that they sought. Plaintiffs now petition for attorneys' fees.
Congress has provided that a district court may, in its discretion, award reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing party in a civil rights action. A plaintiff in a civil rights action is entitled to attorney's fees if (1) the plaintiff is a prevailing party and (2) a causal connection exists between the litigation and the relief obtained from the defendants. Institutionalized Juveniles v. Secretary of Public Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 910 (3d Cir. 1985).
At the outset we must determine whether plaintiffs are the prevailing parties. In this jurisdiction, a plaintiff is a prevailing party if he "achieved 'some of the benefit sought by . . . bringing the suit.'" Id.; NAACP v. Wilmington Medical Center, Inc., 689 F.2d 1161, 1167 (3d Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 460 U.S. 1052, 75 L. Ed. 2d 930, 103 S. Ct. 1499 (1983). In examining a plaintiff's prevailing party status, a court must identify the relief sought and the relief actually obtained. Institutionalized Juveniles, 758 F.2d at 911; see also Abraham v. Pekarski, 728 F.2d 167, 175 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 467 U.S. 1242, 82 L. Ed. 2d 822, 104 S. Ct. 3513 (1984); Bagby v. Beal, 606 F.2d 411, 415 (3d Cir. 1979). Failure to obtain the specific relief sought will not defeat prevailing party status so long as the relief obtained is the same general type. Institutionalized Juveniles, 758 F.2d at 912.
Here, plaintiffs sought to protect their rights by requiring that defendants provide substantially verbatim transcripts of their preliminary hearings without cost. The relief established procedures which, so far, have successfully provided plaintiffs with verbatim transcripts of preliminary hearings. See Letter from James B. Kieber, Esq. to the Honorable Donald Ziegler (Nov. 4, 1987). The relief sought and the relief obtained are the same; as such, plaintiffs are the prevailing parties.
Next, we must decide whether this litigation caused plaintiffs to prevail. In determining causation, "a court must decide whether the litigation constituted a material contributing factor in bringing about the events that resulted in the obtaining of the desired relief." Institutionalized Juveniles, 758 F.2d at 916; Sullivan v. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Dept. of Labor and Industry, 663 F.2d 443, 452 (3d Cir. 1981), cert. denied, 455 U.S. 1020, 72 L. Ed. 2d 138, 102 S. Ct. 1716 (1982). In deciding this issue, we must apply an expansive definition of causation. Institutionalized Juveniles, 758 F.2d at 916; NAACP, 689 F.2d at 1169.
The instant litigation led to the settlement agreement between plaintiffs and the county defendants, and the court order of Judge O'Malley regarding the conduct of the City Magistrates. In the settlement agreement, the county defendants recognized the impact of this litigation when they agreed to pay $ 8500 in attorneys' fees to plaintiffs. Judge O'Malley also recognized the impact. In his order, the state court judge specifically referred to this litigation as one of the reasons for his order. Based on these facts, we conclude that this litigation was a material factor in contributing to plaintiffs' receipt of the relief that they sought.
Now that we have concluded plaintiffs have established generally that they are entitled to attorneys' fees, several questions remain: first, the amount of such fees; second, who should pay; and third, in what proportion?
Congress requires that an award of attorney's fees be reasonable. A district court has discretion in making this equitable judgment. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 103 S. Ct. 1933, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1983); Black Grievance Comm. v. Philadelphia Elec. Co., 802 F.2d 648 (3d Cir. 1986). However, the United States Supreme Court has established guidelines. A district court first should multiply the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. The product is the lodestar. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. As part of this calculation, the court must determine the reasonableness of the hours expended and the hourly rate.
Plaintiffs request $ 36,600 based on 360.8 hours for services rendered at an hourly rate of $ 125, less $ 8500 which the county defendants have paid. Counsels' affidavits extensively document the hours devoted to this litigation. The affidavits, as well as our familiarity with the case, establish that the time devoted to this litigation is reasonable, due to the unique procedural entanglement created by plaintiffs' pro se motion. We also note that this case was appealed to the Court of Appeals and plaintiffs obtained a favorable decision. Further, obtaining the broad relief sought from the various parties required many hours of negotiation. Based on these facts, we find that the amount of hours claimed and the manner in which that time was spent are reasonable for this litigation.
We also find that counsel's hourly rate of $ 125 is reasonable. Generally, the reasonable rate of an attorney's time is the price that time normally commands in the marketplace, which is usually reflected in the attorney's billing rate. Black Grievance, 802 F.2d at 652. Class counsel aver in their affidavits that $ 125 per hour represents the prevailing market rate and the rate at which they normally bill for this type of litigation. We also find that counsels' ability, experience in civil rights litigation and sophistication justify the hourly rate requested. Indeed, we find that the request is modest for these able litigators. The lodestar for this litigation is $ 45,100 or 360.8 hours multiplied by 125 per hour, which we find to be fair and reasonable.
Once the lodestar is calculated, the court may adjust the fee upward or downward based on any unique factors of the case. Black Grievance, 802 F.2d at 651. Generally, where a lawsuit involves one claim,
the district court should focus on the significance of the overall relief obtained by the plaintiff in relation to the hours reasonably expended in the litigation.
Where a plaintiff has obtained excellent results, his attorney should recover a fully compensatory fee. Normally this will encompass all hours reasonably expended on this litigation, and indeed in some cases of exceptional success an enhanced award may be justified.