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RUSH v. SCOTT SPECIALTY GASES

August 6, 1996

CHRISTINE RUSH
v.
SCOTT SPECIALTY GASES, INC.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOYNER

 JOYNER, J.

 AUGUST 6, 1996

 On April 19, 1996, a jury in this Court found that Plaintiff Christine Rush had been discriminated against on the basis of her sex in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e--2000e-17 (1994) and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (PHRA), 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 951-63 (1991 & Supp. 1994). The jury awarded Plaintiff an amount in excess of four million dollars and Plaintiff subsequently accepted a remittitur of this amount to $ 603,000. Plaintiff now seeks an award of attorney's fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

 42 U.S.C. § 1988 grants courts discretion to award prevailing parties "a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b); see also 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. § 962(c)(4)(c.2) (PHRA also provides for attorney's fees). When the plaintiff is the prevailing party and in the "absence of special circumstances[,] a district court not merely 'may' but must award fees." Independent Fed'n of Flight Attendants v. Zipes, 491 U.S. 754, 761, 105 L. Ed. 2d 639, 109 S. Ct. 2732 (1989) (citing Newman v. Piggie Park Enter., 390 U.S. 400, 402, 88 S. Ct. 964, 19 L. Ed. 2d 1263 (1968)); Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983).

 In order to receive attorney's fees, the applicant bears the burden of proving that (1) she is a prevailing party and (2) the fee request is reasonable both in rate and in hours claimed. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 113 S. Ct. 566, 573, 121 L. Ed. 2d 494 (1992); Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990) (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433). If contested, the challenger must "specify with particularity the reasons for its challenge and the category (or categories) of work being challenged," but "need not point to each individual excessive entry." Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 721 (3d Cir. 1989).

 A district court possesses considerable discretion in fixing the fee amount in light of the objections, but may not make reductions on its own. Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 721 (3d Cir. 1989). A court should deduct hours that are "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183. Thus, the court may deduct hours spent litigating claims on which the party did not succeed if those claims are factually and legally distinct from the ones on which she did prevail. Moreover, the court should deduct hours that are not sufficiently documented. Id. Finally, the hours claimed should be reviewed in the context of the experience and qualifications of the attorney seeking the award. After all, a "fee applicant cannot demand a high hourly rate--which is based on his or her experience, reputation, and presumed familiarity with the applicable law--and then run up an inordinate amount of time researching that same law." Ursic v. Bethlehem Mines, 719 F.2d 670, 677 (3d Cir. 1983).

 After a court has established the reasonable amount of time spent, it must determine the reasonable hourly rate, calculated in accordance with the prevailing market rate in the relevant community. Rode, 892 F.2d at 1177 (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984)). If the charged rate is supported by the applicant and not challenged by the opposing party, the court must accept that rate as the reasonable one. Black Grievance Comm. v. PECO, 802 F.2d 648, 653 (3d. Cir. 1986).

 After determining the reasonable hourly rate and time reasonably expended, the court multiplies the two factors to reach the lodestar, which is the presumed reasonable fee. Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183; Rainey v. Philadelphia Housing Auth., 832 F. Supp. 127, 129 (E.D. Pa. 1993). This does not end the calculation, however. The district court has discretion to adjust the lodestar if it is not reasonable in light of the results obtained. Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183.

 We turn now to the task of applying the above law to this action. We note first where there is no disagreement. There is no dispute that Plaintiff is the prevailing party, and as such, is entitled to an award of reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Second, there is no dispute over the hourly rate charged by Plaintiff's two attorneys. The disputes arise over the reasonableness of certain categories of hours spent and costs expended. We address each disputed area in turn.

 A. ATTORNEY'S FEES

 1. Frivolous Motions

 Defendant asserts that several sets of motions were frivolous and unrelated to the litigation of this action on the merits. Accordingly, Defendant seeks to discharge the hours spent on those motions. It is well established that an applicant cannot recover for hours spent on unnecessary prosecution of the action. Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183.

 Insofar as Plaintiff's Submitted Uncontested Stipulation of Facts and the related Motion for Sanctions go, Plaintiff's Motions were unnecessary. Although the pleadings may have stemmed from innocent misunderstandings and miscommunication, the issue should have been easily resolved without recourse to this Court. We do not attempt to lay blame for this impasse on either side, however, the fact is that Plaintiff's motion was denied in full. We do agree that Plaintiff's counsel was entitled to make the initial phone call to Defendant to determine whether a conflict existed. The motion practice that followed, though, was not reasonable. For this reason, we do not award fees for hours spent on this issue after the initial phone calls. See Appendices A & B.

 Second, with respect to the Motion for Summary Judgment, hindsight makes it clear that the number of genuine issues of material fact made a grant of Plaintiff's Motion highly unlikely. The Motion was directly related to Plaintiff's prosecution of the ...


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