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Barbara Jordan v. Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority and Michael Kelly

March 26, 2013

BARBARA JORDAN
v.
SOUTHEASTERN PENNSYLVANIA TRANSPORTATION AUTHORITY AND MICHAEL KELLY



The opinion of the court was delivered by: L. Felipe Restrepo, U.S. Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM

I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, a former bus operator for Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority ("SEPTA"), brought this suit to recover for alleged race and gender discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ("Title VII") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, 43 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 951-963 ("PHRA"), race discrimination and retaliation claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, claims for the violation of the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and claims for violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act, and for wrongful termination in violation of the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act.

Plaintiff's claims for violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act and for wrongful termination in violation of the Pennsylvania Workers Compensation Act were dismissed on February 4, 2011 (Doc. #10) and March 19, 2012 (Doc. #24), respectively. On October 10, 2012, this Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, dismissing Plaintiff's race and gender discrimination claims. (Doc. #52). Plaintiff's remaining retaliation claim proceeded to trial.

Beginning on December 3, 2012, this Court presided over a three and one-half day jury trial for Plaintiff's retaliation claim. Plaintiff alleged five distinct adverse employment actions within her retaliation claim and the jury considered each individually. On December 6, 2012, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff on one of the five claims. The jury found that SEPTA had retaliated against Plaintiff by denying her sick benefits and awarded Plaintiff $30,000 in monetary damages. Plaintiff now seeks attorney's fees and costs, as well as six weeks of back-pay. (See Pl.'s Mot. for Attorney's Fees and Costs ("Pl.'s Fee Mot.") (Doc. #82)).

A. Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs

As noted, Plaintiff brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII. Reasonable attorney's fees may, at the discretion of the Court, be awarded to a party that successfully litigates claims pursuant to § 1981 or Title VII. See 42 U.S.C. §§ 1998(b) and 200e-5(k). In civil rights cases, the Court uses the "lodestar" formula, which requires multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Although the loadstar is presumed to be the reasonable fee, the district court has the discretion to make certain adjustments in response to specific objections made by the opposing party. Interfaith Community Organization v. Honeywell, 426 F.3d 694, 711 (3d Cir. 2005).

Plaintiff's counsel Olugbenga O. Obiona, Esquire, claims counsel fees and costs in the revised amount of $267,678.50. (See Pl.'s Reply to Def.'s Opp. to Pl's Mot. for Attorney's Fees and Costs ("Pl.'s Reply Br.") (Doc. #92). This figure includes $226,639.50 in fees for the legal services of Mr. Abiona, $29,547 in fees for the legal services of Albert Mitchell, Esquire, $5,864.00 in fees for paralegal services, and $5,628.00 in litigation expenses. (See Pl.'s Reply Br. Ex. 1.) To justify the amount claimed, Mr. Abiona attaches his own supplemental certification incorporating his original "statement of legal fees and costs for services rendered in this case" by his law office and revising the amount claimed.

1. Reasonable Rates

As a threshold matter, attorney's fees awarded are to be based on market rates in the relevant community for the services rendered.

Plaintiff asserts that Mr. Abiona's hourly rate of $347.50 per hour is reasonable within the community for an attorney of like experience performing comparable work. Plaintiff presents the certification of Willan Joseph, Esquire and the CLS Fee Schedule, Effective June 23, 2011 ("CLS Fee Schedule") in support of the reasonableness of the requested rate. (See Pl.'s Fee Mot. Ex. 1). Mr. Abiona further certifies that $400 per hour is his customary rate. Defendants object to Mr. Abiona's claimed rate and contend that it should be reduced to a $340 per hour rate.

We are convinced that the requested rate is reasonable within the community. The claimed rate comports with the CLS Fee Schedule. Courts in this district routinely turn to this schedule to determine the reasonableness of fees. See, e.g., Maldonado v. Houstoun, 256 F.3d 181, 187 (3d Cir. 2001). According the CLS Fee Schedule, attorneys in the Philadelphia community with twenty-one to twenty-five years of experience are compensated at hourly rates from $325-$370. Mr. Abiona's twenty-three years of experience places him within the middle of that range. Thus, Mr. Abiona's requested rate of $347.50 -- a rate in the middle of the CLS Fee Schedule -- is reasonable.

Defendants likewise object to Mr. Michell's request for an hourly rate of $315 per hour. Defendants note that Mr. Michell is an attorney with sixteen years experience. Defendants also note that the CLS Fee Schedule provides a billing rate for an attorney with sixteen to twenty years of experience of $305-$350. Defendants contend that Mr. Michell, as an attorney with sixteen years experience, should be reduced to $305 per hour because of the minor role that he played in litigating the matter and because Plaintiff has presented no evidence that warrants a rate over the lowest end of the CLS range. Upon consideration of all relevant evidence, we find that the requested rate of $315 is reasonable. We therefore will apply this reasonable rate in our loadstar calculation.

2. Reasonable Time Expended

Defendants' overriding objection to Plaintiff's motion is that her counsel's fees and costs are excessive and improper and should accordingly be reduced. In furtherance of this ...


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