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MATTHEWS v. CITY OF NEW YORK

August 22, 2003

NAKIJAH MATTHEWS, PLAINTIFF, -AGAINST- CITY OF NEW YORK ET ALIA, DEFENDANTS


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Charles Sifton, Senior District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Plaintiff Nakijah Matthews brings this action against defendants City of New York and various law enforcement officials seeking relief under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged violations of her civil rights, in particular an allegedly false arrest and illegal strip search. Pursuant to plaintiff's acceptance of an offer of judgment by defendants under Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil procedure, judgment was entered in plaintiff's favor in the amount of $7,501, with costs and reasonable attorneys fees, Plaintiff now moves for an award of attorneys fees in the amount of $52,037.20. For the reasons set forth below, plaintiff is awarded attorneys fees in the amount of $20,473.73.

BACKGROUND

The following facts are taken from the submissions of the parties, and are essentially undisputed. [ Page 2]

This is one of several related actions being prosecuted by the law firm of Cardinale Hueston & Marinelli ("CHM") on behalf of plaintiffs alleging violations of their civil rights arising from arrests and detentions in the Borough of Brooklyn, in particular, the alleged practice of performing strip searches of arrestees at the Brooklyn Central Booking facility. There are currently eight other such actions on this Court's docket, involving 30 plaintiffs (for a total of nine actions and 31 plaintiffs),*fn1 all of which have been consolidated for pretrial purposes (collectively, the "Brooklyn strip-search cases"). The cases (other than the instant case) are: Habrout v. City of New York, 02 CV 1039; Joseph v. City of New York, 01 CV 1165; Hero v. City of New York, 01 CV 2511; Spinner v. City of New York, 01 CV 2715; Espeland v. City of New York, 01 CV 5429; Philizaire v. City of New York, 01 CV 2738; Knopke v. City of New York, 01 CV 8264; and Micciulli v. City of New York, 02 CV 2899. Spinner, [ Page 3]

Micciulli, and Knopke are putative class actions; a motion to consolidate these three cases with Habrout under the Spinner caption and a motion for class certification and a preliminary injunction in the resulting consolidated action are currently pending before this Court.

Defendants moved to disqualify CHM as counsel in these actions on grounds that the prior employment of Messrs. Cardinale and Hueston as Assistant Corporation Counsels in the Special Federal Litigation Division of the New York City Law Department created a conflict of interest. Magistrate Judge Pollak denied the motion by an order dated May 20, 2002, and reaffirmed her ruling on reconsideration by order dated January 28, 2003.

Plaintiff in this action accepted defendants' offer of judgment in the amount of $7,501 under Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 68 states in relevant part:

At any time more than 10 days before the trial begins, a party defending against a claim may serve upon the adverse party an offer to allow judgment to be taken against the defending party for the money or property or to the effect specified in the offer, with costs then accrued. If within 10 days after the service of the offer the adverse party serves written notice that the offer is accepted, either party may then file the offer and notice of acceptance together with proof of service thereof and thereupon the clerk shall enter judgment.
Plaintiff filed copies of the offer of judgment and the notice of acceptance, along with an affidavit of service and a proposed form of judgment, as attachments to a request for the clerk to enter judgment pursuant to this Rttle. However, the clerk's office did not enter judgment and instead docketed the [ Page 4]

request for entry of judgment and sent it to my chambers. I signed the proposed judgment (which also included a signature line for the Clerk of the Court) on May 19, 2003, and on May 27, 2003, I issued an order directing the clerk to enter the judgment. However, the judgment had already been docketed on May 21, 2003. The judgment ordered plaintiff to submit her application for attorneys fees within thirty days from entry of judgment. Plaintiff filed her motion for attorneys fees on Monday, June 23, 2003. She claims $52,037.20 in attorneys fees.

DISCUSSION

The awarding of attorneys fees in civil rights actions is governed by 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), which states in relevant part:

In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of [the federal civil rights laws], 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.
In this Circuit, there is "a presumption that successful civil rights litigants should recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." Kerr v. Quinn, 692 F.2d 875, 877 (2d Cir. 1982). To qualify as a prevailing party eligible for an award of attorneys fees, the plaintiff must obtain at least some relief on the merits of his claim. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111 (1992).

"In determining reasonable attorney's fees, the district court must calculate a `lodestar' figure based upon the number of hours reasonably expended ...


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