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Zhou v. State University of New York Institute of Technology

United States District Court, N.D. New York

December 23, 2014

XU-SHEN ZHOU, also known as Jason Zhou, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK INSTITUTE OF TECHNOLOGY; DR. LISA BERARDINO; DR STEPHEN HAVLOVIC; and DR. WILLIAM LANGDON, Defendants.

ROSS P. ANDREWS, ESQ., SARAH E. RUHEN, ESQ., SATTER & ANDREWS, LLP, Syracuse, NY, Counsel for Plaintiff.

DOUGLAS J. GOGLIA, ESQ., HON. ERIC T. SCHNEIDERMAN, Attorney General for the State of New York, Albany, NY, Counsel for Defendants.

DECISION and ORDER

GLENN T. SUDDABY, District Judge.

Currently before the Court is a motion by Plaintiff for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§ 1988 and 2000e-5(k). ( See Dkt. Nos. 101, 104.) Defendants oppose the motion, in part. For the following reasons, Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees is granted in part and denied in part.

I. RELEVANT BACKGROUND

Familiarity with the factual and procedural history of this action is presumed, and will not be recited in this Decision and Order, which is intended primarily for the review of the parties. See Zhou v. State Univ. of New York Inst. of Tech., 4 F.Supp. 3d 404 (N.D.N.Y. 2014); Zhou v. State Univ. of New York Inst. of Tech., No. 08-CV-0444, 2011 WL 4344025 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 14, 2011) aff'd in part and vacated in part, 499 F.Appx. 105 (2d Cir. 2012). Rather, the Court will only briefly summarize the relevant procedural background leading up to the current motion.

Plaintiff commenced this action as a pro se litigant on April 23, 2008 after having received a right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ("EEOC"). Plaintiff was represented by attorney, Samuel F. Prato, in the proceedings before the EEOC. Beginning in September 2007, Plaintiff was "informally" represented by attorney, Ross P. Andrews until Mr. Andrews filed an appearance in this action on May 27, 2010. (Dkt. No. 153-1 at 1 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Two associate attorneys who worked at Mr. Andrews' firm, Matthew E. Bergeron and Sarah Ruhlen, also provided legal services to Plaintiff.

A. Plaintiff's Motion

Generally, in support of his motion for attorney's fees, Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to $121, 237 in attorney's fees and $8, 386.14 in costs associated with the litigation and appeal of this matter because (1) he is the prevailing party and (2) the requested fees and costs are reasonable. ( See generally Dkt. No. 153-1 at 1-11 [Pl.'s Mem. of Law].) Generally, in response to the current motion, Defendants do not object to attorney's fees being awarded to Plaintiff, but argue that Plaintiff is not entitled to attorney's fees for the time period he litigated this action pro se, including the preparation of his motion to quash Defendants' subpoena to Bloomsberg University. ( See generally Dkt. No. 159 [Defs.' Letter Response].)

II. GOVERNING LAW

A. Attorney's Fees

Under both Section 1988 and Title VII, the court may, in its discretion, award attorney's fees and costs to the prevailing party. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988 ("[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of [42 U.S.C. §1983]..., the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party... a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs"); 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k) ("the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party... a reasonable attorney's fee (including expert fees) as part of the costs"). "A plaintiff prevails when []he succeeds on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the party sought in bringing suit." Bridges v. Eastman Kodak Co., 102 F.3d 56, 58 (2d Cir. 1996).

In addition to being a prevailing party, the party seeking attorneys' fees must prove that his requested fee is "reasonable." See Pino v. Locascio, 101 F.3d 235, 237 (2d Cir. 1996); see also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). In determining whether the moving party has satisfied its burden, the court must calculate a "presumptively reasonable fee." See Bergerson v. N.Y. State Office of Mental Health, Cent. N.Y. Psych. Ctr., 652 F.3d 277, 289 (2d Cir. 2011).

Traditionally, courts have determined a "reasonable attorney's fee" by calculating the lodestar - the product of the number of hours required by the matter and a reasonable hourly rate. See Millea v. Metro-North R. Co., 658 F.3d 154, 166 (2d Cir. 2011) (citing Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 130 S.Ct. 1662, 1673 (2010); Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Assoc. v. Cnty. of Albany, 522 F.3d 182, 183 (2d Cir.2008)). A reasonable hourly rate is "what a reasonable, paying client would be willing to pay, given that such a party wishes to spend the minimum necessary to litigate the case effectively." Bergerson, 652 F.3d at 289-290 (citations and quotations omitted).[1] The court must refer to "the prevailing [market rates] in the [relevant] community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." See Farbotko v. Clinton Cnty. of New York, 433 F.3d 204, 208 (2d Cir. 2005) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895, n.11, 104 S.Ct. 1541 (1984)). A determination of the reasonable hourly rate "contemplates a case-specific inquiry into the prevailing market rates for counsel of similar experience and skill to the fee applicant's counsel[, which] may, of course, include judicial notice of the rates awarded in prior cases and the court's own familiarity with the rates prevailing in the district." Farbotko, 433 F.3d at 209. The Second Circuit recently indicated that a trial court did not abuse its ...


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