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LEGRAND v. NEW YORK RESTAURANT SCHOOL/EDUCATION MGMT. CORP.

June 13, 2005.

REGINE LEGRAND, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
v.
NEW YORK RESTAURANT SCHOOL/EDUCATION MANAGEMENT CORP., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KEVIN FOX, Magistrate Judge

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

TO THE HONORABLE P. KEVIN CASTEL, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

I. INTRODUCTION

  Plaintiffs Regine Legrand ("Legrand"), Rose Lafrance ("Lafrance"), Margo Hutchinson-Davis ("Hutchinson-Davis"), and Donna Mattos ("Mattos") (collectively, "plaintiffs") brought this employment discrimination action against defendant New York Restaurant School/Education Management Corporation ("School"),*fn1 alleging violations of, inter alia, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 ("§ 1981"), and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. ("Title VII").

  Before the Court are the applications of: (1) the plaintiffs for an award of attorney fees and costs; and (2) the Law Offices of Leonard N. Flamm ("Flamm"), former counsel to the plaintiffs, for an award of attorney fees. The applications are addressed below. II. BACKGROUND AND FACTS

  Flamm represented the plaintiffs in this action until October 21, 2003, when the firm was permitted to withdraw from its representation of the plaintiffs in this action. The law firm of Michael Shen and Associates, P.C. ("Shen") appeared on behalf of the plaintiffs on October 31, 2003. Subsequently, each plaintiff entered into a settlement agreement with and/or accepted an offer of judgment from the School.

  Thereafter, Flamm made one of the applications that is before the Court, for an award of attorney fees incurred in connection with the representation it provided the plaintiffs ("Flamm application"). The plaintiffs made the other application that is before the Court, for an award of attorney fees and costs incurred in connection with the legal services Shen provided for them ("Shen application").

  In support of the respective applications, Flamm and Shen have submitted the contemporaneous time records of their firms, along with affidavits and declarations containing information about each firm's personnel and the services provided in connection with this action. Among these is a declaration of Michael Shen ("Shen declaration"), which contains, inter alia, information about costs incurred by the plaintiffs in the prosecution of this action. The awards sought in the Flamm and Shen applications are $61,362.50 and $192,775.85,*fn2 respectively.

  The School opposed the Flamm application initially. Thereafter, however, Flamm agreed to assign to the School any right to an additional award of attorney fees arising out of Flamm's representation of the plaintiffs ("Flamm assignment").*fn3 In consideration thereof, the School agreed to pay Flamm $50,000.

  The School opposes the Shen application on the grounds that: (1) the time devoted to opposing a summary judgment motion was excessive; (2) certain hours billed by Shen after all plaintiffs had accepted settlement agreements and/or offers of judgment should not be included in the application; (3) the contemporaneous time records submitted by Shen in support of the application contain vague descriptions and instances of block billing; and (4) certain time entries are improper as they pertain to "a different matter involving these parties." In light of these alleged deficiencies, the School maintains that the attorney fees sought in the Shen application should be reduced by approximately 40%.

  III. DISCUSSION

  A prevailing plaintiff in a Title VII or § 1981 action may recover reasonable attorney fees. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k); 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). It is undisputed that the plaintiffs are prevailing parties within the meaning of these statutes.

  The determination of reasonable attorney fees begins with the computation of a lodestar, that is, "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1939 (1983).

  In general, when fixing a reasonable rate for attorney fees, it is appropriate for a court to consider and to apply the prevailing market rates in the relevant community for similar legal work of lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation. See Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n. 11, 104 S. Ct. 1541, 1547 n. 11 (1984). In addition, it is permissible for a court to rely upon its own knowledge of private firm hourly rates in deciding what reasonable attorney fees ...


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