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Rajagopala Sampath Raghavendra, Also Known As Randy S. Raghavendra v. the Trustees of Columbia University

August 31, 2012

RAJAGOPALA SAMPATH RAGHAVENDRA, ALSO KNOWN AS RANDY S. RAGHAVENDRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE TRUSTEES OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
RAJAGOPALA SAMPATH RAGHAVENDRA, FOUNDER, RACIAL EQUALITY STRUGGLES FOR COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY EMPLOYEES (RESCUE) AD HOC COMMITTEE, ALSO KNOWN AS RANDY S. RAGHAVENDRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
NATIONAL LABOR RELATIONS BOARD, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
RAJAGOPALA SAMPATH RAGHAVENDRA, ALSO KNOWN AS RANDY S. RAGHAVENDRA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THE TRUSTEES OF COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Paul A. Crotty, United States District Judge:

USDC SDNY

DOCUMENT ELECTRONICALLY FILED

DOC #: _____________________

ORDER ADOPTING R&R

On February 19, 2010, this Court held that Plaintiff Rajagopala Raghavendra's ("Raghavendra") settlement agreement with his former employer, the Trustees of Columbia University in the City of New York ("Columbia") was valid and enforceable, and that Raghavendra's counsel, Louis D. Stober, Jr. and the Law Offices of Louis D. Stober, Jr., LLC (the "Stober Defendants") were entitled to recover their full contingency fee, as agreed upon in their retainer agreement. See Raghavendra v. Trustees of Columbia Univ., 686 F. Supp. 2d 332, 334-35 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed the holding that the settlement agreement was valid and enforceable, but remanded the attorneys' fees issue for further factual findings regarding "the timing of the commencement of counsel's representation and the pendency of other cases, litigated pro se, that are folded into the settlement." Raghavendra v. Trustees of Columbia Univ., 434 F. App'x 31, 32 (2d Cir. 2011). This Court referred the matter to Magistrate Judge Henry Pitman to make further factual findings and issue a Report and Recommendation ("R&R").

On July 11, 2012, Magistrate Judge Pitman issued a thorough and scholarly R&R, recommending that the Court award the Stober Defendants one-third of the settlement proceeds in legal fees, less a credit in favor of Raghavendra in the amount of $10,000.00. On August 17, 2012, Raghavendra filed a barrage of objections. For the reasons that follow, the Court rejects all objections and adopts the R&R in its entirety.

I.Background*fn1

On September 6, 2006, Raghavendra instituted the 06 Civ. 6841 action against Columbia, Lee Bollinger, Robert Kasdin, and William Scott (collectively, the "Columbia Defendants"), alleging generally that the Columbia Defendants violated Raghavendra's civil rights and retaliated against him when he complained about it. The alleged conduct commenced in 2001, leading up to his claimed wrongful termination in 2005.*fn2

Approximately one year after initiating the 06 Civ. 6841 action, Raghavendra retained the Stober Defendants as counsel, but only for his federal human rights action against Columbia, and not for any other action or proceeding. The retainer agreement, date July 10, 2007 and signed by Raghavendra, provided that Raghavendra would (1) pay a non-refundable up-front fee of $10,000 to the Stober Defendants as well as "one-third (33.33%) of all monies received"; (2) pay for all costs incurred by the Stober Defendants in litigating the action; and (3) receive a credit for the up-front fee against any one-third contingency fee awarded by the Court. Raghavendra paid the $10,000 up-front fee.

By the time Raghavendra retained counsel, a motion to dismiss had been fully briefed in the 06 Civ. 6841 action. On July 7, 2008, the Court dismissed most of Raghavendra's claims, leaving only his retaliation and failure to promote claims against the Columbia Defendants, and wrongful termination claim against Columbia.

On September 19, 2008, Raghavendra, proceeding pro se, filed a second action (08 Civ. 8120) against the Columbia Defendants, the National Labor Relations Board ("NLRB"), Celeste Mattina, a director for the NLRB, and Laura Barbieri, an attorney of Schoeman, Updike & Kaufman, LLP, alleging various acts of employment discrimination, civil rights violations, violations of other federal statutes, and various common law claims. (See R&R 19-20.) Defendants moved to dismiss and on August 27, 2009, Magistrate Judge Pitman issued a R&R recommending that the Court dismiss all claims raised against NLRB, Mattina, and Barbieri.

On January 5, 2009, the Columbia Defendants removed to this Court another action that Raghavendra initiated pro se on August 30, 2006 in New York State Supreme Court. In this pro se action, 09 Civ. 0019, Raghavendra asserted claims against the Columbia Defendants for a hostile work environment, failure to promote and re-hire on the basis of age and ethnicity, conspiracy to discriminate, and retaliation. On January 12, 2009, the Columbia Defendants moved, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), to dismiss Raghavendra's complaint.

All of Raghavendra's actions were scheduled for a July 30, 2009 mediation. After representing Raghavendra for approximately two years, and approximately one month before the mediation, on June 26, 2009, the Stober Defendants moved to withdraw as Raghavendra's counsel. They nonetheless continued to represent Raghavendra while their motion was pending. On July 23, 2009, Raghavendra sent the Stober Defendants an email summarizing the key facts and most important points about his three actions, which Raghavendra believed would aid in presenting his case, estimating damages, and presenting possible relief or settlement options at the scheduled mediation. He attached a schedule of damages to this email.

On July 30, 2009, at the conclusion of the all day mediation session, which involved Raghavendra, the Stober Defendants, Columbia and their counsel, as well as a mediator, Raghavendra signed a settlement agreement (the "Settlement Agreement"). The Settlement Agreement provided for the withdrawal of Raghavendra's claims in all three actions, in return for the payment of a very substantial dollar settlement award representing a high multiple of Raghavendra's annual salary,*fn3 and it also addresses how employment references will be handled in the future. The Settlement Agreement did not, however, allocate payments between the three actions. The Settlement Agreement states: "The terms set forth above are final and binding upon the parties." As the Settlement Agreement resolved all of ...


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