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KUPER v. EMPIRE BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD

United States District Court, S.D. New York


January 9, 2004.

JOHN KUPER, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EMPIRE BLUE CROSS AND BLUE SHIELD DEFENDANT

The opinion of the court was delivered by: JAMES GWIN, District Judge

OPINION, MEMORANDUM, AND ORDER

On October 29, 2002, a jury found that Defendant Empire Blue Cross and Blue Shield ("Defendant" and "BCBS") had wrongfully discharged Plaintiff John Kuper ("Plaintiff) from his job on the basis of his hearing loss disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. § 12102, et seq., and the New York State Human Rights Law ("NYSHRL"), N.Y. Exec. Law § 296, et seq. After a five-day jury trial, the jury awarded Plaintiff a combined total of $500,000, including $116,378.00 in back pay, $121,122.00 in front pay, $62,500.00 in compensatory damages, and $200,000.00 in punitive damages.

On November 12, 2002, Plaintiff Kuper moved the Court to amend the judgment to include prejudgment interest on the back pay and compensatory damages awards. FED. R. Civ. P. 59(e). Plaintiff also sought an award of attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12205, and the Civil Rights Attorneys' Fees Award Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

  On December 18, 2003, Magistrate Judge Michael H. Dolinger issued a detailed Report and Recommendation on the matter. The Magistrate Judge recommended: Page 2

 

(1) that the Court award prejudgment interest on plaintiffs back pay at 4.304 percent, compounded annually and with the loss distributed equally over the back pay period; (2) that prejudgment interest on plaintiffs compensatory damages award be denied, and (3) that attorneys' fees and costs be awarded to plaintiff in the amounts of $395,605.00 and $7,230.50, respectively.
(Report and Recommendation of 12/18/03 at 2).

  Defendant BCBS objected to the Report and Recommendation on January 5, 2004. Defendant argued that Plaintiff was not entitled to this additional recovery because, allegedly, Kuper was not a "prevailing party" in this action. On January 7, 2004, Plaintiff Kuper filed a reply. A bit flabbergasted, Plaintiff asserted that "it is difficult to conceive of a weaker and in fact more illusory, if not outright bizarre, basis for opposing the R&R . . ." (Def. Reply of 1/7/04 at 2).

  After conducting an independent review of the matter, this Court adopts, in full, the December 18, 2003 Report and Recommendation. Defendant's objections to the Magistrate Judge's recommendations are not meritorious. "To qualify as a prevailing party, a civil rights plaintiff must . . . obtain an enforceable judgment against the defendant from whom fees are sought . . ." Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 102, 111-12 (1992); Banner v. Guccione, 178 F.3d 581, 593 (2d Cir. 1999) In the present matter, a jury of their peers found Defendant BCBS liable under the ADA and the NYSHRL. The $500,000 jury award is an enforceable judgment. Defendant's argument that Plaintiff somehow is not the prevailing party borders on absurdity.

  Now, turning our attention to the substance of the motion, the Court examines whether Plaintiff should receive (i) prejudgment interest on the back pay award, (ii) prejudgment interest on the compensatory damages award, and (iii) attorneys' fees and costs. The Court will examine each of these claims in turn.

  First, the decision to award prejudgment interest on back pay generally is a matter left to the Page 3 discretion of the presiding court. However, "[t]o the extent . . . that the damages awarded to the plaintiff represent compensation for lost wages, it is ordinarily an abuse of discretion not to include pre-judgment interest." Sharkey v. Lasmo (AUL Ltd.), 214 F.3d 371, 275 (2d Cir. 2000) (internal quotations omitted). In the present matter, the jury determined that plaintiff wrongfully lost wages from the date of his discharge, July 16, 1998, to the date judgment was entered, October 29, 2002. These back wages represent a quantifiable loss not only in wages, but also in interest on those wages. Thus, the Court hereby orders that Defendant BCBS pay prejudgment interest on the back pay award. Defendant BCBS does not dispute the interest rate calculation for the award of prejudgment interest. Thus, the Court orders that prejudgment interest on plaintiffs back pay award be awarded at 4.304 percent, compounded annually and with the loss distributed equally over the back pay period.

  Second, the award of prejudgment interest for compensatory damages also falls within the discretion of this Court.*fn1 Plaintiff Kuper was awarded $62,500.00 for mental anguish. Plaintiff now requests prejudgment interest on that award. However, the majority of New York federal courts have declined to grant prejudgment interest on compensatory damages for mental anguish on the ground that such an award is not necessary to make the plaintiff whole. See e.g., Zerilli v. New York City Transit Auth., 973 F. Supp. 311, 317 (E.D.N.Y. 1997). In the present matter, this Court similarly finds that an award of prejudgment interest as to Plaintiff Kuper's mental anguish award is not necessary to make Plaintiff whole. Thus, the Court denies Plaintiffs request for prejudgment interest as to compensatory damages.

  Third, it is well-settled law that, under the ADA, a court may award "the prevailing party, other than the United States, reasonable attorneys' fees." 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b); 42 U.S.C. § 12205. Page 4 Indeed, a presumption exists that successful litigants in ADA cases "should ordinarily recover attorneys' fees . . ." Raishevic v. Foster, 247 F.3d 337, 344 (2d Cir. 2001) (citing Kerr v. Quinn, 692 F.2d 875, 877 (2d Cir. 1982)). Given that Defendant BCBS does not present any sound arguments to rebut this presumption, the Court awards attorneys' fees and costs in the present case. Finding the Magistrate Judge's recommendation to be reasonable, the Court awards $395,605.00 for attorneys' fees and $7,230.50 for attorneys' costs. Defendant does not contest the reasonableness of this calculation.

  In sum, the Court awards Plaintiff Kuper prejudgment interest on back pay as well as attorneys' fees and costs However, the Court denies Plaintiffs request for prejudgment interest on the compensatory damages award The Court herein adopts in full the December 18, 2003, Report and Recommendation

  IT IS SO ORDERED.


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