Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

HEIGLER v. GATTER

August 29, 1978

William HEIGLER
v.
Police Officer William GATTER et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HUYETT

Plaintiff brought this action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claiming that the defendants, two Philadelphia police officers, had violated his Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights under the United States Constitution. The plaintiff also alleged the following pendent state law claims: 1. false arrest and imprisonment; 2. assault; 3. battery; and 4. malicious prosecution. At trial, which commenced on July 6, 1977 and terminated on July 15, 1977, the plaintiff prevailed on all claims asserted against each defendant except for his malicious prosecution theory. The jury returned a verdict against defendant Gatter for $ 1,166.00 actual damages and $ 6,400.00 punitive damages and against defendant Connerton for $ 4,000.00 punitive damages. Plaintiff's counsel has now filed a petition pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 seeking attorney's fees.

 Defendants oppose the petition since in their view the fees sought bear no reasonable relationship to the benefits conferred upon the plaintiff by the verdicts. In short, they state that a $ 9,000.00 fee cannot be justified in light of a $ 11,566.00 verdict. Defendants have also listed a number of specific items to which they object. It must be noted, however, that despite the fact that this petition for attorney's fees has been pending almost three months, defendants have failed to file a memorandum or any other document explaining their objections.

 In addressing the contentions of the parties, we are guided by the Third Circuit's recent discussions of attorney's fees in Hughes v. Repko, 578 F.2d 483 (3d Cir. 1978); Baughman v. Wilson Freight Forwarding Co., 583 F.2d 1208 (3d Cir. 1978) and Prandini v. National Tea Co., 585 F.2d 47 (3d Cir. 1978).

 These cases reiterate the Lindy mandate that the first step in ascertaining a reasonable fee is a determination of the hours reasonably spent in the pursuit of plaintiff's successful claims. See, e.g., Baughman, supra at 1214. As noted above, defendants' counsel object to certain hours listed by plaintiff's attorney, but they fail to provide any record support for these objections. However, our independent review of the transcript, docket sheet, and documents filed in this case convince us that the hours estimated by plaintiff are excessive. Indeed, this highlights the problem created by counsel's failure to keep accurate and precise time records. Any reconstruction of a time sheet, as was attempted by counsel for plaintiff, can only lead to the difficulties we have encountered in this case in deciding whether counsel for plaintiff has carried his burden of proof on the issue of attorney's fees.

 For example, counsel for plaintiff claims that he expended 34.50 trial hours. Our careful review of the trial transcript, however, reveals a total trial time of 31 hours, and that is the figure we have used in computing the award of counsel fees.

 We also are unwilling to accept plaintiff's estimate of 98.25 non-trial hours. First, we have two specific objections to the reasonableness of the hours submitted by counsel. Counsel seeks remuneration for 4 hours listed for December 12 and 16, 1977 as time spent reviewing transcripts. We cannot accept this activity as reasonably related to the pursuit of this case since plaintiff did not file a post trial memorandum addressing the merits of defendants' post trial motions since the latter were never supported by a memorandum of law. Counsel also seeks compensation for 15 hours spent on preparing points for charge, but this figure seems high because no unique legal problems were presented and plaintiff's points although lengthy consisted largely of standard charge material. Therefore, we will cut this figure to 5 hours.

 This reduces plaintiff's non-trial hours to 84.25. However, we feel that this figure should be reduced by approximately 20% To 68 hours because of counsel's failure to keep contemporaneous time records. Even though "a substantially reconstructed" record time spent on litigation may serve as a basis for a statutory fee award, See Meisel v. Kremens, 80 F.R.D. 419, at 424 (E.D.Pa. 1978), the court should scrutinize reconstructed time records with extra care to assure that there is no noticeable, albeit advertent, inflation of hours. While we are aware of the Court of Appeals' admonition that generally a district court should not simply make a percentage "across the board" adjustment to a fee petition to account for an overlap, See Prandini, supra at 51-52, Citing Hughes, supra at 487, we feel that the only cure for a failure to keep contemporaneous records is a percentage reduction. The results of this failure cannot be pinpointed with the same accuracy as the computation of overlap required to file two motions in similar cases or the time spent in pursuit of non-meritorious claims. The overlap and pursuit of non-meritorious claims tend to appear in readily identifiable segments of time, E.g., time spent on a brief in support of the non-meritorious claim. On the other hand, a failure to keep precise time records can only manifest itself in a general inflation of the fee sought.

 Even if a 20% Reduction were not permitted, we would be compelled to find that plaintiff's attorney has not carried his burden of showing the reasonableness of more than 68 non-trial hours in this case. This was not a complicated case. Plaintiff's counsel was only required to file four motions during the case, three of which (motion to strike answer, motion to amend complaint and motion for a protective order) were not elaborate. Also, trial preparation required only that plaintiff take four brief depositions ranging in length from .5 hours to 2.5 hours. The limited nature of the case is further illustrated by the fact that counsel felt it necessary to file only one set of interrogatories consisting of 10 form interrogatories. None of these interrogatories refer specifically to the facts of this case or any of the named parties. Further, while the trial did stretch over a number of days, this was primarily a function of scheduling difficulties rather than the complexity of the case.

 We conclude that the hours submitted by plaintiff are excessive and unreasonable in light of the limited scope of this case. This results in plaintiff's failure to carry his burden of proving the reasonableness of more than 68 hours spent on trial preparation.

 Finally, it should be noted that since all of plaintiff's claims were interrelated, we see no reason, nor has defendant specified a reason, why the plaintiff's pursuit of state law claims or defendants' verdict on the malicious prosecution claim should result in any further adjustment to the trial or non-trial hours computed above. See Baughman, supra at 1214-1216; Hughes, supra at 487.

 The second step in computing the lodestar is to determine a reasonable hourly rate for counsel. The cases have established that, in addition to such factors as quality, experience and position, the district court should also consider the nature of the activity performed and all the remaining circumstances present in the case. See Baughman, supra at 1219. In weighing these factors, we conclude that plaintiff's counsel is entitled to $ 50.00 per hour for non-trial time and $ 75.00 per hour for trial time.

 In arriving at these figures, we have specifically considered several factors. First, the $ 50.00 per hour figure is based upon the routine nature of the trial preparation required in this case. As noted above, the case did not present any novel factual or legal issues. The case was decided upon the basis of evaluating plaintiff's credibility versus that of the defendants. The documents in this case, including interrogatories and motions, required little original drafting by counsel. Second, plaintiff's counsel has not provided the court with any evidence of particular experience in the civil rights area. Finally, plaintiff's counsel is primarily a trial lawyer. The quality and experience factors stressed in the hourly rate are reflected in counsel's work in the courtroom. This skill is particularly valuable in a case of this type which turns ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.