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MOTLEY v. YELDELL

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA


April 8, 1987

Annie Pearl Motley, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
Joseph P. Yeldell, et al., Defendants

Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr., Chief Judge.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: ROBINSON, JR.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Aubrey E. Robinson, Jr. Chief Judge

 For the Court's consideration is a petition for attorneys' fees and costs with respect to work done in connection with the Court's July 24, 1985 contempt order in the above-captioned matter. For the reasons stated below, this petition shall be granted.

 I. Background

 In 1974, Plaintiffs filed this action alleging that Defendants were violating their rights under the federal constitution and the Social Security Act and implementing regulations. Plaintiffs prevailed. On November 8, 1974, the Court entered a permanent injunction requiring defendants to comply with federal law governing the administration of the Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program, 42 U.S.C. § 602(a)(1) and 45 C.F.R. § 206.10(a)(3)(1). The Court retained jurisdiction and certified a class consisting of all applicants for AFDC assistance in the District of Columbia.

 On February 8, 1978, the Court held Defendants in contempt of the 1974 Order as amended. The Court then issued another permanent injunction against Defendants which established a monitoring system for Defendant's compliance.

 Plaintiffs sought a second contempt order in 1982 as a result of Defendants' failure to comply with the 1974 and 1978 orders. The Court held Defendants in contempt on July 24, 1985. It is for the work associated with this second contempt proceeding for which Plaintiffs seek attorneys fees and costs.

 ANALYSIS

 Plaintiffs believe they are entitled to attorneys fees and costs under three separate theories. The first is that Defendants acted in bad faith throughout this litigation, willfully failing to comply with this Court's orders. The second is that because Plaintiffs could have brought suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, they are now entitled to fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Finally, Plaintiffs seek fees under Rule 11 as sanctions against Defendants' alleged false presentation of the record in their Opposition to the Plaintiffs' Motion for an Order Adjudging Defendants in Contempt.

 The Court shall grant Plaintiffs' Motion based on a fourth theory; that in a case involving civil contempt, there need be no finding of willful contempt for a Court to award Attorneys' fees and costs to the prevailing party. Although the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has not addressed this question, the Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Ninth Circuits have all allowed fee awards in civil contempt proceedings in which the contempt was not found to be willful. *fn1" Cook v. Ochsner Found. Hosp., 559 F.2d 270 (5th Cir. 1977); TWM Mfg. Co. v. Dura Corp., 722 F.2d 1261 (6th Cir. 1983); Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Premex, Inc., 655 F.2d 779 (7th Cir. 1981); Perry v. O'Donnell, 759 F.2d 702 (9th Cir. 1985).

 An analysis of the issue of when it is appropriate for a court to award attorneys' fees and costs must begin with Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Society, 421 U.S. 240, 95 S. Ct. 1612, 44 L. Ed. 2d 141 (1975). In that case, the Court recognized that there are certain well-established exceptions to the general rule that in the absence of a statute or enforceable contract providing otherwise, each litigant pays his or her own attorneys' fees. One of these exceptions is that "a court may assess attorneys' fees for the 'willful disobedience of a court order . . . as part of the fine to be levied on the defendant.'" Id. at 258 (quoting Fleischmann Distilling Corp. v. Maier Brewing Co., 386 U.S. 714, 718, 87 S. Ct. 1404, 18 L. Ed. 2d 475 (1967)) (citing Toledo Scale Co. v. Computing Scale Co., 261 U.S. 399, 426-28, 43 S. Ct. 458, 67 L. Ed. 719 (1923)). Another is that fees may be awarded to the prevailing party "when the losing party has 'acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons.'" Alyeska at 258-259 (citations omitted).

 The Court finds persuasive the reasoning of the courts cited above which hold that while Alyeska specifically discusses willful disobedience of a court order, it does not prevent a trial court from granting a fee petition in a civil case where a party's contempt is not willful. Perry v. O'Donnell, 759 F.2d 702 (9th Cir. 1985) notes that Alyeska was not a contempt case so there was no need in that action for the Court to discuss whether a finding of willfulness is a prerequisite to the award of attorneys' fees in a civil contempt proceeding. Id. at 705. Additionally, the Court in Perry observed that unlike criminal contempt, civil contempt may be established even though the failure to comply was unintentional. Id. Finally, the Court decided that "an inflexible rule requiring the denial of fees when civil contempt is not 'willful' would prevent the party proving the contempt from being fully compensated in many cases." Id. The Court concluded that it would analyze each contempt case individually to decide whether an award of fees is an appropriate remedial measure. Id.

 The Court in Cook v. Ochsner Found. Hosp., 559 F.2d 270 (5th Cir. 1977), reached the same conclusion that willfulness is not a prerequisite to an award of fees in a civil contempt case. The Court, noting its "inherent authority . . . to enforce its orders by whatever means," held in a civil contempt case that

 

it matters not whether the disobedience is willful, the cost of bringing the violation to the attention of the court is part of the damages suffered by the prevailing party and those costs would reduce any benefits gained by the prevailing party from the court's violated order.

 

We, therefore, hold that Alyeska was not intended to take away the inherent authority of a court to award attorneys' fees in a civil contempt proceeding.

 Id. at 272, 273. See also Commodity Futures Trading Comm's v. Premex, Inc., 655 F.2d 779 (7th Cir. 1981); TWM Mfg. Co. v. Dura Corp., 722 F.2d 1261 (6th Cir. 1983).

 Given the circumstances leading to this petition for fees, the Court shall apply the reasoning of the Circuits which have not required a finding of willful non-compliance in a civil contempt proceeding to award fees and costs to the Plaintiffs in this action against the District of Columbia.

 II. The Lodestar

 Once it has been determined that Petitioner is entitled to some award of fees, the next step is to determine the lodestar - - the number of hours reasonably expended, multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. "The figure generated by that computation is the basic fee from which a trial court judge should work." Copeland v. Marshall, 641 F.2d 880 (D.C. Cir. 1980).

 A. Amount of Time Reasonably Expended During the approximately two and one half year period for which fees are sought by the instant petition, 842.122 hours are claimed by three attorneys associated with the Neighborhood Legal Services Program. A summary of the hours claimed and the work performed follows: Hours Expended Task Robert I. Christopher R. Lynn E. Period Berlow, Esq. Whittingham, Esq. Cunningham, Esq. Description of Work June 1982- Research draft and Dec. 1982 378.96 27 submit Motion for contempt; discovery and preparation for contempt hearing, including 13 depositions; 3-day contempt hearing, preparation of 2 post-hearing memoranda and proposed findings. Jan. 1983- Post hearing Sept. 1984 190.05 discovery; research and preparation of memoranda regarding defendants' post-hearing compliance. Oct. 1984- Dec. 1984 5.65 26.662 .50 Transfer of case; meetings with defendants' counsel re: possible settlement and preparation of Joint Report, re: future discovery; initial research on reopening of 1982 hearing. Jan. 1985- July 1985 103.488 2.00 Factual and legal research for preparation of interrogatories and other discovery; research prepare and submit motion for judgment of contempt on the record; prepared and opposed discovery motions; consultations on case strategy; argued motions at May 3, 1985 contempt hearing. Aug. 1985- Dec. 1985 100.232 7.58 Researched, prepared and submitted motion for attorneys' fees and supplemental memorandum; researched, prepared and argued objections to defendants proposed plan to purge themselves of contempt. TOTAL 574.66 257.382 10.08

19870408

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