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Hatchett v. County of Philadelphia

October 15, 2010

SHIHEE DONVELL HATCHETT
v.
COUNTY OF PHILADELPHIA, ET AL.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Savage, J.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

After successfully litigating his § 1983 civil rights action, plaintiff Shihee Donvell Hatchett ("Hatchett") moves for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The defendants do not challenge his entitlement to attorneys' fees; but, they object to the amount requested. They contend that the time billed by two of the attorneys is excessive; that several time entries of another are deficient; and that some time entries were duplicative. They also argue that pursuant to § 1997e(d)(2) of the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (2010) ("PLRA"), 25 percent of Hatchett's compensatory award should be allocated to his attorneys' fees.

After a thorough review of the record, including counsel's time recording sheets, we shall grant the motion and award Hatchett $80,581.95 in fees, instead of the $83,917.85 requested.*fn1

Background

After a bench trial, judgment was entered against the defendant police officers who were found to have used excessive force and/or failed to intervene to stop the excessive force in violation of Hatchett's Fourth Amendment rights, causing him personal injuries.

He was awarded $116,644 in compensatory damages.

Standard of Review

A prevailing party entitled to recover reasonable attorneys' fees in a civil rights action*fn2 bears the burden of demonstrating that the fee request is reasonable. See Maldonado v. Houstoun, 256 F.3d 181, 184 (3d Cir. 2001). Determining the amount of a reasonable fee requires a two-part analysis. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Maldonado, 256 F.3d at 184. First, we assess whether the time spent was reasonable. Maldonado, 256 F.3d at 184. Second, we decide whether the attorney's hourly rate is reasonable. Id. Once these two numbers are established, they are multiplied to yield the lodestar, which is presumed to be a reasonable fee. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). After the lodestar is established, the burden shifts to the adverse party to demonstrate that it is unreasonable. Id.

A request cannot be decreased based on factors not raised by the adverse party. Id. (quoting Cunningham v. City of McKeesport, 753 F.2d 262, 267 (3d Cir. 1985)). Objections mustbe specific. See United States v. Eleven Vehicles, 200 F.3d 203, 211-12 (3d Cir. 2000); Sheffer v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc., 290 F. Supp. 2d 538, 544 (E.D. Pa. 2003). Nevertheless, once the adverse party specifically objects to a fee request, we have considerable discretion to "adjust the fee award in light of those objections." Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183 (citations omitted).

Discussion

The parties do not dispute that Hatchett is a prevailing party and is entitled to an award of attorneys' fees. They disagree on the amount. The defendants contend that Hatchett's lawyers billed an excessive number of hours and failed to sufficiently detail certain time entries.

Billing Rates

The PLRA limits attorneys' fees in actions brought by prisoners by capping hourly rates at 150 percent of the rate established by the Criminal Justice Act for court-appointed counsel. 42 U.S.C.§ 1997e(d)(3) (2010). However, the PLRA only applies to cases brought by prisoners with respect to prison conditions. Id. at § 1997e(a). It does not apply to actions based on civil rights violations that occurred when the prevailing party was not a prisoner. Hall v. Galie, No. 05-975, 2009 WL 722278, at *7 (E.D. Pa. Mar. 17, 2009).

The PLRA does not apply to this case. Although Hatchett was a prisoner when he filed his complaint, his civil rights cause of action arose prior to his incarceration and it does not implicate the conditions of his confinement. Thus, his claim is not subject to ...


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