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Williams v. City of New York

United States District Court, S.D. New York

May 9, 2017

RHONDA WILLIAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF NEW YORK, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          J. PAUL OETKEN, District Judge

         On September 19, 2016, the Court was notified that Defendants provided, and Plaintiff Rhonda Williams accepted, an offer of judgment in this matter pursuant to Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in the amount of $10, 001.00. (Dkt. No. 31.) Accordingly, the case was closed (Dkt. No. 32), and a Clerk's Judgment was issued on September 27, 2016 (Dkt. No. 33).

         On November 1, 2016, Williams filed for attorney's fees and costs. (Dkt. No. 37.) Defendants oppose the motion on two grounds: the reasonableness of hourly rate of the fees and the reasonableness of the number of hours billed. For the reasons that follow, Williams's motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Legal Standard

         “Federal statute permits the court, ‘in its discretion' to ‘allow a prevailing party' in a federal civil rights action ‘a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.'” Schoolcraft v. City of N.Y., No. 10 Civ. 6005, 2016 WL 4626568, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 6, 2016) (quoting 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b)). “The Second Circuit has held that plaintiffs who accept Rule 68 offers of judgment qualify as ‘prevailing parties' entitled to attorneys' fees and costs.” Davis v. City of N.Y., No. 10 Civ. 699, 2011 WL 4946243, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 18, 2011).

         “District courts are afforded considerable discretion in determining the amount of attorneys' fees in any given case.” Id. In doing so, courts multiply the number of hours by a reasonable hourly rate-this method “creates a presumptively reasonable fee.” Stanczyk v. City of N.Y., 752 F.3d 273, 284 (2d Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks omitted) (quoting Millea v. Metro-N. R.R. Co., 658 F.3d 154, 166 (2d Cir. 2011)).

         II. Discussion

         As an initial matter, Defendants do not oppose the costs sought by Williams, and those few items-including, for example, the process server fees and PACER charges (Dkt. No. 39, Ex. 4)-appear reasonable.

         The Court now turns to the disputed question of attorney's fees, first discussing the appropriate hourly rate and then the number of hours billed. Finally, the Court resolves the question of additional fees in connection with this motion.

         A. Hourly Rate

         Defendants challenge Williams's counsel's hourly rate.

         “A reasonable hourly rate is determined by the ‘prevailing market rate, ' that is, the rate ‘prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.'” Mosher v. Davita Healthcare Partners Inc., No. 15 Civ. 7594, 2016 WL 3963131, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. July 20, 2016) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984)). “The relevant community, in turn, is the district in which the court sits.” Id. (quoting Farbotko v. Clinton Cty. of N.Y., 433 F.3d 204, 208 (2d Cir. 2005) (citation omitted)). In evaluating the reasonableness of the hourly rate, the Second Circuit has urged district courts to keep in mind the twelve Johnson factors. See Arbor Hill Concerned Citizens Neighborhood Ass'n v. Cty. of Albany, 522 F.3d 182, 190 (2d Cir. 2008). They are:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the level of skill required to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the attorney's customary hourly rate; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved in the case and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the “undesirability” of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

Id. at 186 n.3 (quoting Johnson v. Ga. Highway Exp., Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. ...


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