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Olsen v. County of Nassau

January 26, 2010

PAMELA OLSEN, DEIRDRE KETCHAM, AND NOREEN CRIBBIN, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE COUNTY OF NASSAU, DETECTIVE LIEUTENANT VINCENT ROBUSTELLI, SERGEANT STEVEN ZETH, SERGEANT ROBERT ATCHISON, DETECTIVE KEN CATALANI AND DETECTIVE KEN SCHMITT, (IN THEIR OFFICIAL AND INDIVIDUAL CAPACITIES), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: E. Thomas Boyle United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Before the Court is the plaintiffs' motion for attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $566,174.92.*fn1 Defendants oppose plaintiffs' application, asserting that the requested fees should be reduced on the grounds that: (1) the associate billing rates are unreasonable; (2) the plaintiffs achieved only "limited success;" and, (3) numerous billing entries are duplicative and contain block billing. For the following reasons, plaintiffs are awarded attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $517,434.95.

FACTS

Familiarity with the facts of the underlying action is presumed. Plaintiffs, Pamela Olsen ("Olsen"), Deirdre Ketcham ("Ketcham"), and Noreen Cribbin ("Cribbin") (collectively referred to as "plaintiffs"), commenced this action in 2005, alleging that defendants, The County of Nassau (the "County"), Detective Lieutenant Vincent Robustelli ("Robustelli"), Sergeant Steven Zeth ("Zeth"), Sergeant Robert Atchison ("Atchison"), Detective Ken Catalani ("Catalani") and Detective Ken Schmitt ("Schmitt") (collectively "defendants"), impermissibly discriminated against them in the terms and conditions of their employment with the Nassau County Police Department ("NCPD") on the basis of their gender. Plaintiffs asserted their discrimination claims pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq., 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") and the New York State Human Rights Law, N.Y. Exec. Law §§ 290 et seq. Plaintiffs also asserted claims for First Amendment retaliation pursuant to Section 1983.

A jury trial was conducted in this action from October 6, 2008 to November 7, 2008. After all of the evidence was submitted, the Court granted judgment as a matter of law in favor of defendants, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a), with respect to the following: (1) plaintiffs' New York State Human Rights Law claims; (2) plaintiffs' First Amendment retaliation claims; (3) the Section 1983 claims asserted against the individual defendants in their official capacities; and, (4) the Section 1983 claims asserted against defendants Catalani and Schmitt in their individual capacities. See Olsen v. County of Nassau, No. CV 05-3626, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 90426, at *20-21 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 5, 2008). As a result of that decision, defendants Catalani and Schmitt were dismissed from the action entirely. See id. at *21.

The jury rendered its verdict on the remaining claims on November 14, 2008, finding in favor of plaintiffs with respect to the following: (1) all plaintiffs' Title VII claims against the County for disparate treatment based on gender; (2) plaintiff Olsen's and plaintiff Ketcham's Title VII retaliation claims against the County; (3) plaintiff Olsen's and plaintiff Ketcham's Section 1983 claims for denial of equal protection against defendant Atchison; and, (4) all plaintiffs' Section 1983 claims against the County for denial of equal protection. The jury awarded plaintiffs $1 million in compensatory damages with respect to their claims against the County and $2 in nominal damages with regard to their claims against defendant Atchison.*fn2 The jury found that plaintiffs did not prevail on the following claims: (1) all plaintiffs' Title VII claims against the County for a hostile work environment based on sexual harassment; (2) plaintiff Cribbin's Title VII retaliation claim against the County; and, (3) all plaintiffs' Section 1983 claims against defendants Robustelli and Zeth for denial of equal protection.

Defendants thereafter moved for judgment as a matter of law, or alternatively, for a new trial, with respect to several of the jury's findings. That motion was denied and the verdict was upheld in its entirety by Memorandum Opinion and Order dated May 7, 2009. See Olsen v. County of Nassau, 615 F. Supp. 2d 35 (E.D.N.Y. 2009).

On October 9, 2009, the Court held a bench trial with respect to plaintiff Olsen's economic damages - i.e., front pay and back pay. The parties thereafter submitted a joint submission regarding the damages that should be awarded to Olsen, which was prepared by both of their experts. The Court approved the submission on November 19, 2009 and granted judgment in favor of Olsen in the amount of $432,747. The Court entered judgment with respect to the jury's November 14, 2008 verdict at that time as well.

Defendants appealed the November 19, 2009 judgment by Notice of Appeal dated December 17, 2009. Defendants' appeal is currently pending.

DISCUSSION

I. The Presumptively Reasonable Fee

In the Second Circuit, attorney's fees are determined by calculating the "presumptively reasonable fee," or the "lodestar" figure. Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass'n v. County of Albany, 493 F.3d 110, 117-18 (2d Cir. 2007), amended on other grounds, 522 F.3d 182 (2d Cir. 2008); Baruch v. Healthcare Receivable Mgmt., Inc., No. 05-CV-5392, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 80429, at *15 (E.D.N.Y. Oct. 29, 2007). The court determines the presumptively reasonable fee by multiplying "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation . . . by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 453 (1983).

The burden is on the party seeking attorney's fees to submit sufficient evidence to support the hours worked and the rates claimed. See id. at 433; Cho v. Koam Med. Servs. P.C., 524 F. Supp. 2d 202, 209 (E.D.N.Y. 2007) ("The party seeking the award bears 'the burden of documenting the hours reasonably spent by counsel . . . .'"). Accordingly, the party seeking an award of attorney's fees must support its application by providing contemporaneous time records that detail "for each attorney [and legal assistant], the date, the hours expended, and the nature of the work done." New York State Ass'n for Retarded Children, Inc. v. Carey, 711 F.2d 1136, 1148 (2d Cir. 1983). If the documentation is inadequate, the court may reduce the award accordingly. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433-34; Molefi ...


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