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WILLIAMS v. NEW YORK CITY HOUS. AUTH.

August 27, 1997

DIEDRE WILLIAMS, et al., Plaintiffs, against NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: WARD

 WARD, District Judge.

 Plaintiffs Diedre Williams ("Williams"), et al., have filed an application, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, for attorney's fees in the amount of $ 543,183.50. For the reasons hereinafter stated, plaintiffs are awarded $ 383,457.37 in attorney's fees.

 BACKGROUND

 Under the Section 8 program, 42 U.S.C. § 1437f, defendant New York City Housing Authority ("NYCHA") provides rental subsidies to landlords on behalf of indigent tenants. On March 26, 1981, plaintiff Williams brought this action for injunctive relief to challenge on procedural due process grounds NYCHA's methods of terminating Section 8 assistance. Williams contested NYCHA's termination of Section 8 payments to landlords without prior notice to tenants or a pre-termination hearing. In addition, she contested the fact that, because NYCHA was not a party to eviction proceedings brought against tenants in Housing Court for nonpayment of NYCHA's share of rent, tenants were unable to litigate the validity of NYCHA's termination of assistance. Over a period of two years, several other plaintiffs intervened in the proceedings, and on August 10, 1983, the Court granted plaintiffs' motion for class certification.

 The action was resolved through two partial consent judgments. The First Partial Consent Judgment, signed on October 17, 1984, established procedures by which Section 8 tenants may challenge a NYCHA decision to discontinue or terminate subsidy payments. In the Second Partial Consent Judgment, signed on February 2, 1995, the parties agreed to certification and objection procedures that protect tenants in eviction proceedings where nonpayment of rent is related to a termination of Section 8 benefits.

 Plaintiffs now request an award of attorney's fees in the amount of $ 543,183.50 for sixteen years of work performed by the Legal Aid Society ("Legal Aid") and South Brooklyn Legal Services ("Legal Services"). NYCHA argues that the award sought is excessive for several reasons, and that plaintiffs are entitled only to fees in the amount of $ 163,480.20.

 DISCUSSION

 Title 42 U.S.C. § 1988 provides in pertinent part that the court in its discretion may allow a prevailing party in § 1983 actions to recover reasonable attorney's fees. The statutory language of § 1988 creates a presumption in favor of fee awards, and prevailing parties are entitled to recover fees and costs unless there are special circumstances which would render such an award unjust. See Wilder v. Bernstein, 725 F. Supp. 1324, 1329-30 (S.D.N.Y. 1989), aff'd in part and remanded, 965 F.2d 1196 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 954 (1992).

 For fee award purposes, plaintiffs are prevailing parties if they have "succeeded on 'any significant issue in litigation which achieved some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.'" Texas State Teachers Ass'n v. Garland Indep. School Dist., 489 U.S. 782, 791-92, 103 L. Ed. 2d 866, 109 S. Ct. 1486 (1989) (quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978)). Plaintiffs must show that "actual relief on the merits of [their] claims materially alters the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the defendant[s'] behavior in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff[s]." Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12, 121 L. Ed. 2d 494, 113 S. Ct. 566 (1992). The fact that plaintiffs prevail through a consent judgment or without formally obtaining relief does not weaken their claim for fees. See Hewitt v. Helms, 482 U.S. 755, 760-61, 96 L. Ed. 2d 654, 107 S. Ct. 2672 (1987); Maher v. Gagne, 448 U.S. 122, 129, 65 L. Ed. 2d 653, 100 S. Ct. 2570 (1980). Nor must the relief ultimately obtained be identical to the relief demanded in the complaint, provided the relief obtained is of the same general type. See Koster v. Perales, 903 F.2d 131, 134-35 (2d Cir. 1990).

 Having determined that plaintiffs are prevailing parties, the court must calculate what constitutes a reasonable fee. See Grant v. Martinez, 973 F.2d 96, 99 (2d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1053, 113 S. Ct. 978, 122 L. Ed. 2d 132 (1993). In order to reach an initial estimate of reasonable fees, the court applies the lodestar approach. See id. "Under this approach, the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation is multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate for attorneys." Id.

 In the instant case, NYCHA does not dispute that § 1988 applies to this litigation, or that plaintiffs are prevailing parties for the purposes of the fee application. NYCHA does, however, argue that plaintiffs have not demonstrated the reasonableness of their proposed hourly rates; that plaintiffs achieved only limited success; and that the number of hours plaintiffs claim to be compensable by NYCHA should be reduced. As a result, NYCHA contends, the Court should award a significantly lower fee than that requested.

 I. Plaintiffs' Success

 While there is a strong presumption that the lodestar figure represents the reasonable fee, the court's determination does not end with this calculation. See Grant v. Martinez, 973 F.2d 96, 99 (2d Cir. 1992), cert. denied, 506 U.S. 1053, 113 S. Ct. 978, 122 L. Ed. 2d 132 (1993). Instead, upon a showing by the party contesting the lodestar figure that plaintiffs' success was limited, the lodestar figure can be adjusted downward. See id.; see also Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 114, 121 L. Ed. 2d 494, 113 S. Ct. 566 ...


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