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BOLDEN v. J & R INC.

March 1, 2001

JOEL BOLDEN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
V.
J & R INCORPORATED, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kessler, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs [# 41]. Upon consideration of the motion, opposition, reply, and the entire record herein, for the reasons stated below, Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs is granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

Plaintiffs, Joel Bolden and Len Silva, sued Defendant Muhammad Mehmood, a cab driver, and J & R Incorporated, a cab company, under 42 U.S.C. § 1981, the District of Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C.Code § 1-2519, and local common law. Plaintiffs claimed that they were refused taxicab service on the night of May 25, 1998, on the basis of Plaintiff Bolden's race. On June 21, 2000, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiffs on their race discrimination claims and on the breach of carrier duty claim, and awarded them a total of $120,000. Specifically, Plaintiffs each received $2,000 in compensatory damages and $18,000 in punitive damages for each of their successful claims.*fn1 Plaintiffs now move for $91,132.80 in attorneys' fees and $5,864.52 in costs.

II. Analysis

A. Attorneys' Fees

1. Hourly Rates

An attorney's actual billing rate is presumptively deemed a reasonable rate, provided that the rate is "in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Cumberland Mountains, Inc. v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516, 1518-1519 (D.C.Cir. 1988). Attorneys who do not charge a billing rate, such as those employed with non-profit or public interest groups, may be compensated at the hourly rates set forth in Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc. 572 F. Supp. 354, 371-372 (D.C. 1983), rev'd on other grounds, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C.Cir. 1984), cert. denied, 472 U.S. 1021, 105 S.Ct. 3488, 87 L.Ed.2d 622 (1985).

Plaintiffs request the current Laffey rate for work performed from June 1998 through June 2000 by attorneys Avis E. Buchanan and Susan E. Huhta of the Washington Lawyers' Committee, a nonprofit public interest organization. See Pl.'s Fee Petition Ex. B ("Declaration of Susan E. Huhta"). Defendants do not dispute reliance on Laffey as a general matter, but argue that historic (i.e., year 1999 and year 2000 rates), rather than current rates (i.e., year 2001 rates), should apply to all work performed.

This suit was filed in May 1999, and a jury returned a verdict less than fourteen months later in June 2000. Given the brief period of time between initiation of this suit, subsequent to which most of counsel's hours were expended, and final judgment, Plaintiffs would not be prejudiced by application of historic hourly rates. The progress of this case has not been protracted; nor has it spanned multiple years. Consequently, it differs from those cases which have permitted use of current hourly rates for services rendered in the past. See e.g., Laffey, 572 F. Supp. at 380 (adjustment for delay where case spanned thirteen years); Missouri v. Jenkins 491 U.S. 274, 283, 109 S.Ct. 2463, 105 L.Ed.2d 229 (1989) (adjustment proper where there has been a "substantial delay in payment."). Accordingly, the Court concludes that the Laffey historic rates apply for all work performed by Ms. Buchanan and Ms. Huhta.*fn2

Plaintiffs also request compensation for work performed by four attorneys employed by Crowell & Moring, LLP.*fn3 Instead of Laffey rates, Plaintiffs request an hourly rate equal to the firm's regular billing rate. Defendants' only objection here is that the $415.00 per hour billed by Patrick Lee for 2.75 hours is unreasonable, and that therefore, his rate should be reduced to the $350.00 per hour rate provided for under the Laffey matrix. Because Plaintiffs did not submit any professional information on Mr. Lee or provide a rationale for the requested rate, the Court grants Defendants' request.*fn4 See Salazar v. District of Columbia, 123 F. Supp.2d 8, 14 (D.C. 2000). Given the absence of any other objection by Defendants to Plaintiffs' requested hourly rate for work by Crowell and Moring, and given that these rates virtually mirror Laffey historic rates, the Court concludes that Plaintiffs' requested rates are reasonable.*fn5

2. Time Expended

Plaintiffs request attorneys fees for 863 hours expended by Crowell and Moring and 232.7 hours expended by the Washington Lawyers' Committee. Defendants make several ...


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