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CONNOR v. ULRICH

July 23, 2001

HAROLD J. CONNOR, PLAINTIFF,
V.
HENRY A. ULRICH, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS A POLICE OFFICER, DEFENDANT.



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

  MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

In this case, the plaintiff, Harold J. Connor ("Connor" or the "plaintiff"), brought a Section 1983 action against Nassau County, a Nassau County Police Officer, Henry A. Ulrich ("Ulrich" or the "defendant"), and a Nassau County Police Sergeant, John O'Keefe ("O'Keefe") alleging violations of his constitutional due process and equal protection rights as well as violations of state law. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Connor on his Section 1983 excessive force claim against Ulrich, and awarded him $210,750 in compensatory damages and $1.00 in punitive damages. Presently before the Court is Connor's application for attorney's fees and his request for an amendment of the judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e).

I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff claimed that on May 2, 1996, he was driving his car west on the Grand Central Parkway, near the Inter Boro Parkway exchange when he was pulled over by Police Officer Ulrich. Connor claimed that during the stop of his vehicle, Ulrich kicked him, slammed him against the car, and then arrested him. Connor further claimed that as a result of Officer Ulrich's conduct, he suffered physical injuries that required surgery and hospitalization. In particular, he suffered a broken eye socket, nose, and jaw, and multiple lacerations. Connor further claimed that Officer Ulrich and Sergeant O'Keefe prepared false police reports, and that as a result of the police officers' conduct, he was required to appear in Nassau County District Court on several occasions as an accused criminal.

Connor initiated this Section 1983 action on May 3, 1999, alleging, among other things assault, battery, abuse of process, excessive force, malicious prosecution, and intentional infliction of emotional distress, in violation of his First, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment rights.

As noted, the case proceeded to trial, and at the close of the defendants' case, the Court heard the arguments of the parties in support of their respective Rule 50 motions for judgment as a matter of law. The Court dismissed the claims against Nassau County on the ground that the plaintiff had not put forth sufficient proof to show that Nassau County had a custom or policy to encourage, allow, or ignore excessive beating or the use of excessive force. The Court also dismissed the claims against Sergeant O'Keefe, as well as the state-law claims. The jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on the Section 1983 "excessive force" claim and in favor of the defendant on the Section 1983 "malicious abuse of process" claim. The jury awarded Connor the sum of $150,000 for his physical injuries, emotional distress, and pain and suffering; $25,750 for past and future medical expenses; $35,000 for loss of earnings; and $1.00 in punitive damages.

Connor now moves for attorney's fees under the provisions of 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and for an amendment of the judgment under Fed.R.Civ.P. 59(e) to provide for an award of pre-judgment interest. Specifically, the plaintiff seeks the sum of $51,375 in attorney's fees; an additional $3,798 for disbursements and expert witness fees; and $1,125 for travel time. This attorney's fee request is comprised of the following separate claims:

Dennis J. Kelly, Esq.: 106.25 hours at $250 per hour ? $26,562.50
Felice J. Muraca, Esq.: 99.25 hours at $250 per hour ? $24,812.50
Total hours: 205.5 Total fee requested: $51,375.00

The defendant raises several challenges to the present request for attorney's fees, including arguments that the requested hourly rates are excessive; that hours for duplicative work should be reduced; and that counsel's performance of "non-legal" tasks deserves compensation at a reduced rate. The defendant also asserts that the plaintiffs request for expert fees must be denied. In addition, the defendant challenges the request for pre-judgment interest, claiming that it is not applicable in the present case.

II. DISCUSSION

A. As to Attorney's Fees, Costs, and Disbursements

A prevailing party in a case brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 may be awarded reasonable attorney's fees. 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). Because of the district court's familiarity with the quality of the representation and the extent of the litigation, the decision whether to award fees and the amount of fees awarded are issues generally confined to the sound discretion of the court. Gierlinger v. Gleason, 160 F.3d 858, 876 (2d Cir. 1998). The well-known formula for calculating attorney's fees is the "lodestar" method described in Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565, 106 S.Ct. 3088, 92 L.Ed.2d 439 (1986). Under this method, the court makes an initial calculation of a lodestar amount by multiplying the number of hours reasonably spent on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983); LeBlanc-Sternberg v. Fletcher, 143 F.3d 748, 763-64 (2d Cir. 1998); Gierlinger, 160 F.3d at 876; Luciano v. Olsten Corp., 109 F.3d 111 (2d Cir. 1997). If the court finds that certain claimed hours are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, the court should exclude those hours from its lodestar calculation. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434, 103 S.Ct. 1933; Luciano, 109 F.3d at 116. Once the initial lodestar calculation is ...


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