The opinion of the court was delivered by: POLLAK
On October 24, 1978, Lois Levin was discharged from her position as a Children's Resource Assessor in the Mental Health/Mental Retardation Office of Montgomery County for her refusal to sign a loyalty oath required of all county employees. After attempting, through her attorneys, to obtain reinstatement without resort to the courts, Ms. Levin filed this action against the defendant County Commissioners on November 28, 1978, claiming violations of the First and Fourteenth Amendments under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The complaint and the accompanying motion for a preliminary injunction sought a declaration of the unconstitutionality of conditioning county employment on the taking of the prescribed oath, an order of reinstatement with back-pay, and an award of reasonable counsel fees.
A conference was held in chambers on December 13, 1978, and a hearing was held on December 15. That hearing produced a partial settlement denominated a "Stipulation" which I approved on December 21, 1978: Defendants agreed to reinstate Ms. Levin, and she in turn withdrew her motion for a preliminary injunction.
At a subsequent conference in chambers, on March 26, 1979, defendants' counsel agreed to recommend to the County Commissioners that they settle the claim for back-pay in the full amount demanded. In regard to plaintiff's claim for counsel fees, plaintiff's counsel agreed to present to the defendants a statement detailing the claim in the hope of arriving at a settlement of that matter as well. Ten months later, the parties having made no progress toward such agreement, the responsibility for making a determination of the amount of reasonable attorney's fees has devolved upon me.
Notwithstanding that her claim for reinstatement and back-pay was settled rather than adjudicated, Ms. Levin has clearly met the threshold requirement for an award of attorney's fees as a prevailing party under the Attorney's Fees Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The terms of the final substantive settlement gave Ms. Levin all the concrete relief she sought. She has thus been more than "essentially successful," Hughes v. Repko, 578 F.2d 483, 487 (3d Cir. 1978), she has for all practical purposes been entirely successful, in this litigation.
1. To arrive at a proper fee figure, one must first compute a "lodestar" amount, involving the time reasonably spent by plaintiff's attorneys and a suitable hourly rate. Lindy Bros. Builders, Inc. of Philadelphia v. American Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp., 540 F.2d 102 (3d Cir. 1976).
Plaintiff has submitted a fairly detailed accounting of the time spent by each of her attorneys, compiled on the basis of contemporaneous time records. Defendants do not appear to challenge the accuracy of these submissions. Rather, defendants assert that "Plaintiff's counsel spent an exorbitant amount of time on a relatively simple and uncomplicated case." For example, defendants identify the hours spent in preparing the petition for counsel fees as far more than was required.
And in regard to the preparation of the motion for a preliminary injunction and the hearing thereon, defendants argue that, "the complexity of the case did not justify such exhaustive and learned discussion of the simple legal principles involved." Defendants then appear to ask that the fee award not be linked to the number of hours expended by counsel in the preparation of the case.
I disagree with the characterization of the time spent by plaintiff's counsel on this litigation as "exorbitant." The memoranda submitted, and the oral arguments made, on Ms. Levin's behalf, were of the highest calibre. The issues involved in this case were not so elementary that extensive research could be taken as indicating incompetence or inexperience. The submissions of plaintiff's counsel were not "unnecessary, frivolous, in bad faith or for the purposes of delay," White v. Beal, 447 F. Supp. 788 (E.D.Pa.1978), or designed to inflate the fee award. To the contrary, it is my perception that the expedition and excellence of plaintiff's counsel's initial presentation cogent, comprehensive, compelling had a strong catalytic effect in persuading defendants to enter into a prompt and full settlement of Ms. Levin's claims.
I cannot, however, approve all the hours documented by plaintiff's counsel. Defendants argue that Ms. Levin enjoyed the assistance of three attorneys from the firm of Pepper, Hamilton & Scheetz, where one would have sufficed. Plaintiff responds that a sensible division of labor was maintained among counsel, thereby avoiding duplication of effort. Plaintiff further explains that the decision to involve a third attorney M. Duncan Grant, who is junior to Peter F. Marvin but senior to Lynne E. Delanty was made to insure that there would have been an experienced attorney available as lead counsel in the event that Mr. Marvin had been called away to fulfill prior commitments on other firm litigation.
For the most part, plaintiff's documentation demonstrates a suitable division of labor. See Commonwealth of Pennsylvania v. O'Neill, 431 F. Supp. 700 (E.D.Pa.1977). In addition, I find that the participation of two counsel, given the basic division of responsibility, was appropriate in this case. The presence of a third attorney, to the extent his work provided a necessary and independent supplement to the work of the other two, is likewise compensable. However, to the extent that the choice to involve three attorneys resulted in a redundant presence at certain of the planning and strategy conferences, those hours will not be allowed. In this context, I note with approval that although three attorneys appeared for Ms. Levin at the December 15, 1978 hearing, she has requested compensation for only two.
Because it appears that Mr. Grant was the "third man in," I will single out his presence as that which was superfluous at certain conferences with respect to which compensation was sought for all three. Accordingly, I will excise four and one-half hours of Mr. Grant's discussions with his colleagues on or about November 28, 1978; his three-quarters of an hour of discovery conference on January 10, 1979; and his three-quarters of an hour of briefing in regard to the March 26, 1979 conference. Four hours of Mr. Grant's preparation time for the December 15, 1978 hearing and his four and three-quarter hours spent on the fee petition itself also appear superfluous in light of Mr. Marvin's and Ms. Delanty's contributions to these matters. Thus, Mr. Grant's claim will be reduced by a total of fourteen and three-quarter hours.
In regard to the drafting of the memorandum in support of the award of attorney's fees, I agree with defendants that the seventy-seven hours spent by Ms. Delanty on that document were more than the task reasonably required. I recognize that the product was of high quality and that the relatively modest rate at which Ms. Delanty has requested compensation for her services presupposes less familiarity with the issues and less efficiency in mastering them than could be expected of a more experienced attorney. However, I conclude that Ms. Delanty's excellent memorandum was in some real sense an exercise in hyper-perfection which I do not begrudge, but which I am unwilling to require defendants to pay for. I estimate that a total of fifty hours was all that was reasonably necessary for this task. I do not agree with defendants that this assessment in any way taints my finding of reasonableness for other aspects of Ms. Delanty's fine work.
Thus, for purposes of computing the lodestar, reasonable hours are ...