The opinion of the court was delivered by: Katz, S.J.
Before the court is plaintiff's motion for attorney's
fees and costs. Because the court finds that this request is
reasonable and well-documented, the full amount will be awarded.
On March 1, 1999, one of the plaintiffs, Louis Collins,
refused to exit a SEPTA Para-Transit van to protest SEPTA's
alleged failure to provide reasonably prompt service. He did not
leave the van until March 2, 1999, and at that time he was
promptly suspended from using Para-Transit's services. On March
3, 1999, the other plaintiffs also refused to exit Para-Transit
vans to protest Mr. Collins' suspension. These plaintiffs were
suspended as well.
Following these events, plaintiffs filed a motion for a
temporary restraining order and a complaint alleging that SEPTA
violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the due
process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by denying them access
to Para-Transit services. Plaintiffs sought to enjoin SEPTA from
continuing its actions and requested compensatory damages.
Following a conference before this court, the parties negotiated a
consent decree under which SEPTA agreed that its administrative
appeal procedures would be completed within 45 days and that,
during that time, plaintiffs could continue to ride Para-Transit
vans so long as they did not engage in other disruptive
activities. Louis Collins' suspension was upheld at the
administrative appeal. After that administrative appeal, the
parties negotiated a settlement that provided that (1) each
suspension was limited to "time served"; (2) the suspensions would
not be considered first offenses if the plaintiffs committed
additional offenses in the future; (3) the suspensions would not
affect plaintiffs' future Para-Transit eligibility; and (4) the
lawsuit would be dismissed with prejudice. See Settlement ¶ 1.
The test for determining a prevailing party is twofold.
The first question is whether the "plaintiff achieved some of the
benefit sought by the party bringing the suit"; the second
question is causation, that is, whether the "litigation
constituted a material contributing factor in bringing about the
events that resulted in the obtaining of the desired relief."
Metropolitan Pittsburgh Crusade for Voters v. Pittsburgh,
964 F.2d 244, 250 (3d Cir. 1992) (citations omitted); see also Farrar
v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111 (1992) ("[A] plaintiff `prevails' when
actual relief on the merits of his claim materially alters the
legal relationship between the parties by modifying the
defendant's behavior in a way that directly benefits the
plaintiff."); Institutionalized Juveniles v. Secretary of Pub.
Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 910 (3d Cir. 1985) (same).*fn1
As the defendant has not challenged causation, the court
will focus on the question of relief. In evaluating the success
of a party, the most important issue is a comparison of the relief
sought and obtained; it is not proper to determine the prevailing
party based purely on the success of its different legal theories.
See Institutionalized Juveniles, 758 F.2d at 911. The relief
obtained need not be identical to the relief sought so long as it
is of the "same general type." Id.*fn2 For example, even if a
plaintiff initially challenged a lack of pre-deprivation process,
achievement of post-deprivation rights may warrant a finding of
prevailing party status. See id. at 912. In awarding fees,
however, it is proper for the court to exclude time spent on
claims that are totally distinct from prevailing claims. See id.
The court disagrees with defendant's portrayal of the
plaintiffs' complaint and the goal of the litigation. As a brief
discussion of the complaint reveals, each of the plaintiffs'
claims actually focused on the denial of services to the
individual plaintiffs following their civil disobedience, and
plaintiffs' primary goal was to resume service. The first claim
argued that SEPTA had no authority to terminate or suspend
non-disabled individuals from riding on their buses and that,
accordingly, to deny the plaintiffs Para-Transit services violated
the ADA's requirements that SEPTA provide comparable services.
See Compl. ¶¶ 39-42. The second claim argued simply that SEPTA
had no authority to keep plaintiffs from riding on the
Para-Transit vans under the applicable ADA regulations. See id.
¶¶ 42-48. Finally, the third claim argued that the plaintiffs had
been denied a hearing before their service was terminated in
violation of due process and the ADA. See id. ¶¶ 49-51. By
achieving a settlement that permitted plaintiffs to resume riding
the Para-Transit vans, they received relief of the "same general
type" they requested in the complaint, regardless of what legal
theory led to that result. That is, a "common-sense comparison
between relief sought and relief obtained," Institutionalized
Juveniles, 758 F.2d at 911, leads to the conclusion that
plaintiffs were the prevailing parties.*fn4
In support of its arguments on this point, defendant
relies heavily on Watson v. SEPTA, Civ. A. No. 96-1002, 1998 WL
720072 (E.D.Pa. Sept. 10, 1998), in which a district court
determined that a plaintiff should not receive all of the fees
requested because she was only partially successful in her ADA
claim pertaining to employment discrimination. Plaintiff was
reinstated to her former position but she did not gain any further
relief following a jury trial. See id. at *3. Aside from the
fact that Watson is not binding on this court, the present case is
easily distinguished by differences in the goals of the two cases.
Although the Watson case does not provide an extensive discussion
of the suit, it is clear that reinstatement was only a small part
of the relief actually sought by plaintiff, as indicated by her
decision to proceed to trial following that relief. Also, the
court agrees with plaintiffs that Watson is inapplicable because
that court's reduction in fees limited the award to the amount
recoverable up to the time of reinstatement. In this case, Mr.
Gold did not seek any fees for issues on which he did not prevail,
and a two-thirds reduction as suggested by defendant would be
Having determined that there is no basis to reduce the
fees claimed because plaintiffs were not prevailing parties, the
court must turn to the question of the reasonableness of the fee
itself. Numerous decisions have held that the logical starting
point for determining a fee is the number of hours expended
multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate, with documentation of both
the time and the rate. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424,
433 (1983); Washington v. Philadelphia County Court of Common
Pleas, 89 F.3d 1031, 1035 (3d Cir. 1996). This calculation will
lead to a "lodestar," which is presumptively correct but which may
be adjusted should the
court find appropriate. See Rode 892 F.2d at 1183.
In determining the number of hours for which fees may
be awarded, the court may exclude time that was spent on issues on
which plaintiffs did not prevail or that was "excessive,
redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183
(quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434). The court should then
consider whether the hourly rate itself is reasonable. "Generally,
a reasonable hourly rate is to be calculated according to the
prevailing market rates in the relevant community." Rode, 892
F.2d at 1183; see also Washington, 89 F.3d at 1031 (same). In
making this determination, "the court should assess the experience
and skill of the prevailing party's ...