APA"). Soler, 615 F. Supp. at 739-40.

 On review, this court set aside the Administrator's determination that the housing was primarily for the benefit of the workers and granted summary judgment in their favor. Id. at 741, 749. Consequently, the owners were found liable for a total amount of $ 110,909.12. See Soler v. G & U, Inc., et al., 628 F. Supp. 720 (S.D.N.Y. 1986); Judgment (April 17, 1986).

  On appeal, the Second Circuit reversed this court's decision by finding that the court had exceeded its reviewing authority under the APA because the Administrator's decision was not arbitrary and capricious. Soler, 833 F.2d at 1104. The case was remanded to this court with the directive to "review the Administrator's determinations relating to the fair rental value of the housing facilities." Id. at 1105, 1111.

 On remand, this court substantially affirmed the Administrator's decision. *fn3" See Soler v. G & U, Inc., et al., 768 F.Supp. 452 (S.D.N.Y. 1991). The workers were accordingly awarded back wages based on the difference between the amount that the owners had originally deducted from their wages and the fair rental value as determined by the Administrator. See id. Judgment was entered in the amount of $ 37,731.74. *fn4" Judgment (Sept. 9, 1991).

 Subsequent to this court's opinion setting aside the Administrator's decision, but before the Second Circuit's reversal and remand, this court awarded Legal Services $ 123,832.27 in attorney's fees and costs for the work performed from 1978 to 1986. Soler v. G & U, Inc., et al., 658 F. Supp. 1093 (S.D.N.Y. 1987). The court determined this amount by dividing the litigation into two phases and using a different hourly rate for each period. Id. at 1102. In addition, the court later awarded Legal Services attorney's fees and costs, pursuant to Fed. Rule Civ. Proc. 11, for the time expended on responding to defendant Grippe House's argument in its 1991 motion for summary judgment. Soler v. G & U, Inc., 138 F.R.D. 47, 49 (S.D.N.Y. 1991).

 Legal Services now applies for attorney's fees in the amount of $ 126,485.20 for work performed from October 1989 to April 1992. The work during this time period involved time spent on cross motions for summary judgment while the case was on remand from the Second Circuit, settlement discussions, preparation of wages computations for the new judgments, a 1991 appeal to the Second Circuit that was later withdrawn, and preparation of the instant attorney's fee application. *fn5" Legal Services also seeks the $ 123,832.27 in fees awarded in this court's 1987 opinion and a 100 percent enhancement of that award to account for the delay in receiving it. Thus, the total amount of attorney's fees sought by Legal Services is $ 374,149.74. Pl. Brief in Support at 13, 18.


 Section 216(b) of the FLSA provides that "the court in [an FLSA] action shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).

 I. The Prevailing Party

 A party must be a prevailing party to recover attorney's fees under the FLSA. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 & n.7 (1982). In order to fulfill this requirement, a party need only "succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit." Id. ; see also Texas State Teachers v. Garland Indep. School Dist., 489 U.S. 782, 791-92, 103 L. Ed. 2d 866, 109 S. Ct. 1486 (1989).

 Here, plaintiffs meet the threshold requirement of having prevailed in the instant litigation. They were awarded a judgment in the amount of $ 37,731.74, and will receive an additional sum when the damages determination is made regarding the defendants G & U Inc. and Bierstine Farms. See Judgment (Sept. 9, 1991); Stipulation (Sept. 4, 1991) (consenting to refer to Magistrate Judge determination of damages owed by remaining defendants). Thus, because the plaintiff-workers succeeded on their claim that the defendant-owners violated the FLSA -- and thereby achieved at least some of the benefit they sought in bringing suit -- plaintiffs are clearly the prevailing parties in this litigation.

 II. The Lodestar

 After resolving this threshold issue, the court must then decide what fee is reasonable. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. The determination of a fair and reasonable fee award involves a two step approach. First, the court ascertains the number of hours each attorney reasonably spent on the case. Id. at 433. Next, the court multiplies that number by a reasonable hourly rate for each attorney. Id. The figure reached through this method is called the lodestar amount, and constitutes the "initial estimate of the value of a lawyer's services" in determining the final fee award. Id. The lodestar amount may then be enhanced or reduced based on the circumstances of the particular litigation. See Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Counsel, 483 U.S. 711, 729-31, 97 L. Ed. 2d 585, 107 S. Ct. 3078 (1987); Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 899, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984).

 A. Number of Hours Reasonably Spent

 The requesting party in an attorney's fee application must submit contemporaneous time records for work performed, specifying the relevant dates, hours expended, and the nature of the work performed. New York State Assoc. For Retarded Children v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1147-48 (2d Cir. 1983). In determining how many hours were reasonable, the court has discretion to "trim fat" from, or otherwise reduce, the number of hours claimed to have been spent on the case. Id. at 1146-47; see also Browning v. Peyton, 123 F.R.D. 75, 78-80 (S.D.N.Y. 1978). Accordingly, Legal Services has submitted affidavits setting forth the number of hours spent working on this case. See Affidavit of Dan Getman ("Getman Aff.") (sworn to Feb. 21, 1992); Affidavit of Charlotte Sibley ("Sibley Aff.") (sworn to Feb. 25, 1992); Affidavit of Walter Ruehle ("Ruehle Aff.") (sworn to Feb. 12, 1992); Declaration of Cynthia G. Schneider ("Schneider Decl.") (sworn to Feb. 13, 1992); Supplemental Declaration of Dan Getman ("Getman Supp. Decl.") (sworn to April 16, 1992); Supplemental Declaration of Charlotte Sibley ("Supp. Sibley Decl.") (sworn to April 10, 1992). The total number of hours claimed by each attorney are as follows: Dan Getman 431.30 Charlotte Sibley 89.50 Cynthia Schneider 67.00 Walter Reuhle 53.55


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