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Kister v. District of Columbia

August 15, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Reggie B. Walton United States District Judge


Currently before the Court is the plaintiff's Bill of Costs [D.E. #44] and the Defendants' Reply to Plaintiff's Bill of Costs.*fn1 Upon consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court concludes that the plaintiff is entitled to reasonable costs in the amount of $5,196.54.

I. Background

The plaintiff, Chad Kister, brought this action based on allegations that he was assaulted and battered by members of the Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") while he was protesting the activities of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund in a demonstration on April 16, 2000, at 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue in Northwest Washington, D.C. The Parties' Joint Statement For The Court ("Joint Statement") at 1. The plaintiff sought compensatory and punitive damages for violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 (2000), conspiracy, assault, battery, negligence, negligent training and supervision, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. See Verified Complaint ("Compl.") at 5-13. However, the Court subsequently dismissed the three claims for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the conspiracy, and the negligent training and supervision claim, as well as the punitive damages demand associated with the remaining claims that survived the defendants' motion for partial summary judgment. See Order Granting Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary Judgment dated April 28, 2004.

Discovery commenced on July 3, 2001, and the plaintiff filed two sets of requests for the production of documents. Plaintiff's Amended Motion to Compel ("Mot. to Compel") at 3-5. The plaintiff subsequently filed a motion to compel discovery, claiming that fifteen of the requested documents were improperly withheld by the defendants and requested that this Court both compel the defendants to produce the documents and impose sanctions against the defendants, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(4)(C). Mot. to Compel at 2-14. Specifically, the plaintiff sought as sanctions an award of the costs and attorney's fees occasioned by the defendants' failure to provide the requested discovery. Id. at 14. In response to the plaintiff's February 13, 2002 motion to compel, the defendants responded to twelve of the fifteen requests made by the plaintiff in his first and second requests for the production of documents, albeit in the form of exhibits attached to their opposition. Plaintiff's Reply to Defendants' Opposition to Plaintiffs Amended Motion to Compel at 1. Having produced most of the documents at that time, the Court issued an order with respect to the remaining three requests for (1) the photographs of the two platoons of officers, (2) a copy of the police officer training videotape concerning crowd control, and (3) the defendant's Operational Plan. See Order dated April 8, 2002. This order required the defendants to produce the photographs of the two platoons of police officers to the plaintiff and to provide the Court with a copy of the police officer training videotape concerning crowd control for the Court's in camera review. Id. The Court also ordered both parties to submit pleadings to this Court regarding their respective legal positions as to why the police officer training videotape and the Operational Plan should or should not be produced to the plaintiff. Id.

After considering the submissions of both parties, the Court denied the plaintiff's request for the "CDU Formations" videotape with the condition that "the defendants stipulate that the videotape depicts the wedge formation." See Order dated May 6, 2002. In addition, the Court ordered the defendants to produce to the plaintiff the material specified by the Court on pages four and five of the MPD's Operational Plan, as well as the material specified by the Court on page 138 of the Operational Plan, provided that the MPD's ERT unit was present or responded to the location of the incident in this case. Id. Moreover, the Court ordered the plaintiff to submit a Bill of Costs to the Court and the defendants detailing his costs incurred in filing the motion to compel. Id.

In the memorandum opinion supporting its order, the Court found "that defendants had a good faith basis for objecting to the production of their videotape and Operational Plan and should not be sanctioned as to the failure to produce those items . . . ." Memorandum Opinion dated May 6, 2002. Nevertheless, the Court found "that defendants may be liable to plaintiff, in part, for his costs that were incurred in filing the . . . motion [to compel], which was necessitated by defendants' failure to produce any evidence prior to the filing of plaintiff's motion." Memorandum Opinion dated May 6, 2002 at 4 n.4. Accordingly, the plaintiff submitted his Bill of Costs pursuant to the Court's order and in support of its request for the Court to impose sanctions against the defendants pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(4)(C).

II. Standard of Review

Rule 54(d)(2)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requires a plaintiff who is requesting attorney's fees and costs to "specify the judgment and the statute, rule, or other grounds entitling the moving party to the award[, as well as] the amount or . . . a fair estimate of the amount [being] sought." Fed. R. Civ. P. 52(d)(2)(B). Here, the plaintiff seeks an award of attorney's fees pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(4)(C). Mot. to Compel at 14-15. In determining whether to impose sanctions against a party that opposed a motion to compel which is granted in part and denied in part, the language of Rule 37(a)(4)(C) provides, in relevant part, that "the court . . . may, after affording an opportunity to be heard, apportion the reasonable expenses incurred in relation to the motion among the parties and persons in a just manner." Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(4)(C). A party has received an adequate opportunity to be heard within the meaning of Rule 37(a)(4)(A) if "the respondent provides explanation for its actions or inactions" after the movant specifically requests an award of costs and expenses incurred in filing a motion to compel.*fn2 Alexander v. FBI, 186 F.R.D. 78, 98 (D.D.C. 1998) ("Alexander I"). Here, the Court has afforded the defendants an opportunity to be heard through written memoranda.

