UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK
August 12, 1997
SHIRLEY WILDER, et al., Plaintiffs, against BLANCHE BERNSTEIN, individually and as Administrator of the New York City Human Resources Administration, et al., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: WARD
WARD, District Judge.
Plaintiffs have filed an application, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and 28 U.S.C. § 1920, for attorney's fees and out-of-pocket litigation expenses totaling $ 139,852.31. For the reasons hereinafter stated, plaintiffs are awarded $ 72,149.15 in attorney's fees and $ 2,813.46 for out-of-pocket litigation expenses.
Once again the Court is called upon to resolve a dispute arising from this landmark child welfare litigation brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983, 1985, 1986 and 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201, 2202. In a Judgment dated April 28, 1987, this Court gave final approval to a stipulation of settlement ("the settlement") which guaranteed the rights of children in New York City's foster care system to
receive services without discrimination on the basis of race or religion and to have equal access to quality services and to ensure that appropriate recognition be given to a statutorily permissible wish for in-religion placement in a manner consistent with principles ensuring equal protection and non-discrimination as defined in applicable New York State and federal laws, regulations and the Constitution.
Stipulation of Settlement at P 4. Familiarity with the opinion in which this Court gave its conditional approval to the settlement, dated October 8, 1986, and reported at 645 F. Supp. 1292 (S.D.N.Y. 1986), aff'd, 848 F.2d 1338 (2d Cir. 1988), is presumed.
The instant controversy involves attorney's fees for the prevailing plaintiffs, who seek compensation for work relating to postjudgment monitoring of the settlement. That plaintiffs "prevailed" for purposes of 42 U.S.C. § 1988 is not disputed by defendants. In the past, the parties have been able to reach agreement regarding the amount of attorney's fees to be paid plaintiffs.
For the period covering January 1, 1996 through June 30, 1996, however, the parties have been unable to reach agreement, prompting the instant application by plaintiffs.
I. Attorney's Fees
The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, authorizes district courts to award prevailing parties in civil rights cases "a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." In addition to recovering attorney's fees incurred in litigating a civil rights case, "several courts have held that, in the context of . . . 42 U.S.C. § 1988, postjudgment monitoring of a consent decree is a compensable activity for which counsel is entitled to a reasonable fee." Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 559, 92 L. Ed. 2d 439, 106 S. Ct. 3088 (1986) (citing Garrity v. Sununu, 752 F.2d 727, 738-39 (1st Cir. 1984); Bond v. Stanton, 630 F.2d 1231, 1233 (7th Cir. 1980); Miller v. Carson, 628 F.2d 346, 348 (5th Cir. 1980); Northcross v. Board of Educ. of Memphis City Schools, 611 F.2d 624, 637 (6th Cir. 1979), cert. denied, 447 U.S. 911, 64 L. Ed. 2d 862, 100 S. Ct. 2999, 100 S. Ct. 3000 (1980)). Under the lodestar approach long adhered to by this Circuit, "attorney's fees are calculated by multiplying the number of billable hours that the prevailing party's attorneys spend on the case by 'the hourly rate normally charged for similar work by attorneys of like skill in the area.'" New York State Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1140 (2d Cir. 1983) (quoting City of Detroit v. Grinnell Corp., 560 F.2d 1093, 1098 (2d Cir. 1977)).
Plaintiffs in this litigation are represented by Children's Rights Inc. ("CRI"), a national nonprofit children's advocacy organization (formerly the Children's Rights Project of the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU")). That CRI is nonprofit does not preclude it from being awarded fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. In Blum v. Stenson, the Supreme Court held that "the statute and legislative history establish that 'reasonable fees' under § 1988 are to be calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community, regardless of whether plaintiff is represented by private or nonprofit counsel." 465 U.S. 886, 895, 104 S. Ct. 1541, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891 (1984).
For the six month period ending June 30, 1996, plaintiffs seek attorney's fees in the amount of $ 112,457.90 for services rendered by CRI attorneys and paralegals, and out-of-pocket litigation expenses in the amount of $ 27,394.41. The defendants, led by the City of New York ("defendants," "the City," or "ACS"
), argue that the award sought is excessive and that plaintiffs: (1) have not demonstrated the reasonableness of their proposed hourly rates; (2) exercised poor billing judgment; and (3) submitted insufficiently detailed time sheets.
A. Hourly rates
Using the lodestar approach outlined above, plaintiffs seek fees for attorney and paralegal work in the following amounts:
No. of Hours Hourly Rate
Marcia R. Lowry n3 47.43 x $ 400 = $ 18,972.00
Susan Lambiase n4 253.72 x $ 300 = $ 76,116.00
Rebecca Kim Kimura n5 73.90 x $ 185 = $ 13,671.50
Perrin Tomich n6 43.15 x $ 80 = $ 3,452.00
Natasha Celestine n7 3.08 x $ 80 = $ 246.40
Total = $ 112,457.90
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