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Shepherd v. Wenderlich

October 26, 2010

EON SHEPHERD, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CAPTAIN WENDERLICH; DEPUTY WEST; SERGEANT POST; OFFICER TWEDT; N.A. SMITH; N.P. PARMER; NURSE KIM PEORIA; NURSE FAIRCHILD; DR. CANFIELD; AND NURSE SULLIVAN, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David N. Hurd United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

Plaintiff-a New York State prisoner-sued pro se numerous defendants*fn1 for alleged violations of his First Amendment right to free exercise of religion and his Eighth Amendment right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment.Pursuant to an order signed by the Hon. David R. Homer, United States Magistrate Judge, plaintiff was assigned pro bono trial counsel in April 2009. The trial took place between May 11 and May 14, 2010. The jury found that defendants Twedt and Postviolated plaintiff's constitutional rights, awarded $1.00 in actual damages, and found no cause for action against the remaining defendants. Judgment on the verdict was entered on May 17, 2010.

Plaintiff filed a motion for post-trial relief on June 1, 2010. Plaintiff originally sought attorneys' fees totaling $99,485.25, later reduced to $46,575.00; judgment as a matter of law against defendants West, Wenderlich, and Parmer; and an order setting aside the jury award as inadequate and unjust. Defendants have opposed.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff Is A "Prevailing Party"

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), a court has the discretion to award reasonable attorneys' fees to a "prevailing party" in, inter alia, civil rights litigation. To achieve "prevailing party" status, a plaintiff must secure a judicially sanctioned material alteration of the legal relationship between the parties. Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Va. Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 604, 121 S.Ct. 1835, 1840 (2001); Perez v. Westchester Cnty. Dep't of Corr., 587 F.3d 143, 149 (2d Cir. 2009).

As noted above, the jury found that defendants Twedt and Post violated plaintiff's constitutional rights and he was awarded $1.00 in actual damages. Although small, the $1.00 jury award constitutes a judicially enforceable judgment that altered the legal relationship between the parties.*fn2 Thus, plaintiff is a prevailing party for the purposes of section 1988(b), and reasonable attorneys' fees may be awarded. However, before any award can be determined, we must consider the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA").

B. Applicability Of 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)

The PLRA states in pertinent part:

(1) In any action brought by a prisoner who is confined to any jail, prison, or other correctional facility, in which attorney's fees are authorized under section 1988 of this title, such fees shall not be awarded, except to the extent that --

(A) the fee was directly and reasonably incurred in proving an actual violation of the plaintiff's rights protected by a statute pursuant to which a fee may be awarded under section 1988 of this title; and

(B)(i) the amount of the fee is proportionately related to the court ordered ...


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