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
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,
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 duplicative, and that do not
reflect work done only in connection with unrelated claims upon
which plaintiffs did not succeed." Id. at 764.
The hourly rate to be used "should be `in line with those
[rates]' prevailing in the community for similar services of
lawyers of reasonably comparable skills, experience, and
reputation." Cruz v. Local Union No. 3 of the Int'l Bhd. Of
Elec. Workers, 34 F.3d 1148, 1159 (2d Cir. 1994). The
reasonable hourly rates applied in this district are $175.00 for
civil rights attorneys with significant experience and numerous
years of practice, $125.00 for associates with a reasonable
amount of experience, $100.00 for newly admitted attorneys, and
$65.00 for paralegals. See Sheet Metal Div. Of Capitol Dist.
Sheet Metal Roofing & Air Conditioning Contractors Ass'n, Inc.
v. Local Union 38 of the Sheet Metal Workers Int'l Ass'n,
63 F. Supp.2d 211, 214-15 (N.D.N.Y. 1999); TM Park Ave. Assoc. v.
Pataki, 44 F. Supp.2d 158, 167 (N.D.N.Y. 1999);
1. The Court's Prior Decision
In its prior decision, the Court held that the billing records
provided by Intervenors in support of their motion for
attorneys' fees were too vague and inconsistent to provide the
Court with an adequate basis to determine the reasonableness of
the claimed hours. On that ground, the Court determined that
Intervenors were not entitled to attorneys' fees.
The Second Circuit has held that an application for attorneys'
fees must be supported by detailed, contemporaneous time records
indicating the attorney who performed the work, "the date, the
hours expended, and the nature of the work done." New York
Ass'n for Retarded Children v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1148 (2d
Cir. 1983). While the fee applicant's records need not be
extraordinarily detailed, they must identify the general subject
matter of the claimed time expenditures. See Hensley, 461 U.S.
at 437 n. 12, 103 S.Ct. 1933; Tanzini v. Marine Midland Bank,
978 F. Supp. 70, 83 (N.D.N.Y. 1997); Kirsch v. Fleet St., Ltd.,
No. 92 Civ. 932, 1996 WL 695687, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Dec. 4, 1996).
Although Defendants did not
raise the issue, the Court held that Intervenors' billing
records "omit[ted] any explanation of what work transpired" and
were, therefore, impermissibly vague and failed to satisfy the
Carey standard. A review of the submitted records reveals that
this portion of the Court's decision is not subject to attack
for clear error. A number of the entries in the records
submitted by both counsel indicate merely that a phone call was
made or a meeting attended without describing the nature of the
However, the remedy provided by the Court to address these
shortcomings, a complete disallowance of attorneys' fees, is not
the appropriate one. Instead, courts in this circuit presented
with vague or incomplete billing records, including the case
cited by the Court in its previous decision, have consistently
reduced the requested fee award by a fixed percentage. See,
e.g., Marisol A. v. Giuliani, 111 F. Supp.2d 381, 401 (S.D.N.Y.
2000) (citing cases) (15% reduction to address numerous problems
with requested hours); TM Park Ave., 44 F. Supp.2d at 169 (10%
reduction to correct for insufficient detail in the submitted
billing entries); Mr. X v. New York State Dep't of Educ.,
20 F. Supp.2d 561, 564 (S.D.N.Y. 1998) (20% reduction to account for
vague, incomplete, and duplicative time entries) (citing
Carey, 711 F.2d at 1146); Tanzini, 978 F. Supp. at 83 (10%
reduction to address vague and redundant entries); Jackson v.
Cassellas, 959 F. Supp. 164, 169 (W.D.N.Y. 1997) (citing cases)
(15% reduction to take account of vagueness of entries and
failure to allow review of contemporaneous entries); Wilder v.
Bernstein, 975 F. Supp. 276, 286 (S.D.N.Y. 1997) (10% reduction
to account for vague time entries); Dailey v. Societe
Generale, 915 F. Supp. 1315, 1328 (S.D.N.Y. 1996); Walker v.
