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CLARK v. PHILLIPS

June 2, 1997

KEVIN CLARK, Plaintiff,
v.
C.O. PHILLIPS, C.O. DONNELLEY, C.O. BYRNE, and C.O. BRADEN, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: MCCURN

 BACKGROUND

 After a four day trial in Syracuse, New York, a jury awarded plaintiff Kevin Clark $ 10,000.00 in damages in his civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. In finding for the plaintiff, the jury concluded that defendants violated plaintiff's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment. Plaintiff now submits this instant application for his attorney's fee pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Plaintiff is seeking a total fee and costs in the amount of $ 10,470.71. That amount is based upon 101.5 hours of service by his attorney, Donald R. Gerace, at an hourly rate of $ 100.00 plus expenses of $ 320.71.

 Defendants oppose plaintiff's fee request on several grounds, contending that he is entitled to "a much more reasonable fee award in the amount of $ 3,911.91." Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees ("Def. Opp.") at 2. Primarily, defendants assert that plaintiff has failed to meet his burden of establishing his entitlement to the total fee request inasmuch as he is seeking "payment for hours that are excessive for the tasks described and has requested payment at rate that is inappropriate." Id. at 1-2. The basis for defendants' argument that the rate is inappropriate is that the newly enacted Prison Litigation Reform Act, Pub. L. No. 104-134, 110 Stat. 1321, 1996 (the "PLRA" or the "Act"), inter alia, sets limitations on the hourly rate which may be awarded to an attorney in prison civil rights litigation. Defendants also assert that the PLRA requires that plaintiff's counsel receive 25% of his fee from plaintiff's $ 10,000.00 judgment. In other words, defendants contend that any attorney's fee which they may be obligated to pay should be offset by $ 2,500.00, payable from plaintiff's judgment. For the foregoing reasons, the court concludes that plaintiff is entitled to $ 7921.96 for his attorney's fee and costs in connection with this matter.

 DISCUSSION

 I. Entitlement to Fees

 Section 1988 provides, in relevant part, that in any action to enforce a provision of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 "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). While section 1988 generally governs the award of a fee in cases such as this, the PLRA modifies the application of section 1988 to prisoner civil rights suits and essentially adds a second step to the analysis. *fn1" See 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d). *fn2" The PLRA amended 42 U.S.C. § 1997e to provide more stringent limitations on fee awards. See id. The PLRA also amended section 1997e to provide that where a monetary judgment is awarded to a prisoner, a portion of the judgment shall be applied to satisfy the amount of the attorney's fee awarded against the defendant. See id. Hence, when reviewing an application for an attorney's fee in prisoner civil rights suits, both section 1988 and section 1997e must be analyzed.

 In the present case, the jury found that defendants violated plaintiff's Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment and awarded him $ 10,000.00 in damages. Thus, plaintiff is clearly a prevailing party because he was granted actual relief on the merits of his claim and succeeded on the significant issue in this litigation. See Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12, 113 S. Ct. 566, 573, 121 L. Ed. 2d 494 (1992) (a party prevails when he receives actual relief on the merits of his claim); Bridges v. Eastman Kodak Co., 102 F.3d 56, 58 (2d Cir. 1996) (a party prevails when he succeeds on any significant issue in the litigation which achieves some of the benefit the party sought in bringing suit). However, as noted, the court must additionally find that plaintiff has satisfied the second step of the analysis-- the provisions pursuant to the PLRA-- before it can determine as a threshold matter that he is entitled to his attorney's fee.

 Section 1997e(d)(1)(A) requires that the fee be "directly and reasonably incurred in proving an actual violation of the plaintiff's rights." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(1)(A). Here, plaintiff proved by a preponderance of the evidence that his constitutional rights were violated. A review of the fee application reveals that the time spent by plaintiff's attorney was incurred in proving and seeking redress for that violation. Thus, under this particular section, the court concludes that the fee sought was directly and reasonably incurred in proving plaintiff's rights were violated. See Weaver v. Clarke, 933 F. Supp. 831, 836 (D. Neb. 1996) (in dicta, court determined 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(1)(A) would be satisfied for purposes of a fee application where plaintiff presented sufficient evidence to demonstrate that his Eighth Amendment rights were violated).

 Section 1997e(d)(1)(B) further requires that the amount of the fee be "proportionately related to the court ordered relief for the violation" or that "the fee was directly and reasonably incurred in enforcing the relief ordered for the violation." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(1)(B)(i) & (ii). In the instant case, as indicated, the jury awarded plaintiff $ 10,000.00. As will be seen, the court determines that plaintiff is entitled to $ 7921.96 for his attorney's fee. The court finds that this fee award is "proportionately related" to the relief obtained by plaintiff. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 432-40, 103 S. Ct. 1933, 1938-43, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1983) (Court set forth standard for determining proportionality and "clarified the proper relationship of the results obtained to an award of attorney's fees."); cf. Powell v. United States Dep't of Justice, 569 F. Supp. 1192, 1203-04 (N.D. Cal. 1983) (attorney's fee of $ 14,968.25 was "directly and proportionately related" to success of plaintiff in Freedom of Information Act case where plaintiff brought about release of more than 3,000 pages of non-exempt documents despite government's dilatory tactics). *fn3" Therefore, plaintiff has also satisfied this section of the Act. *fn4"

 II. Amount of the Fee Award

 In calculating the fee award, the court must multiply a reasonable hourly rate by the hours reasonably expended on the case. E.g., Luciano v. Olsten Corp., 109 F.3d 111, 115 (2d Cir. 1997). The fee applicant bears the burden of supporting both the hours worked and the reasonableness of the rates requested. See Cruz v. Local Union No. 3 of Int'l Brotherhood., 34 F.3d 1148, 1160 (2d Cir. 1994). When examining such fee requests, district courts are afforded discretion and should not "become enmeshed in a meticulous analysis of every detailed facet of the professional representation." Seigal v. Merrick, 619 F.2d 160, 164 n.8 (2d Cir. 1980) (citation and quotations omitted); see Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437, 103 S. Ct. at 1941 ("A request for attorney's fees should not result in a second major litigation.") This is especially true where, as here, the district court is familiar with the case and has had the opportunity to observe firsthand the majority of the work performed by plaintiff's attorney. See Clarke v. Frank, 960 F.2d 1146, 1153 (2d Cir. 1992) (district court must use its own familiarity and experience with the case in calculating the fee award); Chambless v. Masters, Mates & Pilots Pension Plan, 885 F.2d 1053, 1057-58 (2d Cir. 1989)("having tried the case, the district court has the ...


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