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NEW YORK EX REL. VACCO v. RAC HOLDING

March 21, 2001

THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK BY DENNIS C. VACCO, THE ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK; HELEN HUDSON; NOVELLA MOORE; DOROTHY HUDSON; AND SANDRA CORRIDERS, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
RAC HOLDING, INC., D/B/A AMERICAR RENTAL SYSTEM, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

  DECISION AND ORDER

Presently before the Court is Defendants' motion for reconsideration. For the following reasons, Defendants' motion for reconsideration is GRANTED.

I. BACKGROUND

The Attorney General of the State of New York filed the instant class action lawsuit on July 15, 1997. The case was brought following an investigation into Defendants' rental practices. The complaint alleges that Defendants engaged in a pattern and practice of discrimination based on race, national origin, age, and disability in the use and enjoyment of their public accommodations in violation of a variety of civil rights statutes. Plaintiffs Helena Hudson, Novella Moore, Dorothy Hudson, and Sandra Corriders ("Intervenors") filed unopposed motions to intervene, which were granted on March 30, 1998, and subsequently filed complaints.

Pursuant to a consent order dated May 24, 1999, Defendants agreed to pay $1,000.00 to each individual who had filed a consumer complaint with the Attorney General along with an additional $3,000.00 to each of the intervening plaintiffs. Thereafter, Ronald VanNorstrand, Esq., attorney for plaintiff Sandra Corriders, and Faith Seidenberg, Esq., attorney for plaintiffs Helen Hudson, Novella Moore, and Dorothy Hudson, sought attorneys' fees of $16,430.00 and $25,576.22, respectively, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

By an Order dated May 16, 2000, this Court denied Plaintiffs' motions for attorneys' fees, finding that the time records submitted in support of the motions were too vague and contradictory for the Court to determine the reasonableness of the claimed hours. Plaintiffs now seek a reconsideration of that Order.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Standard for Reconsideration

Motions for reconsideration proceed in the Northern District of New York under Local Rule 7.1(g), unless otherwise governed by Fed.R.Civ.P. 60. The "clearly erroneous" standard of review applies to motions for reconsideration. The moving party must "point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked — matters, in other words, that might reasonably be expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court." Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995).

Generally, the prevailing rule in the Northern District "recognizes only three possible grounds upon which motions for reconsideration may be granted; they are (1) an intervening change in controlling law, (2) the availability of new evidence not previously available, or (3) the need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice." In re C-TC 9th Ave. P'ship, 182 B.R. 1, 3 (N.D.N.Y. 1995). Defendants' motion rests on the third ground, the need to correct a clear error of law or prevent manifest injustice. Although this Court enjoys broad discretion when making a determination to reconsider on this ground, Von Ritter v. Heald, 876 F. Supp. 18, 19 (N.D.N.Y. 1995), it will not disregard the law of the prior case unless "the Court has a `clear conviction of error' with respect to a point of law on which its previous decision was predicated." Fogel v. Chestnutt, 668 F.2d 100, 109 (2d Cir. 1981).

B. Attorneys' Fees Pursuant to Section 1988

The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 provides, in relevant part:

In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of sections 1981 . . . [and] 1982 . . . of this title, . . . the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.

42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). The Supreme Court has stated that "[t]he purpose of § 1988 is to ensure effective access to the judicial process for persons with civil rights grievances" and that, therefore, "a prevailing plaintiff should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983); see also Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87, 93, 109 S.Ct. 939, 103 L.Ed.2d 67 (1989); New York State Nat'l Org. for Women v. Terry, 159 F.3d 86, 97 (1998); DiFilippo v. Morizio, 759 F.2d 231, 234 (2d Cir. 1985).

In determining whether a civil rights plaintiff is entitled to attorneys' fees, courts must determine (1) whether the plaintiff is the prevailing party and (2) whether the fees requested are reasonable. See Pino v. Locascio, 101 F.3d 235, 237 (2d Cir. 1996) (citing Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 109, 113 S.Ct. 566, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992); Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933). Plaintiffs are considered prevailing parties if they receive actual relief on the merits of their claim. See Gierlinger v. Gleason, 160 F.3d 858, 880 (2d Cir. 1998) (citing Farrar, 506 U.S. at 111, 113 S.Ct. 566). This includes plaintiffs who obtain injunctive relief, who are entitled to "recover a fee award based on all hours reasonably expended if the relief obtained justified the expenditure of attorney time." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435 n. 11, 103 S.Ct. 1933 (1983). It also includes plaintiffs who achieve a favorable consent decree or settlement. See LaRouche v. Kezer, 20 F.3d 68, 71 (1994) (citing Maher v. Gagne, 448 U.S. 122, 129, 100 S.Ct. 2570, 65 L.Ed.2d 653 (1980)).

In order to determine what fee is reasonable, courts must calculate the "so-called `lodestar' figure, which is arrived at by multiplying `the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation . . . by a reasonable hourly rate.'" LeBlanc-Sternberg, 143 F.3d at 763-64 (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933). The number of hours expended for use in the lodestar calculation includes "the number of hours claimed by plaintiffs' attorneys that are supported by time records, that are not excessive or ...


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