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CARROLL v. DEBUONO

May 4, 1999

HELEN CARROLL, AS SURVIVING SPOUSE OF RAYMOND CARROLL, DECEASED; AND HARRIET S. HERRICK, AS SURVIVING SPOUSE S. JOHN HERRICK, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BARBARA A. DEBUONO, M.D., M.P.H., COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH; ROSS PRINZO, JR., COMMISSIONER OF THE ALBANY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES; AND RICHARD STASZAK, COMMISSIONER OF THE SCHENECTADY COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF SOCIAL SERVICES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: McAVOY, Chief Judge.

  MEMORANDUM-DECISION & ORDER

I. BACKGROUND

Presently before the Court is plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and expenses pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and N.Y.C.P.L.R. § 8601. Plaintiffs bring this action alleging their status as "prevailing parties" from a prior decision and judgment, familiarity with which is assumed. See Carroll v. DeBuono, 998 F. Supp. 190 (N.D.N.Y. 1998).

In brief, plaintiffs seek attorneys' fees pursuant to a judgment obtained against New York State and county commissioners. That judgment declared invalid and enjoined enforcement of New York State Department of Social Service regulation 18 N.Y.C.R.R. 360-7.5(a)(5) (the "Regulation"), which limited reimbursement of medical costs incurred three months prior to their application to medical care provided by an enrolled-Medicaid provider.

II. DISCUSSION

1. Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees

As prevailing parties, plaintiffs are entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees pursuant 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Maher v. Gagne, 448 U.S. 122, 128-29, 100 S.Ct. 2570, 65 L.Ed.2d 653 (1980); Maine v. Thiboutot, 448 U.S. 1, 8-9, 100 S.Ct. 2502, 65 L.Ed.2d 555 (1980). To determine a reasonable fee, a court must first establish a "lodestar" figure by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by the party's attorneys by a reasonable hourly rate. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888, 104 S.Ct. 1541, 79 L.Ed.2d 891 (1984); Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983). The resulting lodestar may then be adjusted, at the district court's discretion, based on other factors. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429 n. 3, 103 S.Ct. 1933. (enumerating other factors).

A. The Lodestar Figure

i. Hourly Rates

In determining the hourly rate, I am mindful of the Supreme Court's adoption of the marketplace model. See Blum, 465 U.S. at 896, 104 S.Ct. 1541; see also Fiacco v. Rensselaer, 663 F. Supp. 743, 745 (N.D.N.Y. 1987); Levy v. Scranton, 1992 WL 265936, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Oct.1, 1992); Auburn Enlarged City Sch. Dist. v. Coastal Env. Safety and Control, Inc., 1990 WL 19139, at *1 (N.D.N.Y. Feb.27, 1990). A district court also considers other rates that have been awarded in similar cases in the same district. Levy, 1992 WL 265936, at *3; Miner v. City of Glens Falls, 1992 WL 349668, at *17 (N.D.N.Y. Nov.12, 1992), aff'd, 999 F.2d 655 (2d Cir. 1993); Fiacco, 663 F. Supp. at 745; Auburn Enlarged City Sch. Dist., 1990 WL 19139, at *2.

In this case, attorneys Peter Danziger and Pamela Nichols seek fees at the hourly rates of $230 and $175, respectively. Defendants respond that plaintiffs requested hourly rates are too high, "well above the market rates recognized by the Northern District of New York." See Memorandum of Law in Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees, at 8.

For approximately the last ten years, the highest rates generally available in the Northern District of New York were $150.00 per hour for partners with significant experience and numerous years of practice, $100.00 per hour for associates, and $50.00 per hour for paralegal work. See, e.g., Serbalik v. Gray, 1999 WL 34989, *3 (N.D.N.Y. Jan.14, 1999); Marshall v. State of New York, 31 F. Supp.2d 100, 103-04 (N.D.N.Y. 1998); Abou-Khadra v. Bseirani, 971 F. Supp. 710, 718 (N.D.N Y 1997), Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n v. American Fed'n of State, County and Mun. Employees, 1996 WL 663971, at *7 (N.D.N.Y. Nov.12, 1996). These rates, however, were recently increased to reflect the prevailing market rates in this district. TM Park Ave. Assocs. v. Pataki, 44 F. Supp.2d 158, 166-67 (N.D.N.Y. 1999).

Consistent with TM Park, the applicable hourly rate depends on an attorney's professional experience. Thus, as a general rule, partners with significant experience and numerous years of practice are entitled to reimbursement at the hourly rate of $175.00; associates with four or more years of experience at the hourly rate of $125.00; and newly-admitted attorneys at the rate of $100.00 per hour, i.e., attorneys who have been practicing for three years or less. TM Park Ave. Assocs., at 166-67. The applicable rate for paralegal work remains at $50 per hour.

In this case, plaintiffs seek hourly fees of $150.00 per hour for two associates, Kathleen Treasure and Seth Eisenberg. Treasure has four years of professional experience; thus, applying the rate structure discussed above, she is entitled to $125.00 per hour. Eisenberg has less than three years of experience; thus, he is entitled to $100.00 per hour. Partners Danziger, Nichols, and Hogan, will each be compensated at ...


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