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Access 4 All, Inc. v. HI 57 Hotel

January 18, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank Maas, United States Magistrate Judge.


I. Introduction

This is one of many actions brought by plaintiffs Access 4 All, Inc. and Nelson Stern in this District under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. ("ADA"). Plaintiffs contend that a Holiday Inn on West 57th Street in Manhattan, which is owned and operated by defendants, violated the ADA. Following the settlement of the action, plaintiffs have brought an application to recover attorneys' and expert fees, litigation expenses, and costs from defendants. For the reasons stated below, plaintiffs' application is granted in part and denied in part.

II. Background

On August 18, 2004, plaintiffs commenced a lawsuit against defendant Jaseme Associates, LLC ("Jaseme"), alleging that it owned, operated, or leased the Holiday Inn Midtown ("Hotel"), located at 440 West 57th Street, New York, New York. (Aff. of Joseph Cecala, sworn to on Apr. 19, 2005 ("Cecala Aff."), ¶ 2). The Hotel was built in 1963 and has 597 guest rooms. (Id. at ¶ 4). West 57 Hotel, LP, is the lessee of the land on which the Hotel is located and HI 57 Hotel, LLC, is the subtenant that operates the Hotel. On October 7, 2004, the parties filed a Stipulation substituting HI 57 Hotel, LLC and West 57 Hotel, LP for Jaseme as the parties defendant. (See Docket No. 4).

On February 7, 2005, the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement. (See Pls.' Applic. Ex. 1). In addition to requiring numerous remedial measures, the Settlement Agreement provides that Defendant(s) shall pay Plaintiffs' counsels, Fuller, Fuller and Associates, P.A. and the Law Offices of Nelson M. Stern, for Plaintiffs' attorneys' fees, litigation expenses and costs incurred in this matter, and Plaintiffs' expert(s), for Plaintiffs' expert fees and costs incurred in this matter. The amounts to be paid shall be established by counsel for the parties by separate letter agreement, which is incorporated as part of this Consent Decree. If, however, counsel for the parties are unable to determine the attorneys' fees, including litigation expenses, expert's fees and costs to be paid, the amount to be paid shall be determined by the District Judge or a Magistrate Judge as the Court deems appropriate. If determined by a Magistrate Judge, the parties agree that the Magistrate Judge may enter a final judgment pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). (Id. ¶ 12).

On March 14, 2005, Judge Daniels, to whom the case was assigned, entered an order dismissing the case with prejudice. (See Docket No. 11). Thereafter, on March 18, 2005, plaintiffs filed this application, seeking to recover $25,784.59 in attorneys' fees, $6,475.00 in expert fees and $2,768.34 in costs (exclusive of any time spent preparing for or attending a fee hearing). Defendants oppose this motion. (See Docket Nos. 14-15).

III. Discussion

A. Entitlement to Recover Fees, Expenses, and Costs

Under 42 U.S.C. § 12205, the court has the discretion to award a prevailing party in an ADA suit its reasonable attorneys' fees, litigation expenses, and costs. To be a "prevailing party," a plaintiff must "not only achieve some material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties, but that change must also be judicially sanctioned." Roberson v. Giuliani, 346 F.3d 75, 79 (2d Cir. 2003). It is not enough merely to have been a catalyst for voluntary change. See Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home Inc., v. W. Va. Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 598 (2001). Instead, where the parties have settled a lawsuit voluntarily, the plaintiff is deemed to be "prevailing" only if (1) the lawsuit was "causally linked to the relief obtained," and (2) the defendant did not act gratuitously, that is, the lawsuit was not "frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless." Fisher v. Kelly, 105 F.3d 350, 353 (7th Cir. 1997) (quoting Gekas v. Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Comm'n, 793 F.2d 846, 849-50 (7th Cir. 1986)).

In this case, plaintiffs have established themselves as "prevailing parties." First, their lawsuit was causally linked to the relief obtained pursuant to the Settlement Agreement. In their complaint, plaintiffs sought to compel defendants to modify certain barriers on the Hotel premises to comply with the ADA, a result which the Settlement Agreement achieved. Moreover, while the Hotel may have voluntarily made some accommodations in the past, it seems clear that the lawsuit led to others. The plaintiffs' allegations regarding the Hotel's alleged ADA violations also were grounded in fact and, thus, not "frivolous, unreasonable or groundless."

As prevailing parties, plaintiffs are entitled to recover their reasonable attorneys' fees and litigation expenses related to the case.

B. Reasonable Attorneys' Fees, Litigation ...

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