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Deja Barbour, Shinnel Gonzalez, Rakayyah Massey v. City of White Plains

November 14, 2012

DEJA BARBOUR, SHINNEL GONZALEZ, RAKAYYAH MASSEY, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
CITY OF WHITE PLAINS, MARK BURNETT, ANTHONY CARRA, KEVIN CHRISTOPHER, ANTHONY FARRELLY, JOHN HEFFNER, LAVALLE LARRIER, GILBERT LOPEZ, ANTONIO NOLLETTI, JOHN AND JANE DOES, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS.



Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Robert P. Patterson, Jr., Judge).

Per curiam.

11-2229-cv

Barbour v. City of White Plains

Argued: October 3, 2012

BEFORE: RAGGI, HALL, and CARNEY, Circuit Judges.

Defendants City of White Plains and certain individually named law-enforcement officers appeal from an award of $290,997.94 in costs, of which $286,065.00 represents attorneys' fees, awarded in connection with a $30,000.00 judgment for Plaintiffs ordered pursuant to an offer of judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 68. Defendants contend that the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorneys' fees because (1) their Rule 68 offer of judgment to settle "all claims" should have been interpreted to encompass costs, including attorney's fees; and (2) the fee award bore no relationship to Plaintiffs' degree of success in the litigation. The Supreme Court's ruling in Marek v. Chesny, 473 U.S. 1 (1985), compels rejection of the first argument. As to the second, our "highly deferential" review of attorney's fee awards, Townsend v. Benjamin Enters., Inc., 679 F.3d 41, 58 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted), coupled with Defendants' failure adequately to advance the issue below, compels its rejection. The judgment of the district court is, therefore, AFFIRMED.

Appeal from a judgment of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York (Robert P. Patterson, Jr., Judge). Defendants City of White Plains and certain individually named law-enforcement officers appeal from an award of $290,997.94 in costs, of which $286,065.00 represents attorneys' fees, awarded in connection with a $30,000.00 judgment for Plaintiffs ordered pursuant to an offer of judgment under Fed. R. Civ. P. 68. Defendants contend that the district court abused its discretion in awarding attorneys' fees because (1) their Rule 68 offer of judgment to settle "all claims" should have been interpreted to encompass costs, including attorneys' fees; and (2) the fee award bore no relationship to Plaintiffs' degree of success in the litigation. The Supreme Court's ruling in Marek v. Chesny, 473 U.S. 1 (1985), compels rejection of the first argument. As to the second, our "highly deferential" review of attorney's fee awards, Townsend v. Benjamin Enters., Inc., 679 F.3d 41, 58 (2d Cir. 2012) (internal quotation marks omitted), coupled with Defendants' failure adequately to advance the issue below, compels its rejection. The judgment of the district court is, therefore, AFFIRMED.

1. Factual and Procedural Background

This case stems from an incident in which plaintiffs-appellees were arrested by City of White Plains police officers in 2004. The complaint makes the following allegations. Ms. Barbour, Ms. Gonzalez, and Ms. Massey walked out of a diner in White Plains in the early morning of April 25, 2004. Upon exiting the diner they saw a friend of theirs being questioned and then arrested in a rough manner by City of White Plains police officers. When Plaintiffs asked the officers why they were treating their friend so roughly, the officers proceeded to place Ms Barbour, Ms. Gonzales, and Ms. Massey under arrest, using excessive force when they did so. Following the arrest, Barbour was charged with "Obstructing Governmental Administration and Resisting Arrest," and Gonzalez and Massey were each charged with "Assault on a Police Officer" and related crimes. Barbour and Gonzalez were acquitted at trial; Massey's case was dismissed during trial.

Following the favorable determination of the claims against them, plaintiffs brought a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981 and 1983 against the City of White Plains and the officers involved in the incident, alleging, among other things, false arrest and malicious prosecution.*fn1 The complaint included language indicating that the plaintiffs sought, among other things, "[c]osts, and interest and attorney's fees." The litigation continued for four years, with Defendants steadfastly maintaining that they were unwilling to settle the case.

Thirteen days before trial, defendants made offers of judgment pursuant to Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The three offers of judgment - one extended to each plaintiff - recited that they were for "the total sum of TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS AND 00/100 ($10,000.00) for the settlement of all claims pending against the defendants in this action." Plaintiffs timely accepted the offers of judgment, and the district court entered an order of judgment stating the amount of the award and that the court would determine reasonable attorneys' fees. Defendants did not object to the entry of the order of judgment.

Plaintiffs promptly moved for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to Rule 68 and 42 U.S.C. § 1988. In their motion, plaintiffs requested $267,295.00 in attorneys' fees and an additional $13,645.44 in costs pursuant to a lodestar calculation. In opposing that motion, defendants made only two points: first, plaintiffs were not prevailing parties under § 1988, and second, defendants' Rule 68 offer encompassed all claims, including those for costs and fees. In a reply memorandum, plaintiffs requested additional fees and costs incurred in bringing the motion for fees and costs itself.

In the proceedings below, Defendants did not challenge plaintiffs' counsel's hourly rate or expenses, or any particular time entries. The district court, nonetheless, engaged in a detailed lodestar analysis, calculating the number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by counsel's reasonable hourly rate. The court awarded fees and costs to Plaintiffs in the total amount of $290,997.94.

Defendants raise two issues on appeal: whether defendants' Rule 68 offer encompassed attorneys' fees, and whether there is a requirement that the amount of attorneys' fees awarded to a prevailing plaintiff be proportionate to the ...


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