The opinion of the court was delivered by: LAWRENCE KAHN, District Judge
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiff Lorenzo O. Romaine ("Plaintiff") commenced an action pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that Defendant Boyce Rawson ("Defendant")
violated his constitutional rights. Presently before the Court is
Plaintiff's motion, which seeks attorneys' fees and costs stemming from
this litigation and a declaration that the Prison Litigation Reform Act
("PLRA"), which caps the hourly rate for attorneys' fee awards in
42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(3), is unconstitutional.
Plaintiff filed this action seeking $4 million in compensation for
injuries he suffered at the hands of Defendant on May 18, 1998, while he
was incarcerated at Mount McGregor Correctional Facility. A bench trial
was held in November 2001, and the Court rendered a decision on April 17,
2001, finding that Defendant used excessive force in violation of the
Eighth Amendment and awarding Plaintiff $1000 in compensatory damages and
$500 in punitive damages. Defendant then appealed this decision to the
Second Circuit. In settlement of the appeal, the parties agreed to file a
joint motion to vacate this Court's April 17 decision, and Plaintiff
agreed to accept $1500 plus interest in settlement of all claims. (Dkt. No. 80, Exhibit C:
Stipulation of Settlement and Discontinuance at 1, 2). While the bench
trial resulted in the Court finding that Defendant had violated
Plaintiff's constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual
punishment, the stipulation provided that the agreement shall not "be
construed as an acknowledgment of the validity of any of the allegations
or claims made in this action." (Dkt. No. 80, Exhibit C: Stipulation of
Settlement and Discontinuance at 3). This Court explained its denial of
the motion to vacate:
When the parties in a § 1983 case brought by an inmate
do not adequately represent the public's interest in
creating a record of prison abuse, the Court must
ensure that this interest is not seriously
undermined. If defendants are allowed to use the
threat of appeal to pressure inmates to accept
settlement agreements which effectively exonerate
defendants, violations of prisoners' civil rights will
go unrecorded. The Court refused to vacate its
decision because of the overriding interest in holding
responsible the prison guard who violated Romaine's
civil rights. Romaine v. Rawson, No. 99-cv-603, slip
op. (N.D.N.Y. November 11, 2003).
However, said stipulation was "so-ordered" by the Second Circuit Court
of Appeals' mandate to vacate. The stipulation contained the following
provision, which is significant to the present motion:
Plaintiff reserves the right to apply to the District
Court for an award of costs and fees, including
attorneys' fees as authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and
1997e, and defendant acknowledges that plaintiff is
qualified as a "prevailing party" for purposes of an
award of attorney's fees under those sections.
Plaintiff may file and serve a motion for such fees no
later than sixty (60) days after the plaintiff's
counsel receives a copy of the so-ordered
stipulation. . . . (Dkt. No. 80, Exhibit C: Stip. of
Settlement & Discontinuance at ¶ 6).
(b) The present motion
Plaintiff filed this motion for attorneys' fees on December 29, 2003.
Therein, he requests $73,484.00 which is the total amount due to his
attorneys. However, Plaintiff recognizes that 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(3)
may be an obstacle to this request: No award of attorney's fees in an action described in
paragraph (1) shall be based on an hourly rate greater
than 150 percent of the hourly rate established under
section 3006A of Title 18 for payment of
Plaintiff acknowledges that in this provision, the PLRA caps the hourly
rate in prisoner civil rights litigations such as this at $112.50, and
therefore the recoverable attorneys' fees would be reduced to $31,552.88.
To avoid this cap, Plaintiff now argues that this provision violates the
equal protection clause. He further contends that excessive force claims
should be exempted from the PLRA's limits on attorney's fees.
In addition to rebutting the arguments set forth by Plaintiff,
Defendant opposes the present motion by claiming that it is untimely,
that the fees sought are grossly disproportionate to the results
achieved, and that another PLRA provision, namely 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(2),
limits the maximum amount of attorney's fees to not greater than 150
percent of the judgment, here $2,250.00.
In an effort to deny Plaintiff any recovery of fees, Defendant argues
that under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2)(B) the present motion
is untimely. Rule 54(d)(2)(B) provides that "[u]nless otherwise provided
by statute or order of the court, the motion [for attorney's fee] must be
filed no later than 14 days after entry of judgment. . . ."
Defendant now attempts to argue that Plaintiff's filing was beyond the
proscribed time for such a motion. Defendant states that the latest time
an "entry of judgment" was made was on November 3, 2003 when the Court
"so ordered" the Stipulation of Settlement and Discontinuance.
Accordingly, relying solely on the 14 day time limit set forth in the
Rule, Defendant argues that when Plaintiff filed the current motion on
December 23, 2003, the time for filing had since passed. However, such an argument is disingenuous, for Defendant ignores the
key provision that it agreed to: "Plaintiff may file and serve a motion
for [attorney's] fees no later than sixty (60) days after the plaintiff's
counsel receives a copy of the so-ordered stipulation." ...