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Medina v. Donaldson

United States District Court, E.D. New York

January 6, 2015

DOMINGO MEDINA, Plaintiff,
v.
POLICE OFFICER ANTHONY DONALDSON and POLICE OFFICER CHARLES INGRASSIA, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

VERA M. SCANLON, Magistrate Judge.

Plaintiff Domingo Medina ("Plaintiff" or "Mr. Medina") brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") against Defendant Charles Ingrassia ("Officer Ingrassia" or "Defendant"), among others, [1] and after a seven-day jury trial, the jury awarded Mr. Medina $5, 000.00 in compensatory damages and $16, 000.00 in punitive damages for his claim that Defendant used excessive force during Mr. Medina's arrest. Jury Damages Verdict, ECF No. 80. After trial, Defendant moved for judgment as a matter of law under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 50 or, in the alternative, for a new trial pursuant to Rule 59; Defendant also moved to vacate the jury's award of punitive damages. This Court denied that motion, and denied as moot Plaintiff's request to file a cross-motion for judgment as a matter of law limited to the excessive force claim. Medina v. Donaldson, No. 10 Civ. 5922 (VMS), 2014 WL 1010951, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 14, 2014).

Plaintiff now moves pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) for an award of attorneys' fees and costs related to the work of his attorneys, Anthony Ofodile, Esq. ("Mr. Ofodile") and Franciscus Ladejola-Diaba, Esq. ("Mr. Ladejola-Diaba"). Specifically, Plaintiff requests an award of $217, 175.00 for 422.5 hours of legal work and 23.7 hours of travel time billed by Mr. Ofodile at a rate of $500.00 per hour (with travel time billed at half-rate, or $250.00 per hour); an award of $109, 040.00 for 218.08 hours of legal work[2] billed by Mr. Ladejola-Diaba at a rate of $500.00 per hour; and costs totaling $1, 214.00. The grand total of Plaintiff's requested attorneys' fees and costs is $327, 429.00. Pl. Mem. 5-6.[3]

For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's motion is granted in part and denied in part. The Court finds that Plaintiff, as the prevailing party, should be awarded $72, 992.50 for 196.40 hours of legal work and 24.30 hours of travel time billed by Mr. Ofodile at a rate of $350.00 per hour (with travel time billed at half-rate); $26, 987.13 for 94.15 hours of legal work and 7.97 hours of travel time billed by Mr. Ladejola-Diaba at a rate of $275.00 per hour (with travel time billed at half-rate); and $954.00 in costs, for a total award of $100, 933.63.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court presumes the reader's familiarity with the factual background and procedural history of this case, which is described in detail in Medina v. Donaldson, No. 10 Civ. 5922 (VMS), 2014 WL 1010951, at *1 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 14, 2014).

In support of his motion, Plaintiff filed a memorandum of law, Pl. Mem., ECF No. 86; the declaration of Mr. Ofodile, Ofodile Decl., ECF No. 84-1, and his "Statement of Legal Services, " a record that "was kept contemporaneously with the services performed when they were performed, " Ofodile Decl. ¶ 5 (referring to ECF No. 85-2); the declaration of Mr. Ladejola-Diaba, Ladejola-Diaba Decl., ECF No. 85, and his "Statement of Legal Services, " which he likewise described as being "kept contemporaneously with the services performed when they were performed, " Ladejola-Diaba Decl. ¶ 4 (referring to ECF No. 84-2);[4] a statement of costs, ECF No. 85-1; a $90.00 check from Mr. Ofodile's firm dated March 8, 2013, and addressed to Edgar Roberts ("Mr. Roberts"), a trial witness, for "subpoena & transport fee, " as well as a $40.00 check from Mr. Ofodile's firm dated March 10, 2013 and addressed to Denzil Haynes ("Mr. Haynes"), a trial witness, for "subpoena fee, " ECF No. 85-3;[5] a reply memorandum of law, Pl. Reply Mem., ECF No. 91; and Mr. Ladejola-Diaba's supplemental declaration, Ladejola-Diaba Supp. Decl., EFC No. 91-1.

