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Baez v. New York City Housing Authority

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 20, 2017

MARIBEL BAEZ, et al, Plaintiffs,
v.
NEW YORK CITY HOUSING AUTHORITY, Defendant.

          OPINION & ORDER

          WILLIAM H. PAULEY III, District Judge

         Plaintiffs' counsel Hogan Lovells U.S. LLP (“Hogan Lovells”), Natural Resources Defense Counsel (“NRDC”), and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (“NCLEJ”) move for an award of reasonable attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to a Stipulation and Order between Plaintiffs and Defendant New York City Housing Authority (“NYCHA”). The motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         BACKGROUND

         In December 2013, New York City public housing tenants filed a class action complaint asserting claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (“ADA”), for failure to abate mold and excessive moisture in their apartments. They sought injunctive relief against NYCHA. Instead of contesting the allegations, NYCHA settled and entered into a Stipulation and Order of Settlement (“Consent Decree”), approved by this Court on April 17, 2014.

         Soon after entry of the Consent Decree, it became clear that NYCHA was unable to comply with several requirements of the Consent Decree. In April 2015, Plaintiffs moved to enforce the Consent Decree, appoint a Special Master, and hold NYCHA in contempt. (ECF No. 44.) In December 2015, this Court granted Plaintiffs' motion to enforce the Consent Decree and appointed a Special Master, but denied the contempt application. (ECF No. 88 (the “Order”).)

         DISCUSSION

         Plaintiffs' counsel collectively seek a total of $1, 040, 045.19 attorneys' fees and costs for their professional services in connection with their work on the motion to enforce the Consent Decree. Pursuant to the Consent Decree, Plaintiffs' counsel are entitled to attorneys' fees if the motion to enforce compliance results in “additional obligations” for NYCHA. (Consent Decree, ¶ 22.) There is no question that this Court's December 15, 2015 Memorandum and Order imposed “additional obligations” on NYCHA. As this Court observed:

The appointment of a Special Master appears warranted. The failure to remediate mold and excessive moisture jeopardizes the health and public welfare of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers.

(Order at 6.) Therefore, an award of reasonable attorneys' fees and costs is appropriate. See Reichman v. Bonsignore, Brignati & Mazzotta P.C., 818 F.2d 278, 283 (2d Cir. 1987).

         I. Reasonable Attorneys' Fees

         In determining reasonable attorneys' fees, courts employ the “presumptively reasonable fee” standard, which “boils down to 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.” Simmons v. N.Y.C. Trans. Auth., 575 F.3d 170, 174 (2d Cir. 2009) (internal quotation marks omitted). To calculate the presumptively reasonable fee, “courts typically start with a determination of the lodestar amount, which is ‘the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.'” Exp. Dev. Canada v. Bonilla, No. 13-cv-4952 (KBF), 2014 WL 713470, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 19, 2014) (quoting Healey v. Leavitt, 458 F.3d 63, 71 (2d Cir. 2007)); Millea v. Metro-North R. Co., 658 F.3d 154, 166 (2d Cir. 2011) (“Both [the Second Circuit] and the Supreme Court have held that the lodestar-the product of a reasonable hourly rate and the reasonable number of hours required by the case-creates a presumptively reasonable fee.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). And “[i]t is well-established that civil rights attorneys not working for profit are entitled to fees that are comparable to those awarded to private attorneys with fee-paying clients.” Heng Chan v. Sung Yue Tung Corp., No. 03-CV-6048 (GEL), 2007 WL 1373118, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. May 8, 2007) (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 892-94 (1984)).

         But “[t]he product of reasonable hours times a reasonable rate does not end the inquiry. . . . [O]ther considerations . . . may lead the district court to adjust the fee upward or downward.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983). For instance, courts consider a number of factors in adjusting the lodestar amount:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the “undesirability” ...

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