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Diana v. Oliphant

August 6, 2009

MARIO J. DIANA, PLAINTIFF,
v.
WILLARD OLIPHANT AND CARMEN ALTAVILLA, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Caputo

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff Mario Diana's motion for attorney's fees. (Doc. 98.) For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion will be granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff will be awarded a total of fifty-nine thousand, one hundred ninety-five dollars ($59,195) for the work of Plaintiff's three attorneys, Don A. Bailey, Douglas R. Goldhaber, and Sheri D. Coover. Plaintiff will also be awarded three thousand, eighty-eight dollars and seven cents ($3,088.07) for costs.

BACKGROUND

On November 11, 2005, Plaintiff Mario Diana brought an action against Defendants Carmen Altavilla and Willard Oliphant in this Court, pleading claims pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of his rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution as well as claims under the Federal Communications Act (superceded by Title III of the Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2510 et seq. ("Title III")) and Pennsylvania's Wiretapping and Electronic Surveillance Control Act, 18 Pa. Cons. Stat. § 5701 et seq. ("Pennsylvania Wiretap Act"). Defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint. (Doc. 5.) The Court granted the motion with respect to the Fourteenth Amendment claim, interpreted the Federal Communications Act claim as stating a claim under Title III, and denied the motion as to all other claims. (Doc. 19.) On May 29, 2007, Defendants moved for partial summary judgment on Plaintiff's First and Fourth Amendment claims. (Doc. 28.) The Court denied the motion. (Doc. 38.) Defendants moved for reconsideration of the denial (Doc. 39), which the Court also denied (Doc. 48).

The case proceeded to trial in April 2008 on the four remaining claims. Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50 ("FRCP") at the close of Plaintiff's case and again at the close of their case. At the close of Defendants' case, the Court granted the motion for judgment as a matter of law as to Plaintiff's First Amendment claim. The remaining three claims, under the Fourth Amendment, Title III, and the Pennsylvania Wiretap Act, were submitted to the jury. The jury found Defendants liable on each claim and awarded Plaintiff two hundred sixty-two thousand, one hundred twenty-six dollars ($262,126) in compensatory damages and two hundred thirty-eight thousand, eight hundred seventy-eight dollars ($238,878) in punitive damages. (Doc. 93.) In accordance with the jury's finding of liability on the Title III claim, the Court issued an Order awarding ten thousand dollars ($10,000) in statutory damages against each Defendant. (Doc. 95.) The Court entered judgments on the jury verdict and Order on April 17, 2008. (Docs. 96, 97.)

Following entry of judgment, Defendants filed post-trial motions, including a renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to FRCP 50, and a motion for a new trial pursuant to FRCP 59 or, in the alternative, for remittitur. (Doc. 102.) The Court granted in part and denied in part the combined post-trial motions. (Doc. 128.) The Court denied Defendants' renewed motion for judgment as a matter of law and their motion for a new trial. The Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion for remittitur, ordering Plaintiff to remit two hundred twelve thousand, one hundred twenty-six dollars ($212,126) of the compensatory damages awarded by the jury or accept a new trial on the issue. The Court also ordered Plaintiff to remit ten thousand dollars ($10,000) of the sum awarded by the Court for Title III statutory damages, due to a legal error in the calculation. Finally, the Court denied the motion for remittitur in all other respects. Plaintiff agreed to remit the sums directed by the Court. (Doc. 131.)

In the present motion, Plaintiff requests attorney's fees for the work of his three attorneys for hours spent in preparation of Plaintiff's trial as well as the present fee motion. (Docs. 98, 99.) He requests thirty-one thousand, eight hundred fifty dollars ($31,850) for the work of Attorney Don A. Bailey; thirty-six thousand, five hundred fifty dollars ($36,550) for the work of Attorney Douglas R. Goldhaber, and two thousand, eight hundred twelve dollars and fifty cents ($2,812.50) for the work of Attorney Sheri D. Coover. In addition, Plaintiff filed a supplemental request for five thousand, six hundred dollars ($5,600) for the post-trial work of Attorney Bailey. Defendants filed a response to Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees as well as his supplemental request. (Docs. 135, 136.) Defendants object to the reasonableness of the hourly rates requested by Attorneys Bailey and Goldhaber as well as certain pretrial work by all three attorneys. Plaintiff filed a brief in reply to Defendant's response. (Doc. 137.) Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees is fully briefed and ripe for disposition.

DISCUSSION

The Court may award reasonable attorney's fees and costs to the prevailing parties in §1983 cases. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). Plaintiffs "'may be considered 'prevailing parties' for attorney's fees purposes if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.'" Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978)). However, "[t]his is a generous formulation that brings the plaintiff only across the statutory threshold. It remains for the district court to determine what fee is 'reasonable.'" Id.

The U.S. Supreme Court has held that the "initial estimate of a reasonable attorney's fee is properly calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on litigation times a reasonable hourly rate." Blum v. Stetson, 465 U.S. 886, 888 (1984). This amount is known as the "lodestar" figure, which is presumed to be the reasonable fee. Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens' Counsel, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986); Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens' Counsel, 483 U.S. 711, 730-31 (1987).

In calculating the reasonable rate, the Court looks to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community. Loughner v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 260 F.3d 173, 180 (3d Cir. 2001). The Court should consider the experience and skill of the prevailing party's attorney, and compare the rates to those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation. Maldonado v. Houstoun, 256 F.3d 181, 184 (3d Cir. 2001). The prevailing party bears the burden of demonstrating that the requested hourly rates are reasonable. Id.

The Court must also determine whether the number of hours spent on the litigation was a reasonable number. The Court "should review the time charged, decide whether the hours claimed were reasonably expended for each of the particular purposes described, and then exclude those that are 'excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.'" Pub. Interest Research Group of N.J., Inc. v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1188 (3d Cir. 1995) (citations omitted). Thus, a trial court will "exclude from this initial fee calculation hours that were not reasonably expended on the litigation." Hensley, 461 U.S.at 434. Using the lodestar methodology, the Court can calculate a reasonable attorney's fee.

Attorney Bailey suggests a rate of three hundred fifty dollars ($350) per hour for ninety-one (91) hours of work up to and during trial of Plaintiff's case as well as sixteen (16) hours of post-trial work. Attorney Goldhaber suggests a rate of three hundred dollars ($300) per hour for one hundred twenty-one (121) hours of work up to and during trial. Attorney Coover suggests a rate of one hundred ...


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