United States District Court, District of Columbia
March 1, 2001
JOEL BOLDEN, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
J & R INCORPORATED, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kessler, District Judge.
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.
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.
A. Attorneys' Fees
Plaintiffs won their civil rights suit, and consequently, are
entitled to attorneys'
fees as prevailing parties. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988; D.C.Code §§
1-2553(a)(1)(E)(F) & 1-2556(b). The first step in an award of
attorneys' fees is to determine the lodestar fee — the hourly
rate multiplied by the number of hours reasonably expended on
the case. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103
S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983).
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
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 challenges to the
amount of hours expended.
First, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' total hours should be
reduced by fifty percent because the time expended by five
lawyers on a case which took only fourteen months and resulted
in a one-and-half day trial was excessive. In so arguing,
Defendants attempt to paint this case as a garden variety
discrimination case of limited complexity and minimal
importance. In fact, this was a significant civil rights case
for the Washington, D.C. community. See Bill Miller, $120,000
Award in Race Bias Case: Jury Finds D.C. Cabby Violated Civil
Rights, The Washington Post, June 22, 2000, at B1. Moreover,
there have been various media accounts of the difficulties
African-Americans face, particularly young African-American
males, when hailing a cab in the District of Columbia, and of
the resulting humiliation and frustration these experiences
engender. See e.g., Bill Miller, D.C. Cab Company Accused of
Racial Bias, The Washington Post, June 8, 2000, at B1;
Catching Racist Cabbies?, Letters to the Editor, The
Washington Post, June 26, 2000, at A18.
This case presents a classic example of such discrimination.
It involves claims brought by two young men, best friends,
co-employees, roommates, almost mirror images of one another,
except that one is black and one is white. The jury verdict was
both a victory for Plaintiffs and an important, symbolic
statement to the taxicab industry that such discriminatory
conduct has no place on the streets of this city. The
reasonableness of Plaintiffs' hours are assessed against this
Plaintiffs are seeking compensation for 1095 hours. Using a
forty billable hour week, Plaintiffs' request translates to 27.4
weeks, or almost seven months, of billable time. Concededly, the
number of hours spent on this litigation was high, and for that
reason, Plaintiffs' request will be reduced by ten percent.
However, despite making this reduction, which is rather minor,
the Court emphasizes that in order to provide high quality legal
representation — equivalent to that which Crowell and Moring
would provide any corporate client — in what was a relatively
novel case of great consequence to the public, it was both
appropriate and essential that counsel spend the necessary
amount of time to perform first-rate lawyering.
Defendants also argue that the fee award should be reduced by
fifty percent to reflect time spent only on Plaintiffs'
successful claims. However, in the exercise of good billing
judgment and in recognition of the tort claims on which they did
not prevail, Plaintiffs have already cut their fees by twenty
percent.*fn6 Further, Plaintiffs succeeded on their
discrimination claims, which constituted the core of their case.
The fact that Plaintiffs did not prevail on a number of other
counts is of no significance because the underlying factual
context (i.e., the refusal of taxicab service) was the same
for all claims. The Supreme Court has recognized that under
these circumstances, a party may recover full attorneys' fees:
In other cases the plaintiffs claims for relief
will involve a common core of facts or will be
based on related legal theories. Much of counsel's
time will be devoted generally to the litigation as
a whole, making it difficult to divide the hours
expended on a claim-by-claim basis. Such a lawsuit
cannot be viewed as a series of discrete claims.
Instead the district court should focus on the
significance of the overall relief obtained by the
plaintiff in relation to the hours reasonably
expended on the litigation.
Where a plaintiff has obtained excellent
results, his attorney should recover a fully
compensatory fee. Normally this will encompass all
hours reasonably expended on the litigation, and
indeed in some cases of exceptional success an
enhanced award may be justified. In these
circumstances the fee award should not be reduced
simply because the plaintiff failed to prevail on
every contention raised in the lawsuit. Litigants
in good faith may raise alternative legal grounds
for a desired outcome, and the court's rejection of
or failure to reach certain grounds is not a
sufficient reason for reducing a fee. The result is
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 435, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76
L.Ed.2d 40 (1983) (internal citations omitted). Accordingly,
because Plaintiffs "obtained excellent results" in what was
fundamentally a civil rights suit against Defendants, the fee
award will not be reduced for their failure to prevail on
certain common law claims.
Defendants also argue that a blanket reduction of fifty
percent should apply because Plaintiffs failed to adequately
document their time. In particular, they argue that instead of
specifying the precise amount of time spent on each individual
task, Plaintiffs' billing records include several entries for
blocks of time during which multiple tasks were completed. The
Court has undertaken a careful review of Plaintiffs' billing
records, and finds them sufficiently detailed and descriptive.
The onerous segregation of tasks urged by Defendants is not
necessary for the Court to determine the reasonableness of time
Finally, Defendants raise several specific objections to
Plaintiffs' hours. Although many of these objections are
insignificant, some are sustained.
First, Plaintiffs have requested compensation for 120 hours in
staff and client conferences. See Def.'s Opp.'n at 10. Because
these conferences were often overstaffed — sometimes attended by
three attorneys — this request is reduced by twenty percent.
Second, the following problems justify reductions: (1) Ms.
Roman's time spent at the meet and confer session held on July
20, 1999, is reduced from 2.5 hours to one hour, given that Ms.
Huhta, who also attended, billed only one hour; (2) Ms. Roman's
time spent at the Court-sponsored mediation session held on
February 1, 2000, is reduced from six to four hours, given that
Ms. Huhta billed four hours for this session; and (3) two hours
of Mr. Leavy's time spent on September 24, 1998, is disallowed
because it occurred prior to Crowell and Moring's involvement in
the case. The Court finds that all other hours were reasonably
Plaintiffs seek $5,864.52 costs for expenditures relating
primarily to filing fees, duplication, postage, courier
services, computerized research and the transcription of four
depositions. Upon review of the records, the Court concludes
that the costs are reasonable with the following exception: word
processing costs of $105 will not be allowed because that cost
is included in the firm's overhead.*fn7
Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs shall be
granted in part and denied in part. An Order will issue with