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MARTINI v. FANNIE MAE

September 10, 1997

ELIZABETH A. MARTINI, Plaintiff,
v.
FEDERAL NATIONAL MORTGAGE ASSOCIATION, et al., Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KESSLER

MEMORANDUM OPINION

 This matter is before the court on Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs [# 116] pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(D) and D.C. Code § 1-2556. Between November 18 and December 9, 1996, Plaintiff's gender-based discrimination and retaliation claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et seq., and the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 1-2501 et seq., were tried before a jury in this Court. On December 12, 1996, the jury rendered a verdict for Plaintiff on her claims. She now seeks attorneys' fees and costs associated with the suit and the preparation of her fee petition. Upon consideration of the Motion, the Opposition thereto, the Reply, the applicable case law, and the entire record herein, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's Motion must be granted.

 I. Background

 Plaintiff Elizabeth A. Martini was employed by Defendant Federal National Mortgage Association ("Fannie Mae") from July 1988 until March 8, 1995, when she received a termination notice. On July 20, 1995, plaintiff filed an action in this Court alleging harassment, retaliation, negligent infliction of emotional distress, intentional infliction of emotional distress and negligent supervision. Plaintiff brought her harassment and retaliation claims pursuant to Title VII. On May 3, 1996, the Court granted, over Defendants' opposition, Plaintiff's motion for leave to amend her Complaint to bring claims for harassment and retaliation under the D.C. Human Rights Act.

 On July 10, 1997, the Court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Title VII claims against Defendants Knight and Kobayashi because neither could be held individually liable under Title VII. On August 19, 1996, the Court granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment with respect to Plaintiff's common law tort claims. Defendants also moved to dismiss Plaintiff's D.C. Human Rights Act claims against Defendants Knight and Kobayashi on the grounds that those Defendants could not be held individually liable under the statute. On October 30, 1997, the Court denied Defendants' Motion.

 Between November 18 and December 9, 1996, Plaintiff's remaining claims were tried before a jury in this Court. Defendants renewed their Motion to Dismiss the D.C. Human Rights Act claims with respect to the individual Defendants on November 19, 1996, which motion was denied by the Court on December 2, 1996. At the close of plaintiff's case and again at the close of all evidence, Defendants moved, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50, for judgment as a matter of law. The Court denied Defendants' motions. On December 12, 1996, the jury rendered a total verdict of $ 6,948,370.40 in favor of Plaintiff. Judgment on the Verdict was entered on December 16, 1996.

 Plaintiff filed the instant motion on December 30, 1996. She seeks attorneys' fees for 780 hours of work by attorney David E. Schreiber and 594.7 hours of work by attorney Larry S. Greenberg and more than $ 21,000 in costs associated with litigating this case.

 II. Analysis

 Our Court of Appeals requires a three-part analysis for attorneys' fees decisions: "(1) determination of the number of hours reasonably expended in litigation; (2) determination of a reasonable hourly rate or lodestar'; and (3) the use of multipliers as merited." Covington v. District of Columbia, 313 U.S. App. D.C. 16, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995), cert. denied, 516 U.S. 1115, 133 L. Ed. 2d 847, 116 S. Ct. 916 (1996) (quoting Save our Cumberland Mountains, Inc. v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516, 1517 (D.C. Cir. 1988)) (internal quotations omitted). Here, Plaintiff has, as required by Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 432, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983), "submitted evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed.

 Defendants oppose the fee application on several grounds: (1) that the hourly rates requested by Plaintiff are excessive and unreasonable; (2) that the number of hours claimed by Plaintiff is not reasonable; and (3) that Plaintiff did not prevail on all of her claims. *fn1" Further, they oppose Plaintiff's request for costs to the extent that those costs are unspecified, unnecessary and excessive.

 Before the Court proceeds to analyze Plaintiff's fee request in light of the prevailing legal principles, certain general comments need to be made. From the moment this case was filed, Defendants chose to litigate it in the most aggressive, hostile, and time-consuming fashion. Pleadings were invariably far too long. Arguments were repeated time after time after time. Lead defense counsel was uncooperative, engaged in personal attacks against opposing counsel, and magnified every minor legal issue into the proverbial "federal case". In time, sad to say, Plaintiff's counsel either adopted--or was driven to adopt--the same attitude and tactics. At a certain point in this case, given the lack of trust and civility amongst counsel and the history of unpleasant dealings, it became impossible to apportion blame on any single issue. It is against this background of uncivil and unprofessional conduct--which has proved to be so wasteful of the Court's time as well as counsel's--that the fee petition is examined.

 The analysis of Plaintiff's request begins with consideration of the "initial estimate of a reasonable attorney's fee"--the so-called lodestar fee--which the Supreme Court has said "is properly calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate based on the prevailing market rates in the relevant community." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984). Plaintiff's requested lodestar is $ 433,030.50, which she arrived at by multiplying the number of hours that both of her attorneys worked by the Laffey matrix fee of $ 315 per hour. *fn2" Defendants challenge both components of Plaintiff's lodestar calculation.

 A. Hourly Rates

 An attorney's usual billing rate is presumptively deemed the reasonable rate, provided that this rate is "in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Kattan v. District of Columbia, 301 U.S. App. D.C. 374, 995 F.2d 274, 278 (quoting Blum, 465 U.S. 886 at 895-96 n.11.; see Cumberland, 857 F.2d at 1518-1519. Under certain circumstances, our Court of Appeals has allowed the recovery of attorneys' fees at a higher rate than that customarily charged by the litigating attorney. However, to qualify for that higher rate, the fee petitioner must carry his or her burden of showing "at least three elements: the attorneys' billing practices; the attorneys' skill, experience, and reputation; and the prevailing market rates in the relevant community." Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107 (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 896 n.11, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984); Cumberland, 857 F.2d at 1524). If that showing is made, the updated Laffey matrix provides the most generally accepted hourly rates for attorneys in this jurisdiction. See Covington v. District of Columbia, 839 F. Supp. 894, 898 (D.D.C. 1993), aff'd, 313 U.S. App. D.C. 16, 57 F.3d 1101 (D.C. Cir. 1995); Cumberland, 857 F.2d at 1525; Goos v. National Ass'n of Realtors, 302 U.S. App. D.C. 363, 997 F.2d 1565 (D.C. Cir. 1993).

 Plaintiff requests an hourly rate of $ 315, the hourly rate set forth in the Laffey matrix for attorneys with more than 20 years experience, for each hour spent by each attorney litigating this matter. She claims that the customary billing rate charged by her counsel does not reflect the market rate of their services because both attorneys charge reduced rates for non-economic reasons. However, applying the Covington test, it is clear that Plaintiff has not adequately demonstrated the required elements which would entitle her to reimbursement at the higher, Laffey rate.

 With respect to the first element, Plaintiff has submitted an affidavit from Mr. Schreiber stating that he charges below market rates because he provides "legal representation to disadvantaged lower and middle income individuals and families" and that he does this for non-economic reasons. *fn3" A determination of whether an attorney does indeed charge below-market rates for public interest reasons rests in the sound discretion of the district court and affidavits such as Mr. Schreiber's have been found to be sufficient for making such a finding. Covington, 57 F.3d at 1108, 1110 & n.19. In light of Plaintiff's unrebutted evidence, the Court concludes that Mr. Schreiber does bill certain clients at below market rates and should not be "penalized for his public spiritedness by being paid on a lower scale than either his higher priced fellow barrister from a more established firm or his salaried neighbor at a legal services clinic." Cumberland, 857 F.2d at 1524. Mr. Greenberg, however, does not claim to ...


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