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CUSH-CRAWFORD v. ADCHEM CORPORATION

December 12, 2002

TONIA CUSH-CRAWFORD, PLAINTIFF,
V.
ADCHEM CORPORATION, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Arthur D. Spatt, United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

In this case, the plaintiff Tonia Cush-Crawford ("Cush-Crawford" or the "plaintiff") brought an action against the defendant Adchem Corporation ("Adchem" or the "defendant") alleging that the defendant sexually harassed her in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e ("Title VII"). A jury returned a verdict in favor of the plaintiff on her claim for sexual harassment-hostile work environment and awarded her zero dollars in actual damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. The defendant appealed the judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff and the plaintiff cross-appealed the judgment insofar as no actual damages were awarded. The Second Circuit affirmed the judgment in its entirety. Presently before the Court is the plaintiff's application for appellate attorneys' fees.

I. BACKGROUND

On January 30, 1998, the plaintiff filed a complaint against the defendant in the Eastern District of New York. The complaint alleged claims of sexual harassment-hostile work environment; quid pro quo sexual harassment; and retaliation in violation of Title VII. On February 1, 2000, a jury found in favor of the plaintiff on her sexual harassment-hostile work environment claim and awarded her zero dollars in actual damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. However, the jury found in favor the defendant on the quid pro quo and retaliation claims.

The defendant then moved for judgment as a matter of law on the hostile work environment claim and the punitive damage award. The plaintiff cross-moved for a new trial on the monetary damage issue and sought an award of attorneys' fees. This Court denied both motions for a new trial in their entirety and awarded the plaintiff $54,052 in attorneys' fees and $2,026 in costs.

The defendant appealed the judgment entered in favor of the plaintiff and the plaintiff cross-appealed insofar as no actual damages were awarded. On November 16, 2001, the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment in its entirety. Cush-Crawford v. Adchem Corp., 271 F.3d 352 (2d Cir. 2001).

On May 3, 2002, the defendant moved in this Court for an order directing the plaintiff to execute and deliver a satisfaction of judgment to the defendant and directing the plaintiff to pay for the costs and attorneys' fees incurred in bringing the motion. On May 16, 2002, counsel for the plaintiff provided the defendant with a satisfaction of judgment which stated in relevant part:

WHEREAS, the judgment of the Honorable Arthur D. Spatt, District Court Judge, was entered in the above-entitled action on May 1, 2002 [sic] in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York in favor of the Plaintiff, TONIA CUSH-CRAWFORD, and against the Defendant, ADCHEM CORP., for the sum of $100,000.00, $54,052 in attorney's fees and $2,206 in cost plus interest and said judgment has been fully paid and satisfied (This satisfaction does not include legal fees incurred in the U.S. Court of Appeals) . . . .

On May 17, 2002, the Court heard argument on the defendant's motion to compel the plaintiff to deliver a satisfaction of judgment. After hearing both sides, the Court stated that the plaintiff is not required to provide an unconditional satisfaction of judgment because the issue of appellate attorneys' fees remains outstanding. As to the appellate attorneys' fees, the Court set the following motion schedule: the plaintiff to file her motion by May 31, 2002; the defendant to oppose by June 14, 2002; and the plaintiff to reply by June 21, 2002.

On June 3, 2002, the plaintiff filed an affirmation in support of her motion for appellate attorneys' fees. On June 14, 2002, the defendant filed an opposition. On June 26, 2002, the plaintiff filed her reply.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Decision to Award Appellate Attorneys' Fees in the First Instance

Because the award of attorneys' fees may involve extensive factfinding and a large degree of discretion, a district court generally decides this issue in the first instance. Mikes v. Straus, 274 F.3d 687, 704 (2d Cir. 2001) (citing Dague v. City of Burlington, 976 F.2d 801, 803 (2d Cir. 1992), rev'd in part on other grounds, 505 U.S. 557, 112 S.Ct. 2638 (1992)); Woe v. Cuomo, 729 F.2d 96, 108 (2d Cir. 1984) (stating that the issue of appellate attorneys' fees in an action challenging the constitutionality of care given to involuntarily committed mental patients in state hospital is more appropriately left to the discretion of the district court). Indeed, the Second Circuit has stated that:

[B]arring unusual circumstances, when questions are presented such as the amount of recovery, the extent to which a plaintiff is a prevailing party, and what if any adjustment is to be given for delay in payment, determination of a reasonable attorney's fee under the fee-shifting ...

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