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Davis v. Shah

United States District Court, W.D. New York

June 22, 2017

HARRY DAVIS, Plaintiffs
v.
NIRAV SHAH, individually and in his official capacity as Commissioner of the New York State Department of Health, Defendant

          For Plaintiffs: Bryan D. Hetherington, Esq., Geoffrey A. Hale, Esq., Jonathan Feldman, Esq. Empire Justice Center, Martha J. Perkins, Esq., Sarah J. Somers, Esq.

          For Defendant: J. Richard Benitez, A.A.G. Office of the New York State Attorney General

          DECISION AND ORDER

          CHARLES J. SIRAGUSA United States District Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         This was an action brought by Medicaid recipients to challenge provisions of New York State Social Services Law, concerning coverage for prescription footwear and compression stockings. On July 1, 2016, the Court issued a stipulated Order awarding declaratory and permanent injunctive relief to Plaintiffs (Docket No. [#51]), and the parties have stipulated that Plaintiffs were the prevailing parties in the underlying action.[1] Now before the Court is Plaintiff's application [#52] for attorneys' fees, which Defendant is opposing in part. The application is granted.

         BACKGROUND

         The reader is presumed to be familiar with the underlying facts of this case, as discussed in lengthy prior Decisions and Orders from this Court and from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. See, e.g., Davis v. Shah, 12-CV-6134, 2013 WL 6451176 (W.D.N.Y. Dec. 9, 2013), aff'd in part, vacated in part, and remanded, Davis v. Shah, 821 F.3d 231 (2d Cir. 2016). It is sufficient to note that this was a complicated class action, involving challenges to the New York Medicaid statute under four different sections of the federal Medicaid Act (Title XIX of the Social Security Act), as well as additional challenges under Title II of the Americans With Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act (“Section 504").

         As the “prevailing parties” within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and 42 U.S.C. § 12205, Plaintiffs have applied for an award of attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs seek a total combined award of attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $ 397, 609.08.

         Movants are seeking payment for work performed by six attorneys and one paralegal. The six attorneys are Bryan Hetherington (“Hetherington”), Trilby DeJung (“DeJung”), Jonathan Feldman (“Feldman”), Geoffrey Hale (“Hale”), Jane Perkins (“Perkins”) and Sarah Somers (“Somers”). The paralegal is Amanda Gallipeau (“Gallipeau”). At all relevant times Hetherington, DeJung, Feldman, Hale and Gallipeau were associated with the Empire Justice Center, a public interest law firm. Hetherington, DeJung, Feldman and Hale have been practicing law for 41 years, 30 years, 28 years, and 7 years, respectively. Gallipeau has been employed as a paralegal for the Empire Justice Center for 7 years. At all relevant times, Perkins and Somers were associated with the National Health Law Program, a non-profit organization comprised of attorneys and health law policy analysts. Perkins and Somers have been practicing law for 34 years and 24 years, respectively. All of the aforementioned attorneys have significant expertise in the field of health care law and/or disability law. Somers and Perkins practice exclusively in the field of health care law.

         Movants maintain that the following hourly rates are reasonable under the circumstances of this action:

Hetherington, DeJung, and Perkins:

$375/hr

Feldman and Somers:

$350/hr

Hale:

$260/hr

Gallipeau:

$115/hr

         Movants contend that the aforementioned hourly rates are reasonable in light of their experience and the complexity of this action. Regarding the complexity of the action, Movants describe the field of medicaid litigation as “notoriously complex.”[2] Movants have submitted supporting affidavits and curricula vitae listing their academic and professional achievements in the field of public interest health care law, which are vast.

         Movants have also submitted an affidavit from Rene H. Reixach, Jr., (“Reixach”), a partner at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP, in the firm's Elder Law and Health Care Practice Group. Reixach has been practicing law since 1972 and is familiar with billing rates charged by law firms for litigation services in Western New York. Reixach opines that the Empire Justice Center “is the premier firm in Rochester for bringing complex civil litigation on behalf of low-income [persons], ” and that the National Health Law Program “is the preeminent public sector law firm in the nation on issues involving the Medicaid program.”[3] Reixach further indicates that the hourly rates being requested by Movants are “very reasonable for attorneys of their skills, knowledge, experience and reputation, ” and that they are in fact “comparable to and even lower than rates charged by other law firms” in Rochester and Buffalo.[4] Finally, regarding the complexity of the subject action and its relation to the requested rates, Reixach states:

The Medicaid statute, and its implementing regulations and policy directives, is as complex as the tax code, or more so. It has been described by federal courts as ‘among the most intricate [statutes] ever drafted by Congress, ' ‘unintelligible to the uninitiated, ' ‘a virtually impenetrable thicket of legalese and gobbledygook, an ‘aggravated assault on the English language, resistant to attempts to understand it, and a ‘Serbonian bog.' Counsel who have mastered the intricacies of the Medicaid statute have a highly specialized expertise that justifies the requested hourly rates reflective of the rates for attorneys handling other complex and sophisticated litigation.

Reixach Aff. ¶ 12.

         Movants have also submitted detailed, contemporaneous time records for each attorney/paralegal. Applying the proposed rates set forth earlier to the number of hours billed by each ...


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