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ROBINSON v. INSTRUCTIONAL SYSTEMS

July 18, 2000

ANGELA M. ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
V.
INSTRUCTIONAL SYSTEMS, INC., DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Motley, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

I. Background

On May 2, 2000, a hearing on attorneys' fees and costs was held before this court. Plaintiff claims that she is entitled to $131,393.75 in attorneys' fees and paralegal fees, plus $3,406.59 in costs. Defendant argues that plaintiff is entitled to $10,202.46 in attorneys' fees and costs, one-third of the $30,607.37 awarded to plaintiff in this action.

II. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law

The court, in its January 25, 2000 Memorandum Opinion, has held that plaintiff is the prevailing party and is therefore entitled to attorneys fees under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). Once the entitlement to an attorneys' fee award is established, the court must calculate a "reasonable fee" amount to award the prevailing party. Although the amount of attorneys' fees awarded "is a factual issue whose resolution is committed to the discretion of the district court" Saulpaugh v. Monroe Community Hospital, 4 F.3d 134, 145 (2d Cir. 1993), the Second Circuit has established a two-step approach for calculating such awards. First, the court must calculate the lodestar figure by "`multiplying the number of hours expended by each attorney involved in each type of work on the case by the hourly rate normally charged for similar work by attorneys of like skill in the area.'" Cohen v. W. Haven Bd. of Police Comm'rs, 638 F.2d 496, 505 (2d Cir. 1980) (quoting Detroit v. Grinnell Corp., 560 F.2d 1093, 1098 (2d Cir. 1977)). In calculating the lodestar figure, "a different rate of compensation may well be set for different types of litigation tasks." Id. As for the second step, the court may adjust the lodestar figure "upward or downward to take account of such subjective factors as the risk and complexity of the litigation and the quality of the representation." Id.

A. The Lodestar Figure

1. Reasonable Hours

"Counsel for the prevailing party should make a good faith effort to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, just as a lawyer in private practice ethically is obligated to exclude such hours from his fee submission." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983). Hence, "[t]he district court . . . should exclude from this initial fee calculation hours that were not `reasonably expended.'" Id. (citations omitted). Additionally, time records should enable the court to determine whether or not the amount of time spent on particular tasks was reasonable. "The burden is on counsel to keep and present records from which the court may determine the nature of the work done, the need for it, and the amount of time reasonably required; where adequate contemporaneous records have not been kept, the court should not award the full amount requested." F.H. Krear & Co. v. Nineteen Named Trustees, 810 F.2d 1250, 1265 (2d Cir. 1987).

Louie Nikolaidis

Plaintiffs' attorneys claim that 418.20 hours of Louie Nikolaidis' time was spent working on the retaliatory termination claim. The court finds that this request is excessive and is based on vague time records.

Of the 418.20 hours requested, 250.75 hours include time spent on the following: (1) drafting the complaint, (2) client conferences (3) drafting trial-related documents, (4) discovery, (5) in-court appearances, (6) depositions and (7) drafting summary judgment papers. Much of the time spent on discovery, client conferences, drafting the complaint, in-court appearances, depositions and summary judgment papers was indubitably spent on the unsuccessful claims, as these originally comprised the majority of issues involved in the lawsuit. Although the court acknowledges that to some degree, the work on unsuccessful claims is related to the retaliatory termination claim, this does not justify reimbursing plaintiff for all of the time spent on the unsuccessful claims.

Furthermore, Mr. Nikolaidis is an experienced attorney, with 15 years experience in employment discrimination litigation. This case involved a typical Title VII claim. The trial took only four days and involved the examination of one witness. Thus, 250.75 hours would be an excessive amount of time for an attorney of Mr. Nikolaidis' experience to spend in preparation for the trial. Therefore, the court finds that only 50% of these hours, 125.375 hours could have been reasonably related to the retaliation claim.

As for the remaining 167.45 hours, the time entries are too vague for this court to determine whether the amount of time spent on particular tasks was reasonable. Many of these entries involve descriptions such as "preparation for trial" and "telephone call with . . ." or "correspondence with . . ." Such entries are simply insufficient to allow the court to determine the nature of the tasks performed and the amount of time reasonably required to perform those tasks. Thus, to account for these vague time entries, the court ...


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