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Celli v. Northeastern Educational Intermediate Unit 19

April 28, 2006

JILL CELLI, PLAINTIFF
v.
NORTHEASTERN EDUCATIONAL INTERMEDIATE UNIT 19, ET AL., DEFENDANTS
ROBIN L. MEDEIROS, PLAINTIFF
v.
NORTHEASTERN EDUCATIONAL INTERMEDIATE UNIT 19, ET AL., DEFENDANTS



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Before me is Plaintiff's Motion for Counsel Fees and Litigation Costs Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § § 1983 and 1988.

Because I find the hourly rates reasonable, the time expended reasonable and some of the costs reasonable, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff filed a complaint on October 14, 2004 alleging free speech violations under the First Amendment, violations of the Pennsylvania Whistleblowers Law, defamation and civil conspiracy*fn1 . The complaint alleged that defendants engaged in a campaign of retaliation against plaintiff after she and another teacher's assistant reported to various authorities, including the Lackawanna County's District Attorney's Office, that they had seen Susan Wzorek, a teacher employed by defendant NEIU, physically, mentally and/or emotionally abusing handicapped students in the classroom at the Clark's Summit Elementary School.

During the course of the litigation, plaintiff's counsel defended a Rule 12(b)(6) motion by the defendants to dismiss the complaint, engaged in discovery, conducted interviews, participated in the Court Annexed Mediation Program (which proved unsuccessful), conducted research, and filed an amended complaint with leave of court. The litigation ended with the plaintiff accepting a joint offer of judgment in the amount of $50,000, plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

The attorneys who participated in the case on behalf of the plaintiff, and their respective hourly rates and total time spent, are as follows:

NAMEHOURSRATETOTAL Joseph T. Wright, Jr.10.7$250/hour$2,675.00 Kevin C. Quinn234.6$200/hour$46,920.00 Frank T. Tunis75.1$150/hour$11,765.00 TOTAL  $60,860.00

DISCUSSION

I. Prevailing Party

42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) provides: . . . In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of Section [ ] . . . 1983 of this title . . . the Court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee a part of the cost.

A "prevailing party" is one who "succeeded on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit of the parties sought in bringing suit." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1939 (1983) (citing Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-279 (1st Cir. 1978)). Given the result in this case, the plaintiff is the prevailing party.

II. The Reasonableness of the Fees Claimed

A. The Applicable Law

In entering the allowance of fees in a fee shifting case, I am bound to determine the lodestar. The lodestar is the number of hours reasonably expended in the case multiplied by the reasonable hourly rate. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177 (3d Cir. 1990). In the instant matter, the defendants conclude that the hourly rates of the three lawyers who performed services are reasonable. Given the declarations of Messrs. Ferguson and Lenahan (Plaintiff's Appendix Exhibits 4 and 5) and my experience, I have no reason to disagree.

The plaintiff is required to submit evidence supporting the hours worked. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). In a fee shifting case, the "billing" must be prepared with the same discretion as a private attorney billing his or her private client. See Hensley, ...


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