Coughlin, 909 F. Supp. 872, 881 (W.D.N.Y. 1995) (citing cases)
(15% reduction to reflect inadequate documentation and lower
rate of compensation); Meriwether v. Coughlin, 727 F. Supp. 823,
827 (S.D.N.Y. 1989) (15% reduction to account for vague
billing entries). Therefore, it was clear error for the Court to
deny Intervenors' motions for attorneys' fees in their
In determining what percentage reduction is appropriate,
"courts have made it clear `that in many instances the context
of vague entries is made clearer by the entries following it.'"
Pascuiti v. New York Yankees, 108 F. Supp.2d 258, 270 (S.D.N.Y.
2000) (quoting Meriwether, 727 F. Supp. at 827); see Lenihan
v. City of New York, 640 F. Supp. 822, 826 (S.D.N.Y. 1986).
Moreover, it has been noted that the level
of specificity required is proportional to the amount of time
charged. See Pascuiti, 108 F. Supp.2d at 270 ("[a]ny lingering
doubt about [the reasonableness of the disputed entries] is
assuaged by the fact that the vast majority of these entries are
less than one hour, and many are less than half an hour")
(citing October 22nd Coalition v. Safir, No. 98 Civ. 7333,
1999 WL 58357, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 4, 1999)).
In this case, as discussed above, a number of the billing
entries submitted by Intervenors are too vague and incomplete to
permit the Court to determine the nature of the tasks performed
and the amount of time reasonably required to perform those
tasks. However, many of the vague entries submitted by
Intervenors are made clear in the context of the surrounding
entries. Further, the overwhelming majority of the entries are
less than twenty minutes in length. In light of these factors,
rather than completely disallow Intervenors' fee requests, the
Court will reduce the total award by 10%.
2. Intervenors' Entitlement to Attorneys' Fees
Having decided to reconsider its prior decision, the Court
must now determine whether Intervenors are entitled to
attorneys' fees pursuant to the two part test established by the
a. Are They Prevailing Parties?
In opposition to the original motions for attorneys' fees,
Defendants argued that Intervenors are not prevailing parties.
As discussed above, plaintiffs are considered prevailing parties
if they receive actual relief, including injunctive relief, on
the merits of their claim.
In this case, Intervenors received $4,000.00 as well as
injunctive relief halting Defendants' alleged discriminatory
practices. However, as Defendants contend, "[a]wards to
intervenors should not be granted unless the intervenor plays a
significant role in the litigation." Wilder v. Bernstein,
965 F.2d 1196, 1204 (2d Cir. 1992). Specifically, the court held
Intervenors may act effectively as private attorneys
general in vindicating abuses of civil rights, and
where they have "contributed importantly to the
creation of remedies," we and other courts have held
that they are entitled to an award of attorneys'
Id. at 1204. (quoting United States v. Board of Educ. Of
Waterbury, 605 F.2d 573, 576 (2d Cir. 1979)).
Here, along with obtaining $3,000.00 for each of their clients
in addition to the $1,000.00 paid to each of the class members,
Intervenors' counsel allege that they contributed significantly
to the terms proposed in the settlement offers and eventually
incorporated into the final settlement agreement. They point out
that several features they proposed were incorporated into the
final agreement, including the educational training program, the
anti-discrimination policy, and the mechanism for verifying
Defendants' compliance with terms of the consent order. In light
of these contributions to the final agreement, the Court finds
that Intervenors played a significant role in the litigation.
Therefore, they are entitled to a reasonable award of attorneys'
b. Are the Fees Requested Reasonable?
Apart from the Court's concern with the vague and incomplete
billing entries submitted by Plaintiffs, Defendants make no
objection to the reasonableness of Intervenors' fee request. A
thorough review of the billing records reveals that the
relatively small amount of time claimed by both counsel is
eminently reasonable under the circumstances. Therefore, it is
Court's determination that Intervenors are entitled to an award
of attorneys' fees based on the hours submitted in their
c. The Lodestar Calculation
Taking into account the reduction due to vague and incomplete
entries and applying the hourly rates discussed above,
Intervenors are entitled to the following fee awards.
i. Ronald VanNorstrand
Plaintiff Sandra Corriders is entitled an award of attorneys'
fees as follows:
VanNorstrand: 110.9 hours at $175/hour ? $19,407.50
Travel: 4.6 hours at $87.5/hour ? $402.50
10% reduction: - $1,981.00
Total Lodestar Amount: $17,829.00
ii. Seidenburg & Strunk