The Court ordered Plaintiff's counsel to resubmit their time records, formatted with columns for the date of the work performed; description of the work performed; hours claimed as a number (i.e., "1.5" and not "1100 a.m. to 1230 p.m."); and an indication as to whether the entry was for legal work or travel time. Scheduling Order, Apr. 14, 2014, ECF.[6] Hereinafter, the Court will refer to the contemporaneous time records, see ECF Nos. 84-1 (Mr. Ladejola-Diaba's records); 85-2 (Mr. Ofodile's records), as the "Time Records, " and the reformatted time records, see ECF Nos. 87 (Mr. Ofodile's records); 87-1 (Mr. Ladejola-Diaba's records), as the "Reformatted Records."

The Court also ordered Plaintiff to file an affidavit identifying individuals referenced in the time records and attaching "invoices or other documents supporting the claimed costs." Scheduling Order, Apr. 14, 2014, ECF. Plaintiff's counsel failed to submit such an affidavit or any additional documentation supporting the claimed costs.

In opposition to Plaintiff's motion, Defendant submitted a memorandum of law with exhibits. Def. Mem., ECF No. 90.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), "[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of [§ 1983]... the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs...." 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). "The general purpose of fee-shifting statutes such as § 1988(b) is to permit plaintiffs with valid claims to attract effective legal representation and thereby to encourage private enforcement of civil rights statutes, to the benefit of the public as a whole.'" Green v. Torres, 361 F.3d 96, 100 (2d Cir. 2004) (quoting Quaratino v. Tiffany & Co., 166 F.3d 422, 426 (2d Cir. 1999)).

"[P]laintiffs may be considered prevailing parties for attorney's fees purposes if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit." Kirk v. N.Y.S. Dep't of Educ., 644 F.3d 134, 137 (2d Cir. 2011) (quoting Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 109 (1992)); see Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Virginia Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 603 (2001) (a prevailing party "is one who has been awarded some relief by the court"). A damages award will "usually satisfy" the requirements for being a prevailing party. Lefemine v. Wideman, 133 S.Ct. 9, 11 (2012). A prevailing party need not "succeed on the central issue in the litigation" nor "achieve the primary relief sought." Favors v. Cuomo, ___ F.Supp.2d ___, No. 11 Civ. 5632 (DLI), 2014 WL 4065100, at *7 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 14, 2014) (quoting Texas State Teachers Ass'n v. Garland Indep. Sch. Dist., 489 U.S. 782, 784, 790-91 (1989)).

The predominant method for determining a fee award is to calculate the lodestar figure by multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by the reasonable number of hours expended. See Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 546, 551 (2010). "[A] reasonable' fee is a fee that is sufficient to induce a capable attorney to undertake the representation of a meritorious civil rights case." Id. at 552. The calculation of a reasonable fee is within the district court's discretion. See Millea v. Metro-N. R. Co., 658 F.3d 154, 166 (2d Cir. 2011). The burden is on the party seeking the fee award to prove that the requested fees and hours are reasonable. See Hugee v. Kimso Apartments, LLC, 852 F.Supp.2d 281, 298 (E.D.N.Y. 2012) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). Considerations relevant to determining the reasonable fee include "(1) the difficulty of the matter; (2) the nature and extent of the services rendered; (3) the time reasonably expended on those services; (4) the quality of performance by counsel; (5) the qualifications of counsel; (6) the amount at issue; and (7) the results obtained (to the extent known)." Aurora Commercial Corp. v. Approved Funding Corp., No. 13 Civ. 230 (RPP), 2014 WL 3866090, at *3 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 6, 2014); see In re One Infant Child, No. 12 Civ. 7797 (PKC), 2014 WL 704037, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 20, 2014) (same; citing Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass'n v. Cnty. of Albany & Albany Cnty. Bd. of Elections, 522 F.3d 182, 184 (2d Cir. 2008)); Pl. Mem. 2 (citing Arbor Hill and concurring in the relevant factors for consideration).

Congress intended that fee awards in civil rights cases "be governed by the same standards which prevail in other types of equally complex Federal litigation, such as antitrust cases[, ] and not be reduced because the rights involved may be nonpecuniary in nature." Blum, 465 U.S. at 893 (quoting S. Rept. No. 94-1011, p. 6 (1976)).

