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Leahy v. Garces Restaurant Group LLC

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

May 17, 2018

MICHELE A. LEAHY, Plaintiff,
v.
GARCES RESTAURANT GROUP LLC, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          GERALD J. PAPPERT, J.

         Michele Leahy, represented by Disability Rights Pennsylvania, sued Garces Restaurant Group, LLC, 2401 Walnut Café, LLC, 2401 Walnut, LP, and Bedrock Group, Inc. for violations of the American with Disabilities Act. (Compl., ECF No. 1.) The parties resolved the litigation via a Consent Decree which the Court approved on October 25, 2017. They were unable, however, to agree on the amount of reasonable attorneys' fees owed to Leahy's lawyers under the ADA's fee shifting provision.[1](Consent Decree, ECF No. 39.) Defendants acknowledge that Leahy is the prevailing party and that the hourly rates for Leahy's attorneys are reasonable, but contend that the number of hours DRP attorneys worked on the case were excessive. DRP filed its Motion for Attorneys' Fees (Mot., ECF No. 43), to which the Defendants objected (Def. Resp. in Opp., ECF No. 44) and DRP replied (ECF No. 46). After reviewing the Motion, Response, Reply and all time sheets provided by DRP, the Court grants the Motion in part and denies it in part for the reasons explained below.

         I

         In the fall of 2016, Leahy learned that a new restaurant, 24 Wood Fired Fare, would be opening at 24th and Walnut Streets in Philadelphia. (Compl. ¶ 21.) Leahy uses a wheelchair for mobility and often dines out for personal and professional reasons. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 18-19.) She was concerned about the restaurant's accessibility and contacted DRP. (Id. ¶¶ 21-22.) DRP is a non-profit corporation “designated as the federally-mandated protection and advocacy agency in Pennsylvania.” Who We Are, Disability Rights Pennsylvania, https://www.disabilityrightspa.org/who-we-are/ (last visited May 12, 2018). Specifically, DRP protects and advances the rights of people with disabilities, including litigating ADA compliance issues. Id.

         DRP attorneys sent the Defendants a September 26, 2016 letter describing the various ADA compliance issues that were visible from outside the restaurant. (Mot., Ex. A (“Haubert Declaration”) ¶ 3.) In response, Charles Block, a representative of the 2401 Defendants, contacted DRP attorney Dynah Haubert in early October 2016. (Id. ¶ 4.) Haubert sent Block a list of questions concerning the restaurant's accessibility and Block invited DRP to tour the restaurant and make suggestions that would address DRP's concerns. (Id. ¶ 5.) Haubert and Jamie Ray-Leonetti, another DRP attorney, visited the restaurant on October 21, 2016 and identified issues concerning the entryway on Walnut Street, signage, and the entrance at 24th and Sansom Streets. (Id. ¶ 6.) Over the next few months, the parties attempted to resolve the ADA compliance concerns but were unable to do so and DRP filed a one-count Complaint on Leahy's behalf on March 2, 2017. (ECF No. 1.)

         In her Complaint, Leahy asserted that the restaurant violated the ADA because it lacked adequate ramps from the Walnut Street sidewalk to the patio and from the sidewalk to the Sansom Street entrance. She also alleged that there were not enough accessible parking spaces in the nearby parking lot. (Compl. ¶¶ 62-63, 72.) After several stipulations between the parties to extend the Defendants' time to respond to the Complaint, the Court ordered the Defendants to respond and the parties to exchange Rule 26(f) disclosures on or before May 26, 2017. (May 5 Order, ECF No. 16.) The Court referred the case to Magistrate Judge Elizabeth T. Hey for settlement discussions (Scheduling Order, ECF No. 24) and the parties participated in settlement conferences with Judge Hey on June 29, July 7, July 31, August 23, September 28 and October 13 (Minute Entries, ECF Nos. 25, 27, 30, 33, 35, 37).

         The negotiations eventually resulted in the twelve-page Consent Decree pursuant to which the Defendants agreed to make the modifications necessary to ensure the restaurant's accessibility under the ADA. The modifications include the construction of a ramp from the sidewalk to the Walnut Street patio, ongoing maintenance of the Sansom Street ramp, the designation of accessible parking spots and the adjustment of bathroom doors to require less than five pounds of force to open. (Consent Decree ¶¶ 3-5.)

         During a telephone conference on October 17, 2017 with the Court, the parties stated that they were “far apart” in their attorneys' fees negotiations. The Court conducted a subsequent telephone conference on December 18, 2017 where the parties informed the Court that they were still unable to resolve the matter without Court intervention. Plaintiff's attorneys then filed this Motion.

         II

         The ADA provides that a court may allow the prevailing party to recover “a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 12205. A plaintiff is a “prevailing party” if “they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the [party] sought in bringing suit.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). In statutory fee shifting cases, the party seeking fees has the burden to prove its request is reasonable and can meet its burden by submitting “evidence supporting the hours worked and the rates claimed.” Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). The Court multiples the hourly rate by the number of hours to obtain the lodestar, which is presumed to be the reasonable fee, id., and the Court “may not award less in fees than requested unless the opposing party makes specific objections to the fee request, ” United States v. Eleven Vehicles, Their Equipment and Accessories, 200 F.3d 203, 212 (3d Cir. 2000).

         The party opposing the fee award “has the burden to challenge, by affidavit or brief with sufficient specificity to give fee applicants notice, the reasonableness of the requested fee.” Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183. The party does not need to challenge specific time entries but must “identify the type of work being challenged” and “specifically state [the] grounds for contending that the hours claimed in that area are unreasonable.” Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 720 (3d Cir. 1989). “Hours are not reasonably expended if they are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183. Although the Court cannot decrease the fee award based on factors not raised by the adverse party, it has “a great deal of discretion in deciding what a reasonable fee award is, so long as the reduction is based on objections actually raised by the adverse party.” Bell, 884 F.2d at 721. In light of objections, the Court “will inevitably be required to engage in a fair amount of judgment calling based upon its experience with the case and its general experience as to how much time a case requires.” Id.

         III A

         DRP submitted time sheets indicating the amount of time spent on each task throughout the litigation. DRP seeks $53, 138 for 216.5 hours of work and $1, 245 for litigation expenses and costs. Again, there is no dispute that Leahy is a “prevailing party” and the Defendants do not object to the litigation expenses and costs or the hourly rates charged.[2] While the Defendants take issue with virtually all aspects of DRP's bills, the Court can address only those fees to which the Defendants have objected with the requisite specificity.

         As often happens, the parties blame each other in a number of ways for the protracted nature of the dispute. Defendants first contend that the fees should be reduced because they only paid their lawyers $10, 470 to resolve the case. (Def. Resp. in Opp. at 7.) Their attorneys' decision to work fewer hours (or charge their clients for less time than they worked) does not in and of itself make the amount of time that DRP lawyers spent unreasonable. See Harlan v. NRA Grp., LLC, ...


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