to fees with respect to that meeting.
III. Reasonableness of Hours Expended
The fee applicant has the burden to establish the reasonableness of the
number of hours worked. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, Alnutt v. Cleary,
27 F. Supp.2d at 399. The fee calculation should exclude hours that were not
"reasonably expended" because they were "excessive, redundant, or
otherwise unnecessary." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434.
Defendant contends that there are numerous entries in counsel's billing
records here that represent hours that were not "reasonably expended,"
and that the fee award should be reduced accordingly. In particular,
defendant asserts that counsel's records indicate that there was
duplicative work performed by plaintiffs' attorneys, that some entries
are too vague to determine the reasonableness of the time claimed, and
that there are some double entries in the records for the same work.
It is true that fees can and should be reduced for duplicative work.
See, e.g., Berry v. New York State Dep't of Correctional Services,
947 F. Supp. 647, 652 (W.D.N.Y. 1996). Plaintiffs' attorneys, however,
explain that they used a "team" approach in this case, with different
attorneys working on different aspects of the case and the issues,
depending on each attorney's individual area of expertise.
After reviewing the time records submitted in support of the fee
application, and the affidavits of plaintiffs' attorneys explaining the
nature of the work that each lawyer performed, I find that some reduction
in the number of hours is appropriate. The total time claimed here is 380
hours, which includes 29.7 hours of travel time and 5.2 hours by a
paralegal. Even subtracting those figures, four attorneys worked on this
case for a total of 345.1 hours, which is the equivalent of over eight
and a half 40-hour work weeks. While I recognize that the District's own
intransigence necessitated the expenditure of most of that time, I do
believe that there was some duplication of effort here as well.
I understand that counsel took a "team" approach to this litigation and
the prior proceedings, but though such an approach may have been
effective, I am not convinced that it was always necessary or that it led
to the most efficient use of time. For instance, Pletcher states in his
affidavit that his "involvement at the impartial hearing and intimate
knowledge of the facts of the case combined with Mr. Ackerhalt's
experience in federal court necessitated both [their] appearances in
Court" on December 22, 1999 when the court heard oral argument on
plaintiffs' motion for a preliminary injunction. Pletcher Aff. ¶ 24.
While plaintiffs or their attorneys might have preferred to have both
Ackerhalt and Pletcher in court that day, that does not mean that it was
reasonably necessary that they both attend, and presumably either one of
them could have argued the motion alone. I believe that such duplication
of effort warrants a modest reduction in the hours claimed. See In re
Bausch & Lomb, Inc. Securities Litigation, 183 F.R.D. 78, 85 (W.D.N.Y.
1998) (reducing lodestar by fifteen percent due to, inter alia,
duplicative work); Greenway v. Buffalo Hilton Hotel, 951 F. Supp. 1039,
1069 (W.D.N.Y. 1997) (disallowing certain claimed hours as duplicative),
aff'd as modified, 143 F.3d 47 (2d Cir. 1998); Walker v. Coughlin,
909 F. Supp. 872, 881 (W.D.N Y 1995) (reducing non-travel hours by
fifteen percent to reflect duplication of effort).
I also find that some of the entries in plaintiffs' counsel's time
records do not
provide enough detail. Fees can be reduced where time entries are
insufficiently detailed for the court to ascertain the nature of the work
performed or whether the time claimed was reasonably expended. See, e.g.,
G.M. v. New Britain Bd. of Educ., No. 3:96CV2305, 2000 WL 435577 *5
(D.Conn. Mar. 8, 2000) (entries stating "preparation for hearing,"
"appeal analysis," "work on appeal brief," and "reply brief" did not give
court an adequate basis on which to evaluate reasonableness of hours
expended); Mr. and Mrs. B. v. Weston Bd. of Educ., 34 F. Supp.2d 777, 781
(D.Conn. 1999) ("Entries stating such vague references as `review of
file,' `review of correspondence,' `research,' `conference with client,'
and `preparation of brief' do not provide an adequate basis upon which to
evaluate the reasonableness of the services and hours expended on a given
matter"); Walker, 909 F. Supp. at 881 ("counsel's time records do not
always identify with precision what the nature or subject was of the work
performed"); Greenway, 951 F. Supp. at 1069-70 ("certain entries on both
counsels' time records do not always accurately identify what the nature
or subject was of the work performed"); Cefali v. Buffalo Brass Co.,
748 F. Supp. 1011, 1021-22 (W.D.N.Y. 1990) (finding that "plaintiff has
not met his burden of accounting for his time with sufficient
In this case, most of the entries are reasonably well-detailed and
specific, and obviously it would be unrealistic and unduly burdensome to
expect counsel to set forth in minute detail the precise work claimed in
each entry. Nevertheless, in some instances the entries are
insufficient: "hearing preparation"; "prepare for hearing"; "review
records"; "telephone conference with client"; "prepare for discovery";
etc. Although counsel's affidavits shed a little additional light on some
of these entries, it is still not possible for the court to determine
with a reasonable degree of certainty what type of work all these entries
represent, or whether that time was reasonably expended.
Courts have recognized that in many cases in which prevailing parties
seek an award of attorney's fees, "it is unrealistic to expect a trial
judge to evaluate and rule on every entry in an application." Walker,
909 F. Supp. at 881 (quoting Terrydale Liquidating Trust v. Barness, No. 82
CIV 7920, 1987 WL 9694 at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 15, 1987)). For that reason,
many courts have endorsed percentage cuts "as a practical means of
trimming fat from a fee application." New York State Ass'n for Retarded
Children, Inc. v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1146 (2d Cir. 1983); see Walker,
909 F. Supp. at 881 (collecting cases). "The percentage reduction allows
a court which is familiar with a protracted litigation to implement a
finding that matters have been approached excessively or without
sufficient attention to the problem of duplicative effort." Walker,
909 F. Supp. at 881.
Rather than attempt to "identify and justify each disallowed hour,"
then, or to "announce what hours are permitted for each legal task,"
Mares v. Credit Bureau of Raton, 801 F.2d 1197, 1202 (10th Cir. 1986), a
process which "would quickly become odious" and which could easily
"descend to a contest between court and counsel, with counsel insisting
that his or her integrity is being impugned every time the court
questions the number of hours logged for a given day or a particular
task," id. at 1203, I find it more appropriate to reduce the total number
of hours requested for non-travel items by fifteen percent.*fn5 That
reduction results in the following figures:
Attorney Non-Travel Time Claimed Time After 15% Reduction
Pletcher 49.1 hours (1998) 41.7 hours (1998)
90.5 hours (1999) 76.9 hours (1999)
43.6 hours (2000) 31.5 hours (2000)
Ackerhalt 108.7 hours (1999) 92.4 hours (1999)
27.4 hours (2000) 23.3 hours (2000)
Goldstein .7 hours (1998) .6 hours (1998)
7.6 hours (1999) 6.5 hours (1999)
15.4 hours (2000) 13.1 hours (2000)
Multiplying those times by the rates requested, which I have found to be reasonable, yields
the following amounts:
Pletcher 41.7 hours at $120/hr. = $5004.00
Goldstein .6 hours at $225/hr. = $135.00