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Sutton v. City of Yonkers

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 29, 2017

SAMMEL L. SUTTON, Plaintiff,
CITY OF YONKERS; POLICE OFFICER SANTOBELLO, officially and individually; and POLICE OFFICER DAUGHERTY, officially and individually, Defendants.



         Plaintiff Sammel L. Sutton brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants the City of Yonkers, the Yonkers Police Department, the County of Westchester, and two arresting officers. (Compl., ECF No. 2.)[1] Plaintiff alleged that he was arrested without probable cause, improperly strip-searched, and subjected to excessive force. (Id. ¶¶ 6-9.) On June 9, 2016, at the conclusion of a three-day trial, the jury returned a verdict for Sutton on the false arrest claim only, awarding $7, 000 in lost wages and $50, 000 in pain and suffering. (ECF No. 78.)

         On July 1, 2016, Plaintiffs attorney, Darryl Austin, moved for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. (Pl.'s Mot. for Attorney Fees, ECF No. 79.) Austin sought an award of $154, 193.75 in attorneys' fees and $1, 987.81 in costs.[2] In opposition, Defendants argued that the Court should reduce Austin's hours by 50%, reduce his hourly rate, and apply other adjustments for a total fee award of approximately $60, 000. (Defs.' Mem. L. in Opp'n to Mot. ("Opp'n"), (ECF No. 87), at 4.)

         Before this Court is Magistrate Judge Gabriel Gorenstein's January 11, 2017 Report and Recommendation ("Report, " ECF No. 99), recommending that Plaintiff be awarded $56, 086.04 in attorneys' fees and $1, 987.81 in costs, and that $14, 250 of the $57, 000 judgment be applied to satisfy the attorneys' fee award.[3] (Id. at 14, 21.) This Court adopts the Report's recommendation that Plaintiffs motion for attorneys' fees be granted, but modifies the calculation of the fee award for the reasons stated below.


         This Court "may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations" set forth within a magistrate judge's report. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). The Court must review de novo the portions of a magistrate judge's report to which a party properly objects. Id. Portions of a magistrate judge's report to which no or merely perfunctory objections have been made are reviewed for clear error. See Edwards v. Fischer, 414 F.Supp.2d 342, 346-47 (S.D.N.Y. 2006). Clear error is present only when "upon review of the entire record, [the court is] left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Brown v. Cunningham, No. 14-CV-3515, 2015 WL 3536615, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. June 4, 2015) (internal citations omitted).

         Magistrate Judge Gorenstein advised the parties that failure to file timely objections to the Report would constitute a waiver of those objections on appeal. (Report at 21-22.) Plaintiffs attorney, Austin, filed timely objections. (Pl.'s Objs. to the Report ("Pl.'s Objs."), (ECF No. 102).)[4] In response to Plaintiffs objections, Defendants asked this Court to adopt the Report in its entirety. (Defs.' Mem. in Response to Pl.'s Objs., ECF No. 106, at 1.)

         There is no clear error on the face of the record as to those portions of the Report to which no objections were made. This Court has considered the issues raised in Plaintiffs objections and reviews de novo the objected-to portions of the Report.


         a. 42 U.S.C. § 1988

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1988 provides that in federal civil rights actions "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." See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 426 (1983). Under the traditional "lodestar" analysis, "[t]he most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Id. at 433. The reasonable hourly rate should conform to rates "prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984). District courts should also take into account case-specific factors, and "bear in mind that a reasonable, paying client wishes to spend the minimum necessary to litigate the case effectively." Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass 'n v. Cty. of Albany, 522 F.3d 182, 190 (2d Cir. 2008).[5]

         In determining the hours "reasonably expended, " a district court should not award hours that are excessive or duplicative, or that reflect work on unrelated claims on which the party did not succeed. See Seitzman v. Sun Life Assurance Co. of Canada, 311 F.3d 477, 487 (2d Cir. 2002). Thus, if the number of hours requested is greater than that which should have been required for the work produced, this Court has discretion to reduce the stated hours accordingly. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434.

         b. PLRA

         Magistrate Judge Gorenstein determined that the Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA"), 42 U.S.C. § 1997e, significantly limits the attorneys' fee award in this case. Under section 1997e(d)(3), an award covered by the PLRA may not be "based on an hourly rate greater than 150 percent of the hourly rate established" for court-appointed counsel. In addition, section 1997e(d)(2) limits the amount the defendant must pay in attorneys' fees to a maximum of 150% of the judgment. See Shepherd v. Goord, 662 F.3d 603, 607 (2d Cir. 2011). These PLRA requirements apply to "any action brought by a prisoner who is confined to any jail, prison, or other correctional facility, in which attorney's fees are authorized under section 1988." 42 U.S.C. §§ 1997e(d)(1)-(3).

         In the Report, Magistrate Judge Gorenstein conducted a detailed textual analysis of the PLRA, concluding that the hourly rate limitation applies to any action filed by a prisoner while incarcerated (including claims that arose before the prisoner was incarcerated). (Report at 6-10.)[6] The Report therefore limited Sutton's attorneys' fees using 150% ...

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