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Lining v. Temporary Personnel Services

July 31, 2008

JAMES LINING, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TEMPORARY PERSONNEL SERVICES, INC. AND AMERICAN BRIDGE MANUFACTURING COMPANY.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Nora Barry Fischer United States District Judge

Judge Nora Barry Fischer

MEMORANDUM ORDER

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Expenses [22], filed by Plaintiff James Lining on May 7, 2008, in which Plaintiff requests an award of attorney's fees in the amount of $17,191.25 (based on 40.45 hours at $425 per hour) as well as paralegal fees, costs and expenses. (Docket No. 24 at ¶5). On May 19, 2008, Defendant filed Defendants' response to Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees and Expenses. (Docket No. 23). On June 23, 2008, Plaintiff filed Plaintiff's Supplemental Brief in Support of his Fee Petition (Docket No. 29).

STANDARD

Pursuant to the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, district courts are authorized to award prevailing parties reasonable attorney's fees in civil rights litigation. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). In order to ensure persons with civil rights grievances receive "effective access of the judicial process[,]" a prevailing plaintiff should recover such reasonable attorney's fees "unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." Id. (quoting H. Rep. No. 94-1558, p. 1 (1976), S. Rep. No. 94-1011, p. 4 (1976)). To the contrary, a prevailing defendant may recover attorney's fees where "the suit was vexatious, frivolous, or brought to harass or embarrass the defendant." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429; (quoting H. Rep. No. 94-1558, p. 7 (1976)). In short, a plaintiff seeking to recover attorney's fees must show (1) the plaintiff is the prevailing party; and (2) the attorney's fees are reasonable. Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff is a prevailing party in this matter.

A prevailing party is not automatically entitled to compensation for attorney's fees in their entirety; rather the party seeking such attorney's fees bears the burden to prove the reasonableness of its request. Interfaith Community Organization v. Honeywell, 426 F.3d 694, 711 (3d Cir. 2005); Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). Therefore, the amount of the attorney's fees must turn on the facts in each case, and the district court should determine what fee is reasonable. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. Indeed, the House Report refers to twelve factors:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the "undesirability" of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

Hensley, 461 U.S. at 430 n. 3. Such factors aim to award fees "which are adequate to attract competent counsel, but which do not produce windfalls to attorneys." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433 n. 4.

The Supreme Court has stated that the initial estimate for attorney's fees is obtained by multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by a reasonable number of hours expended in the litigation. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. This formula, often referred to as the lodestar, serves as an objective basis to make an initial assessment of the "value of the lawyer's services." Id; see Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 563 (1986) (explaining the genesis of the lodestar approach and its nomenclature). While courts have taken different approaches to establish the reasonable hourly rate, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has adopted the community market rate approach." Student Public Interest Research Group of New Jersey, Inc. v. AT&T Bell Laboratories (SPRIG), 842 F.2d 1436, 1448 (1988).*fn1

This community market rate rule requires the court to "assess the experience and skill of the attorneys and compare their rates to those of comparable lawyers in the private business sphere." Id. at 1447.*fn2 The prevailing party also bears the burden of establishing that its requested hourly rate meets this comparable market standard by way of satisfactory evidence "in addition to [the] attorney's own affidavits." Washington v. Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas, 89 F.3d 1031, 1035 (3d Cir. 1996) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984)). Once the prevailing party has made out its prima facie burden, as prescribed by the community market rate lodestar test, if the opposing side has not produced evidence to the contrary, the district court "may not exercise its discretion to adjust the rate downward." Ridley v. Costco Wholesale Corp., 217 Fed. Appx. 130, 139 (3d Cir. 2007).

Attorneys seeking compensation for their fees also must document their hours with "sufficient specificity." Washington, 89 F.3d at 1037. Specifically, "[a] fee petition is required to be specific enough to allow the district court 'to determine if the hours claimed are unreasonable for the work performed.'" Id. (quoting Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1190 (3d Cir. 1990)). As such, where the hourly documentation is inadequate, the district court may reduce the prevailing party's hours. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. The prevailing party's fee petition should include "some fairly definite information as to the hours devoted to various general activities, e.g., pretrial discovery, settlement negotiations, and the hours spent by various classes of attorneys, e.g., senior partners, junior partners, associates" to determine adequate documentation. Washington, 89 F.3d at 1037-38. Nevertheless, the prevailing party need not go so far as to "know the exact number of minutes spent nor the precise activity to which each hour was devoted or the specific attainments of each attorney." Id. In Keenan v. City of Philadelphia, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit found that "computer-generated summaries of time spent by each attorney and paralegal met the standards of Rode." 983 F.2d 459, 473 (3d Cir. 1992).

If the opposing party makes specific objections to the attorney's fees, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has held "it is necessary to go line by line through the billing records supporting the fee request." Evans v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, 273 F.3d 346, 362 (3d Cir. 2001). It is then incumbent upon the court to "exclude those [hours] that are excessive, redundant or otherwise unnecessary." Interfaith Community Organization v. Honeywell, 426, F.3d 694, 711 (3d Cir. 2005).

ANALYSIS

In their response, Defendants object to the following: (1) time expended on specific tasks; (2) counsel for Plaintiff's hourly rate; and (3) the work of a paralegal, asserting that it amounted to secretarial work. ...


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