United States District Court, S.D. New York
SAMMEL L. SUTTON, Plaintiff,
CITY OF YONKERS; POLICE OFFICER SANTOBELLO, officially and individually; and POLICE OFFICER DAUGHERTY, officially and individually, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
B. DANIELS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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.) 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.
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. 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
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. (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
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).
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).) 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.)
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.
ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS
42 U.S.C. § 1988
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.
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.
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).
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.) The Report
therefore limited Sutton's attorneys' fees using 150%