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.
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.
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 (1992) (stating that the most critical factor in determining the reasonableness of a fee award is the degree of success obtained).
To determine whether plaintiffs' partial success requires a reduction in the lodestar, the court first examines whether plaintiffs "failed to succeed on any claims wholly unrelated to the claims on which plaintiff[s] succeeded. The hours spent on such unsuccessful claims should be excluded from the calculation." Grant, 973 F.2d at 101 (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434-35, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983)). Next, the court considers whether there are any unsuccessful claims interrelated with the successful claims. If there are such unsuccessful claims, the court then "determines whether plaintiff[s'] level of success warrants a reduction in the fee award." Id. (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436). Attorneys should recover fully compensatory fees, however, where plaintiffs have obtained excellent results. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435. Ultimately, the determination of whether plaintiffs' success is limited lies within the discretion of the court. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437; Grant, 973 F.2d at 101.
Here, because all of plaintiffs' claims were based on a common core of facts, there were no unrelated claims for which plaintiffs' attorney's hours should be excluded. NYCHA claims that plaintiffs' success was nonetheless limited -- under the second step of the analysis described above -- because the consent judgments do not reflect plaintiffs' success on all of their original claims. Specifically, NYCHA contends that the First Partial Consent Judgment provided plaintiffs with little beyond what they would have obtained by operation of law under the March 1984 Final Rule issued by the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD"). Further, NYCHA contends that the relief plaintiffs obtained in the Second Partial Consent Judgment, which mandates only a limited degree of NYCHA involvement in the Section 8 eviction process, is far less than the relief plaintiffs originally sought.
While the relief afforded by the consent judgments is not identical to that originally sought in this action, the Court is not persuaded that the results achieved by plaintiffs fall within the meaning of limited success. First, the First Partial Consent Judgment affords Section 8 tenants a pre-reduction conference, a hearing in court before any eviction can occur, and an expedited administrative hearing. These procedures, while not identical to the formal administrative hearing procedures requested in plaintiffs' complaint, assure tenants of an opportunity for pre-reduction review by NYCHA, a formal hearing in court to contest any subsidy reduction, and an expedited administrative hearing with a decision rendered within thirty days. Moreover, contrary to NYCHA's contention, these procedures are more protective than the HUD regulations embodied in the 1984 Final Rule. For these reasons, the relief afforded plaintiffs in the First Partial Consent Judgment fully vindicates their due process claim, and no reduction in the fee award is warranted.
Similarly, in accordance with plaintiffs' claims, the Second Partial Consent Judgment provides for notice and an opportunity to be heard before Section 8 tenants can be evicted. While plaintiffs' request that NYCHA be required to give prior authorization for proposed eviction proceedings was not included, the Second Partial Consent Judgment provides for a certification and objection procedure equivalent to an authorization requirement. Under this procedure, NYCHA must object to commencement of an eviction proceeding when the case involves a dispute between NYCHA and the tenant or landlord. Once NYCHA makes such an objection, Section 8 landlords, who have been certified as a class, are required to join NYCHA as a party to the eviction proceeding. If it fails to make a timely objection, NYCHA must move to intervene in the eviction proceeding, or, if judgment has been entered against a tenant, move to vacate the judgment. The certification and objection procedure, although different from the authorization requirement originally requested by plaintiffs, substantially vindicates plaintiffs' claim that due process requires protections for Section 8 tenants faced with eviction proceedings.
Both consent judgments afford the plaintiff class almost all of the relief sought in the original complaint. While the relief provided differs in some respects from that originally requested, plaintiffs nonetheless succeeded in achieving due process protections equivalent to those originally envisioned. Accordingly, the Court will not adjust the lodestar downward to reflect limited success.
A. Hourly Rates
Using the lodestar approach, plaintiffs seek fees in the following amounts:
Name Hours Rate Total
Scott Rosenberg 429.48 x $ 300 = $ 128,844.00
John Gorman 36.70 x $ 300 = $ 11,010.00
James C. Francis IV 239.87 x $ 250 = $ 59,967.50
David Mitchell 470.17 x $ 250 = $ 117,542.50
* Paralegal tasks
by attorneys 17.01 x $ 75 = 1,275.75
Subtotal $ 318,639.75
Russell Engler 414.25 x $ 300 = $ 124,275.00
Raun Rasmussen 59.25 x $ 300 = $ 17,775.00
Roger Maldonado 255.00 x $ 250 = $ 63,750.00
Elaine Fink 26.00 x $ 175 = $ 4,550.00
Leslie Salzman 34.75 x $ 150 = $ 5,212.50
Jennifer Small 116.25 x $ 75 = $ 8,718.75
* Paralegal tasks
by attorneys 3.50 x $ 75 = $ 262.50
Subtotal $ 224,543.75
TOTAL $ 543,183.50
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