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CALHOUN v. FORESTER

December 16, 1987

Andre Calhoun, Bruce Brown, John B. Turner, William Johnson, Richard Guy, Carlos Thompson, on behalf of themselves and others similarly situated, Plaintiffs,
v.
Thomas Forester, Cyril Wecht, Dr. William Hunt, Commissioners of Allegheny County; and Robert Colville, District Attorney of Allegheny County; and Lester Nauhaus, Director, Office of the Public Defender of Allegheny County; and Joseph James, Gretchen Donaldson, Walter Little, Pittsburgh City Court Magistrates, Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: ZIEGLER

 ZIEGLER, District Judge

 This action began with a pro se motion to re-open Conley v. Dauer, 321 F. Supp. 723 (W.D.Pa. 1970), aff'd in part and remanded, 463 F.2d 63 (3d Cir.), cert. denied, 409 U.S. 1049, 93 S. Ct. 521, 34 L. Ed. 2d 501 (1972). In Conley, the district court concluded that the failure of defendant magistrates to provide a free written transcript of preliminary hearings to indigent criminal defendants violated the Fourteenth Amendment. Id. at 732. The court reasoned that a typewritten transcript was important for impeachment purposes and, as such, must be provided. The Court of Appeals affirmed the district court, but remanded to determine whether the problem was being corrected. On remand, the district court, assured by the public defender that proper steps were being taken, dismissed the case without prejudice.

 In 1982, the present plaintiffs filed a motion to re-open Conley alleging that defendants were denying plaintiffs' access to substantially verbatim transcripts of their preliminary hearings without cost in violation of the Constitution and the decision in Conley. Plaintiffs noted that, although the public defender had attempted to comply with Conley, breakdowns occurred resulting in a lack of transcripts of preliminary hearings for many indigent criminal defendants. Further, the city magistrates refused to supply the back-up equipment or accept responsibility for recording the hearings. Plaintiffs sought compensation and injunctive relief for the alleged violation of their civil rights.

 Defendants responded by asserting that plaintiffs lacked standing to re-open Conley. We agreed and dismissed the case. Plaintiffs, with new counsel, moved for reconsideration. We examined our decision and concluded that in light of the important issues presented by plaintiffs we would dismiss the case without prejudice. Plaintiffs appealed and the Court of Appeals remanded holding that the petition to re-open should be considered as notice of a separate suit asserting a claim for damages. At this point, defendants agreed to a settlement and plaintiffs refrained from filing an amended complaint to minimize counsel fees and expenses.

 Counsel for plaintiffs and all defendants were involved in the settlement negotiations. As a first step, the parties urged Judge Michael J. O'Malley, President Judge of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, to enter an order directing that all district justices in Allegheny County and magistrates of the City Court of Pittsburgh "operate or cause to be operated . . . a tape recorder to record the proceedings of preliminary hearings in which the defendant(s) are indigent and/or represented by the Public Defender." In re: Directing District Justices and Magistrates to Record Hearings of Indigents, C.A.D. 21 of Nov. 1986 (Common Pleas, Criminal Division). The judge expressly found that the procedure was established in light of this suit, Conley and a Pennsylvania Supreme Court decision. After Judge O'Malley's order, plaintiffs entered into a consent decree with the county defendants establishing the Public Defender's duty to assure that an indigent criminal defendant would receive a substantially verbatim transcript of a preliminary hearing. Plaintiffs assert that the procedures outlined in both orders provide the relief 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 ...


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