III. ANALYSIS

As stated above, Plaintiff requests an award of $217, 175.00 for 422.5 hours of legal work and 23.7 hours of travel time billed by Mr. Ofodile at a rate of $500.00 per hour (with travel time billed at half-rate); an award of $109, 040.00 for 218.08 hours of legal work billed by Mr. Ladejola-Diaba at a rate of $500.00 per hour; and costs totaling $1, 214.00, for a grand total of $327, 429.00. Pl. Mem. 5-6.

There is no dispute that Plaintiff, who obtained a damages award from the jury, is the prevailing party. Instead, Defendant argues that the requested hourly rates are unreasonably high; the hours spent were "clearly excessive, redundant, and otherwise unnecessary"; counsels' timekeeping was "egregiously imprecise"; and Plaintiff's success was "minimal bordering on nominal." Def. Mem. 4, 13, 15, 21. Defendant requests that the Court reduce Mr. Ofodile's hourly rate to $350.00; reduce Mr. Ladejola-Diaba's hourly rate to $275.00; utilize a 60% across-the-board reduction of the hours expended; and also deny or significantly reduce the hours requested related to the fee application. Def. Mem. 24.

A. Plaintiff's Counsels' Billing Records

As a preliminary matter, it is necessary to make a determination as to certain typographical and mathematical errors in Plaintiff's counsels' billing records. The Court notes the following inconsistencies and apparent errors in Mr. Ofodile's time records

1. The December 17, 2010 entry for 5.6 hours on the Time Records is for 5.7 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 1 with ECF No. 87 at 2.
2. The December 28, 2011 entry on the Time Records for 1.8 hours for "Response to Motion to Compel" is missing from the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 3 with ECF No. 87 at 4.
3. The four December 29-30, 2011 entries totaling 10.1 legal hours and 2 travel hours related to Mr. Medina's deposition appear only on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 3 with ECF No. 87 at 4.
4. The two January 12, 2012 travel time entries for 0.7 hours on the Time Records are for 0.8 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 3 with ECF No. 87 at 4.
5. The February 25, 2013 entry for 0.8 hours on the Time Records is for 8 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 4 with ECF No. 87 at 6.
6. The March 7, 2013 entry on the Time Records for 0.7 hours for traveling to Court is for 0.8 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF no. 85-2 at 5 with ECF No. 87 at 7. In addition, the March 7, 2013 entry for 1.7 hours at "Court Conference" on the Time Records is recorded as 0.3 hours for a "Court Conference" and 0.6 hours for "Travel Back", totaling 0.9 hours, on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 5 with ECF No. 87 at 7.
7. Two March 9, 2013 entries for 0.6 hours on the Time Records are for 0.7 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 5 with ECF No. 87 at 8.
8. The March 11, 2013 entry for 1.5 hours on the Time Records is for 0.5 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 6 with ECF No. 87 at 9.
9. The March 11-12, 2013 entry for 1.6 hours on the Time Records is for 1.7 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 6 with ECF No. 87 at 9.
10. The March 12, 2013 entry for 0.5 hours on the Time Records is for 0.8 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 6 with ECF No. 87 at 9.
11. The March 13, 2013 entry for 0.6 hours on the Time Records is for 0.7 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 6 with ECF No. 87 at 10.
12. The March 14, 2013 entry for 9.4 hours on the Time Records is for 9.9 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 7 with ECF No. 87 at 10.
13. The March 15, 2013 entry for 0.6 hours on the Time Records is for 0.5 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 7 with ECF No. 87 at 11.
14. The March 17, 2013 entry for 8.6 hours on the Time Records is for 8.7 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 7 with ECF No. 87 at 11.
15. The March 18, 2013 entry for 1.3 hours on the Reformatted Records should be for 1.2 hours (1048 p.m. to midnight). ECF No. 87 at 11.
16. The March 19, 2013 entry for 1.2 hours on the Time Records for "travel for court" is for 1.3 hours on the Reformatted Records for "travel for office." Compare ECF No. 85-2 at 7 with ECF No. 87 at 12.
17. The March 19, 2013 entry for 0.6 hours on the Time Records is for 0.7 hours on the Reformatted Records. Compare ECF No. ...

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