United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
the Court is a petition for attorney's fees in a hostile
work environment case brought against the Pennsylvania State
Police (“PSP”) and Sergeant Mike Tinneny.
Attorney Brian Puricelli seeks $750 per hour for work
performed in this case and $8, 875.45 in costs. For the
reasons that follow, the fee request shall be granted in
Rachel Jones filed suit in August 2016, asserting various
claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1968 and
the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act (“PHRA”)
against the PSP, her supervisor Sergeant Mike Tinneny, and
State Trooper Craig Acord, based on the harassing conduct of
Acord in the workplace. Specifically, after Plaintiff and
Acord ended their relationship, Acord made several advances
at Plaintiff despite her repeated refusal.
Plaintiff's Title VII and PHRA claims were dismissed at
the Rule 12(b)(6) stage. See Jones v. Pa. State
Police, 2016 WL 7404478 (E.D. Pa. 2016). Acord
eventually settled with Plaintiff. Defendant PSP, on the
other hand, moved for summary judgment on Plaintiff's
remaining Title VII and PHRA claims for hostile work
environment and retaliation. Sergeant Tinneny moved for
summary judgment as to the PHRA claims for aiding and
abetting the hostile work environment and retaliation.
Plaintiff's hostile work environment claim against the
PSP and aiding-and-abetting a hostile work environment claim
against Sergeant Tinneny survived summary judgment. See
Jones v. Pa. State Police, 2017 WL 4386994 (E.D. Pa.
2017). The case proceeded to trial on these claims.
four-day trial, the jury awarded Plaintiff $250, 000 on her
hostile work environment claim against the PSP. Sergeant
Tinneny was found not liable. Counsel for Plaintiff now seeks
$750 per hour for his work and $8, 875.45 in costs for his
success in litigating Plaintiff's Title VII and PHRA
discretion, a court may award reasonable attorney's fees
to the prevailing party in a Title VII case. 42 U.S.C. §
2000e-5(k); CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. EEOC, 136
S.Ct. 1642, 1646 (2016). The party seeking attorney's
fees has the burden of proving that the request is
reasonable. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177,
1183 (3d Cir. 1990). To satisfy this burden, the “fee
petitioner must ‘submit evidence supporting the hours
worked and rates claimed.'” Id. (quoting
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).
“[T]he party opposing the fee award then has the burden
to challenge, by affidavit or brief with sufficient
specificity to give fee applicants notice, the reasonableness
of the requested fee.” Id. Once the opposing
party lodges objections to the fee petition, “the
district court has a great deal of discretion to adjust the
fee award in light of those objections.” Id.
initial matter, Plaintiff here is a “prevailing
party” within the meaning of Title VII's
attorney's fees provision. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k).
Plaintiff has secured an “enforceable judgment on the
merits, ” obtaining a $250, 000 jury award for her
hostile work environment claim under Title VII. Singer
Mgmt. Consultants, Inc. v. Milgram, 650 F.3d 223, 231
(3d Cir. 2011). Therefore, the question is what amount of
attorney's fees would be reasonable under the
calculate a reasonable attorney's fee award, “we
use the ‘lodestar' formula, which requires
multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a
reasonable hourly rate.” Loughner v. Univ. of
Pittsburgh, 260 F.3d 173, 177 (3d Cir. 2001) (citing
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433). Plaintiff here has the
burden of submitting evidence supporting the hours worked and
rates claimed. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. If the
documentations of hours is lacking, “the district court
may reduce the award accordingly.” Id.
Further, “[t]he district court also should exclude from
this initial fee calculations hours that were not
‘reasonably expended.'” Id. at 434.
A fee award may not be decreased “based on factors not
raised at all by the adverse party.” Loughner,
260 F.3d at 178.
Hours Reasonably Expended by Puricelli
determining the hours reasonably expended, “the
District Court should review the time charged, decide whether
the hours set out were reasonably expended for each of the
particular purposes described and then exclude those that are
excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.”
Id. at 177 (internal quotation marks omitted).
“Thus, the District Court has a positive and
affirmative function in the fee fixing process, not merely a
passive role.” Id. Plaintiff has submitted
time entries for work performed by Brian Puricelli and his
former associate, Alexis Lehmann.
claims that Puricelli's hours should be reduced because:
(1) he seeks fees for tasks related to litigating
Plaintiff's claim against Acord; (2) he has provided
unclear timesheets that render it difficult to calculate the
lodestar figure; and (3) certain tasks he performed were
redundant and the number of hours he worked is generally
unreasonable. Each argument will be considered in turn.
Hours Spent on Litigation Against Acord
court can reduce the hours claimed by the number of hours
spent litigating claims on which the party did not succeed
and that were distinct in all respects from claims on which
the party did succeed.” Rode, 892 F.2d at
1183. Plaintiff prevailed only on her hostile work
environment claim against the PSP. Thus, the following time
entries devoted to litigating Plaintiff's tort claim
against Acord shall be excluded:
February 17, 2017
Accord settlement agreement received, reviewed,
client contacted RE agreement. Confirmed
July 6, 2017
Set conf in court train 11.75 portal to
July 7, 2017
Set phone conf re: Accord [sic] settlement
July 8, 2017
ECF in - minutes for set conf on 7th
Clarity of Timesheets
hours to be used in calculating attorneys' fees must be
detailed with sufficient specificity.” Keenan v.
City of Phila., 983 F.2d 459, 472 (3d Cir. 1992). A fee
petition must be “specific enough to allow the district
court to determine if the hours claimed are unreasonable for
the work performed.” Id. (internal quotation
marks omitted). The 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.” Id. (internal quotation marks
his various misspellings and counterintuitive abbreviations,
Puricelli has, for the most part, produced sufficiently clear
time sheets. Although Defendants take issue with entries that
include multiple tasks and that fail to describe the amount
of time spent on each task, such specific billing practices
are not required for a fee petition. Id.
(“[I]t is not necessary to know the exact number of
minutes spent nor the precise activity to which each hour was
devoted nor the specific attainments of each
attorney.”) (internal quotations omitted). In other
words, by providing “computer-generated time
sheet[s]” that include “the date the activity
took place, ” Puricelli has satisfied the specificity
identify one instance of a billing redundancy in which
Puricelli billed twice for reading an identical transcript.
Puricelli's entry on February 3, 2017 for spending 0.9
hours in re-reading the transcript shall thus be excluded
from the lodestar calculation.
have not otherwise met their burden in challenging the total
number of hours billed by Puricelli. Defendants, in
particular, contend that “an estimation of a reasonable
amount of time for each part of the litigation” should
be used to calculate Puricelli's total hours. But their
request to wholesale reduce hundreds of hours from
Puricelli's billings is not warranted; Defendants have
failed to provide “sufficient specificity to give fee
applicants notice” of their objections to the hours
billed besides a conclusory statement that the number of
hours worked is unreasonable. Rode, 892 F.2d at
1183. Indeed, this Court “may not reduce an award
sua sponte” but must instead do so “in
response to specific objections made by the opposing
party.” Interfaith Cmty. Org. v. Honeywell
Int'l, 426 F.3d 694, 711 (3d Cir. 2005).
Accordingly, Puricelli's hours will not be reduced based
on Defendants' generalized assertion of unreasonableness.
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