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LAWRENCE v. CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

December 9, 1988

JAMES LAWRENCE
v.
CITY of PHILADELPHIA, et al.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BRODERICK

 RAYMOND J. BRODERICK, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

 Plaintiff James Lawrence alleged a cause of action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 as well as pendent state claims for false imprisonment, assault and battery, malicious prosecution, and unlawful search and seizure against the City of Philadelphia and six individual police officers. Plaintiff, the president-steward of a private liquor licensed establishment, claimed that members of the Philadelphia Police Department illegally searched his establishment and unlawfully arrested him. By Order dated January 21, 1988, this Court granted partial summary judgment as to the § 1983 cause of action against the individual police officers, finding that the search and plaintiff's arrest were unconstitutional. 676 F. Supp. 644. On March 16, 1988, defendants submitted a written settlement offer of $ 15,000.00 which was rejected by plaintiff. The parties agreed to the dismissal of the § 1983 cause of action against defendant City of Philadelphia. Subsequently, this Court dismissed all state causes of action without prejudice to plaintiff litigating said claims in state court. The issue of damages in connection with the § 1983 action against the individual officers was tried before a jury from May 1, 1988 through May 3, 1988, resulting in a verdict for plaintiff in the amount of seven hundred forty dollars ($ 740.00). Presently pending before this Court is plaintiff's motion for award of attorneys' fees in the amount of $ 16,248.00 and costs in the amount of $ 1,236.20, for a total award of $ 17,484.20.

 I.

 In a case brought under § 1983, ". . . the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorneys' fee as part of the costs." 42 U.S.C. § 1988. As the Supreme Court stated in Hensley v. Eckerhart :

 
The purpose of § 1983 is to ensure 'effective access to the judicial process' for persons with civil rights grievances. Accordingly, a prevailing party 'should ordinarily recover an attorneys' fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust.' (citations omitted)

 461 U.S. 424, 429, 103 S. Ct. 1933, 1937, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1983). See also New York Gaslight Club, Inc. v. Carey, 447 U.S. 54, 63, 100 S. Ct. 2024, 2030, 64 L. Ed. 2d 723 (1980); Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 416, 98 S. Ct. 694, 698, 54 L. Ed. 2d 648 (1978). The initial estimate of a reasonable attorneys' fee, commonly referred to as the "lodestar," is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 889, 104 S. Ct. 1541, 1544, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891 (1984). The trial court, therefore, is required to "exclude from this initial fee calculation hours that were not reasonably expended on the litigation." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. at 434, 103 S. Ct. at 139-40.

 The Supreme Court has identified factors which might properly lead the district court to adjust the lodestar figure upward or downward. Id. First, in situations where, as in the instant case, the prevailing plaintiff has succeeded on only some of his claims, an award of fees for time expended on unsuccessful claims may not be appropriate. Id. at 436, 103 S. Ct. at 1941. In such situations, the trial court "should consider whether or not the plaintiff's unsuccessful claims were related to claims on which he succeeded, and whether the plaintiff achieved a level of success that makes it appropriate to award attorneys' fees for hours reasonably expended on unsuccessful claims." City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 106 S. Ct. 2686, 2691, 91 L. Ed. 2d 466 (1986) (plurality opinion). As the Supreme Court stated in Hensley v. Eckerhart :

 
In [some] cases the plaintiff's claims for relief will involve a common core of facts or will be based on related legal theories. Much of counsel's time will be devoted generally to the litigation as a whole, making it difficult to divide the hours expended on a claim-by-claim basis. Such a lawsuit cannot be viewed as a series of discrete claims. Instead the district court should focus on the significance of the overall relief obtained by the plaintiff in relation to the hours reasonably expended on the litigation.

 461 U.S. at 435, 103 S. Ct. at 1940. Accordingly, "where a plaintiff has obtained excellent results, his attorney should recover a full compensatory fee" and "the fee award should not be reduced simply because the plaintiff failed to prevail on every contention raised in the lawsuit." Id.

 Second, the Supreme Court has rejected the proposition "that fee awards under § 1988 should necessarily be proportionate to the amount of damages a civil rights plaintiff actually recovers." City of Riverside v. Rivera, 106 S. Ct. at 2694. See also Cunningham v. City of McKeesport, 807 F.2d 49, 52-54 (3d Cir. 1986). Indeed, Justice Brennan, in his opinion announcing the judgment of the Court in City of Riverside v. Rivera, determined that proportionality was not a requirement for the Court in determining the lodestar:

 
A rule of proportionality would make it difficult, if not impossible, for individuals with meritorious civil rights claims but relatively small potential damages to obtain redress from the courts. . . . In order to ensure that lawyers would be willing to represent persons with legitimate civil rights grievances, Congress determined that it would be necessary to compensate lawyers for all time reasonably expended on a case.

 477 U.S. at 578, 106 S. Ct. at 2696. Moreover, unlike most private tort litigants, a civil rights plaintiff seeks to vindicate important civil and constitutional rights that cannot be valued solely in monetary terms. See Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 266, 98 S. Ct. 1042, 1053-55, 55 L. Ed. 2d 252 (1978). Accordingly, the Third Circuit, in Cunningham v. City of McKeesport, has determined that "in the absence of an explicit mandate, we are reluctant to begin the difficult task of ...


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