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RAINEY v. PHILADELPHIA HOUS. AUTH.

September 8, 1993

LUPINA RAINEY, Plaintiff,
v.
PHILADELPHIA HOUSING AUTHORITY, ELTON JOLLY, and CHARLES TRULEAR, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: EDUARDO C. ROBRENO

 EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, J.

 SEPTEMBER 8, 1993

 AND NOW, to wit, this 8th day of September 1993, upon consideration of plaintiff's motion to determine attorney's fees and costs and defendants' answer thereto, it is ORDERED that plaintiff's motion is GRANTED and that defendants shall pay plaintiff the sum of $ 5,372.76 in attorney's fees and costs within 30 days from the date of this Order, based upon the following reasoning:

 1. Plaintiff brought this case against the Philadelphia Housing Authority (the "PHA") and two of its employees *fn1" for damages she sustained as a result of defendants' actions in evicting her from her public housing residence. Plaintiff sought declaratory and injunctive relief (including an order reinstating her to public housing) and compensatory and punitive damages under 42 U.S.C. § 1983; treble damages under the Pennsylvania Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law, 73 P.S. § 201-9.2 (1993) [hereinafter the Unfair Trade Practices Law]; and reasonable attorney's fees.

 2. Prior to trial, plaintiff dropped her request to be rehoused in PHA property. After a bench trial lasting two half-days, the Court entered judgment in favor of plaintiff, awarding her $ 1,000 for lost or destroyed furniture, $ 872 representing the difference between the amount of rent plaintiff paid in private housing and the rent plaintiff was paying at PHA housing from the time of her eviction to the date of judgment, and $ 1,200 for humiliation, distress, and embarrassment caused by the PHA's conduct during the eviction. See Transcript of Op. at 2-5 (June 8, 1993). The Court denied the request for punitive damages and for relief under the Unfair Trade Practices Law. See id. at 5. *fn2"

 4. Section 1988 of 42 U.S.C. provides for the award of reasonable attorney's fees to a party who has prevailed upon an action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of federally protected civil rights. Although defendants do not contest that plaintiff was the prevailing party in this case, see Defs.' Mem. in Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. to Determine Attorney's Fees at 3 (stating that "there is no objection on the part of the defendants that plaintiff is a prevailing party") [hereinafter Defs.' Mem. in Opp'n ], they challenge the reasonableness of the fees claimed by plaintiff's counsel on two grounds: (1) plaintiff's counsel's request for an hourly rate of $ 175.00 is too high in light of counsel's experience, and (2) the time spent by plaintiff's counsel was excessive.

 5. The starting point for determining a reasonable fee under § 1988 is calculation of the "lodestar." See Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87, 94-95, 103 L. Ed. 2d 67, 109 S. Ct. 939 (1989). *fn3" The lodestar is obtained by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. See id.

 6. The hourly rate used in calculating the lodestar should be "'the market rate[] in the relevant community.'" Gulfstream III Assocs., Inc. v. Gulfstream Aerospace Corp., 995 F.2d 414, 422 (3d Cir. 1993) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984)). The "burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory evidence--in addition to the attorney's own affidavits--that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Blum, 465 U.S. at 895 n.11. "The party opposing the fee award then has the burden to challenge, by affidavit or brief with sufficient specificity to give fee applicants notice, the reasonableness of the requested fee." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713 (3d Cir. 1989)).

 7. In this case, plaintiff's counsel requests a fee of $ 175.00 per hour. See Decl. of Peter D. Schneider at 2. Defendants claim that while plaintiff's counsel may have had vast experience in "housing issues," he has "only limited experience with due process [issues]," Defs.' Mem. in Opp'n at 5, the issue upon which plaintiff ultimately prevailed.

 8. The Court notes that plaintiff's counsel is employed by Community Legal Services, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania ("CLS"), that he has nine years of litigation experience in the federal courts, and that under the fee schedule developed by CLS, plaintiff's counsel has been assigned a billing rate of $ 175.00 per hour. The CLS schedule has been approvingly cited by the Third Circuit as being well developed and has been found by this Court to be a "fair reflection of the prevailing market rates in Philadelphia." Swaayze v. Philadelphia Housing Auth., No. CIV 91-2982, 1992 WL 81598, at *2 (E.D. Pa. Apr. 16, 1992). Therefore, the Court finds that the rate of $ 175.00 "falls within the purview of the prevailing rates charged in this community for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Liquid Glass Enters., Inc. v. Liquid Glass Prods. Int'l, Inc., No. CIV 89-6324, 1993 WL 315644, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 16, 1993) (citing Blum, 465 U.S. at 895 n.11); see, e.g., Patriot Party of Pennsylvania v. Mitchell, No. CIV 93-2257, 1993 WL 313667, at *3 (E.D. Pa. Aug. 16, 1993) (civil rights attorney awarded $ 175.00 as a reasonable hourly rate), appeal filed, No. 93-1832 (3d Cir. Aug. 26, 1993).

 9. Once the Court determines the hourly rate, it must determine the number of hours to be used in the lodestar calculation. "At this stage, however, the court may not sua sponte reduce the number of billed hours." Patriot Party, 1993 WL 313667, at *3 (citing McDonald v. McCarthy, 966 F.2d 112, 119 (3d Cir. 1992)). In a statutory fee case, the Court may reduce the number of hours prong of the lodestar only "if the adverse party has . . . 'raised a material fact issue as to the accuracy of representations as to hours spent, or the necessity for their expenditure.'" Bell, 884 F.2d at 719 (quoting Cunningham v. City of McKeesport, 753 F.2d 262, 267 (3d Cir. 1985)).

 10. Defendants have objected specifically to certain time entries as being excessive. See Defs.' Mem. in Opp'n at 6-7. The court has wide discretion to reduce fees in light of objections. See Bell, 884 F.2d at 721. The level of skill and experience claimed by counsel not only informs the Court's judgment as to the appropriate hourly fee but also helps establish how much time counsel reasonably should have spent in performing a particular task. To put it another way, normally the higher the allowed hourly rate commanded based upon skill and experience, the shorter the time it should require an attorney to perform a particular task. The Court agrees that based upon plaintiff's ...


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