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MCKENZIE v. KENNICKELL

September 12, 1986

ALFRED U. McKENZIE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
RALPH E. KENNICKELL, JR., Defendant


Barrington D. Parker, Senior District Judge.


The opinion of the court was delivered by: PARKER

Barrington D. Parker, Senior District Judge:

 In 1973, plaintiffs filed this case against the United States Government Printing Office ("GPO"), alleging racial discrimination against blacks in hiring and promotion practices, a violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq. Protracted and hotly contested litigation ensued which, unfortunately, has still not concluded. Plaintiffs have now filed a motion for an interim award of attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). The Court believes that such an award is justified and grants plaintiffs' motion as explained below.

 BACKGROUND

 When this case was filed, the Civil Rights Act Amendments of 1972, which made Title VII applicable to federal government employees, were barely a year old. In the early stages of this proceeding, therefore, plaintiffs' counsel were exploring an uncertain legal landscape. During the course of the litigation, the Supreme Court and our Circuit Court regularly handed down landmark decisions on Title VII issues, *fn1" both procedural and substantive, requiring counsel to constantly reassess and sometimes reshape their arguments. Their task was made no easier by the government, which fought plaintiffs' claim with every weapon at its disposal and consistently refused to acknowledge that the GPO had violated any Title VII rights of black workers.

 In 1975, after the initial stages of this case which included class certification proceedings, substantial discovery, and a remand for further administrative proceedings, the parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. In January 1977, the Court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order, finding that plaintiffs had established GPO's liability. McKenzie v. McCormick, 425 F. Supp. 137 (D.D.C. 1977). Over the next four years, extensive and complicated proceedings developed concerning plaintiffs' application for appropriate final relief. Plaintiffs twice obtained preliminary injunctions to prevent proposed GPO employment decisions that threatened the Court's ability to order effective relief. Further discovery and the use of court appointed experts were necessary. On January 30, 1981, the Court issued a comprehensive order granting plaintiffs broad injunctive relief and the possibility of monetary relief for individual class members. McKenzie v. Saylor, 508 F. Supp. 641 (D.D.C. 1981). Plaintiffs were declared the prevailing party for purposes of attorneys' fees and costs.

 In McKenzie v. Sawyer, 221 U.S. App. D.C. 288, 684 F.2d 62 (D.C. Cir. 1982), the Court of Appeals affirmed the 1977 liability ruling in substantial part, holding that summary judgment for the plaintiffs was proper except with respect to their allegations of discriminatory selection of journeymen after 1971. The case was remanded for further proceedings on that issue. The January 1981 relief order was upheld in full, except that specific timetables for the promotion of black employees were vacated. Since the Court of Appeals decision, there have been further proceedings concerning the exact procedures for adjudicating individual back pay claims and specific disputes over the defendant's compliance with the relief order.

 Plaintiffs originally filed a petition requesting attorneys' fees and costs in April 1981. The present motion for an interim award, filed in August 1985, covers the same period that is the subject of the original petition -- from the outset of the case until January 30, 1981, the date of the final relief order. In a supplemental motion filed in November 1985, plaintiffs revised and updated their request in light of intervening case law and objections raised by the government in its opposition to the motion for an interim award.

 The government does not dispute that plaintiffs are entitled to recover attorneys' fees as the prevailing party in this litigation or that an interim award of some kind is permissible. When a party has succeeded in obtaining substantial interlocutory relief, an interim award of fees may be made. See Bradley v. School Board of City of Richmond, 416 U.S. 696, 723, 40 L. Ed. 2d 476, 94 S. Ct. 2006 (1974); Grubbs v. Butz, 179 U.S. App. D.C. 18, 548 F.2d 973, 976-77 (D.C. Cir. 1976). Defendant objects, however, to the amount of the interim award proposed by the plaintiffs.

 DISCUSSION

 I. The Lodestar

 It is well established in this Circuit that the first step in determining the appropriate amount of attorneys' fees in a particular case is the calculation of a "lodestar" figure. This is done by multiplying the reasonable hourly rates for the attorneys to whom fees are to be awarded by the number of hours reasonably devoted to the litigation by each attorney. See Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 241 U.S. App. D.C. 11, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1984, cert. denied, 472 U.S. 1021, 105 S. Ct. 3488, 87 L. Ed. 2d 622 (1985); National Association of Concerned Veterans v. Secretary of Defense ("NACV"), 219 U.S. App. D.C. 94, 675 F.2d 1319 (D.C. Cir. 1982); Copeland v. Marshall, 205 U.S. App. D.C. 390, 641 F.2d 880 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (en banc). While the lodestar methodology was first developed in cases where fees were to be awarded from monetary settlements or verdicts in class actions, the Supreme Court has implicitly approved the practice in statutory fee cases such as Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983), and Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984). See Court Awarded Attorney Fees: Report of the Third Circuit Task Force, 108 F.R.D. 237, 241-46 (1985).

 Part of the advantage of the lodestar method is that it gives an air of objectivity to the determination and thus should forestall a "second major litigation," Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437, on the question of fees. Without question, prolonged, petty disputes over fees are wasteful of the courts' resources and have a damaging impact on the morale, not to mention the reputation, of the legal profession as a whole. See id. at 442 (Brennan, J., concurring in part and dissenting in part) (characterizing appeals from fee awards as "one of the least socially productive types of litigation imaginable"). Despite the warnings of our Circuit Court against nit-picking disagreements, intransigence, and unreasonable negotiating positions, e.g., Commonwealth of Puerto Rico v. Heckler, 240 U.S. App. D.C. 333, 745 F.2d 709, 714 (D.C. Cir. 1984); NACV, 675 F.2d at 1338 (Tamm, J., concurring), the government has fought attorneys' fees petitions "tooth and nail." This proceeding is no exception. In reviewing this petition, the Court has endeavored to fairly and equitably assess all reasonable challenges to plaintiffs' claims, but has resisted and will continue to resist the government's invitation to undertake a line by line examination of the fee request and "pleading by pleading examination of the ...


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