Courts have interpreted Rule 37(a) in a manner that permits denial of the apportionment of "expenses if it makes a finding of substantial justification as to any party's position or if 'other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.'" Lohrenz v. Donnelly, 187 F.R.D. 1, 10 (D.D.C. 1999) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(4)(A)-(B)) (emphasis added); see also Alexander v. FBI, 186 F.R. D. 200, 207 (D.D.C. 1999) ("Alexander II"). "[A] party only meets the 'substantially justified' standard when there is a 'genuine dispute' or if 'reasonable people could differ' as to the appropriateness of the motion." Alexander v F.B.I, 186 F.R.D 144, 147 (D.C. Cir. 1999) (quoting Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 565 (1988)); see Cobell v. Norton, 213 F.R.D. 1, 14 (D.D.C. 2003); see also 8A Charles Alan Wright et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 2288 (1994) ("Making a motion, or opposing a motion, is 'substantially justified' if the motion raised an issue about which reasonable people could genuinely differ on whether a party was bound to comply with a discovery rule.") However, it is well-established that "[u]nder Rule 37, the district court has broad discretion to impose sanctions for discovery violations[,]" and to determine what sanctions to impose. Bonds v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d 801, 807 (D.C. Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). See also Sturgis v. Am. Ass'n of Retired Persons, 1993 WL 518447 (D.C. Cir. 1993); Steffan v. Cheney, 920 F.2d 74, 75 (D.C. Cir. 1990). Accordingly, when assessing the reasonableness of the sanction imposed, a district court should consider that the purpose underlying Rule 37(a)(4)(C) is "not merely to penalize those whose conduct may be deemed to warrant such a sanction, but to deter those who might be tempted to such conduct in the absence of such a deterrent." Nat'l Hockey League v. Metro. Hockey Club, Inc., 427 U.S. 639, 643 (1976); Alexander I, 186 F.R.D. at 98.

When requesting attorney's fees, the moving party bears the burden of proving that the request is reasonable. Stein v. Foamex Int'l, Inc., 204 F.R.D. 270, 271 (E.D. Pa. 2001) (citing Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990)). However, if the party opposing the fee request objects with specificity, the Court "has a great deal of discretion to adjust the fee award in light of those objections." Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183 (citation omitted); see also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) ("It remains for the district court to determine what fee is 'reasonable.'") The Supreme Court has determined the reasonableness of a fee by analyzing "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate[,]" as this calculation provides an objective basis on which to make an initial estimate of the value of a lawyer's services. Id.; Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc. ("Laffey II"), 746 F.2d 4, 12-13 (D.C. Cir. 1984); Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc. ("Laffey I"), 572 F. Supp. 354, 361 (D.D.C. 1983) (aff'd in part, rev'd on other grounds). It was a former member of this Court who developed the standard for assessing reasonableness in Laffey I through the adoption of recoverable hourly rates, which was affirmed by the District of Columbia Circuit in Laffey II. See Laffey I, 572 F. Supp. at 371-75; Bill of Costs at 2, Exhibit ("Ex.") 3 (the "Laffey Matrix"). These hourly rates, illustrated in matrix form and commonly referred to as the "Laffey Matrix," are adjusted annually based on costs of living increases for the Washington, D.C. area. See Ex. 3 at 2. The matrix is intended to be used in cases in which a "'fee-shifting' statute [or rule] permits the prevailing party to recover 'reasonable' attorney's fees." Id. Therefore, it reflects what are "'reasonable fees' . . . calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community, not according to the cost of providing legal services . . . ." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 886 (1984). Using this matrix as a guide, the Court must then exercise its discretion to adjust this sum upward or downward to arrive at a final fee award that reflects "the characteristics of the particular case (and counsel) for which the award is sought." Laffey I, 572 F. Supp. at 361 (citing Copeland v. Marshall, 641 F.2d 880, 880 (D.C. Cir. 1980)); Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Def., 675 F.2d 1319 (D.C. Cir. 1982). Furthermore, the Court should also assess the reasonableness of the attorney's fee award in light of the twelve factors set forth in Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974).*fn3 Hensley, 461 U.S. at 430.

Additionally, this Court must determine whether the number of hours expended on the litigation is reasonable. Id. It does not necessarily follow that "the amount of time actually expended is the amount of time reasonably expended." Copeland, 641 F.2d at 891 (emphasis added). A party is only entitled to compensation for the work that is "'useful and of a type ordinarily necessary' to secure the final result obtained from the litigation." Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 561 (1986) (citing Webb v. Bd. of Educ. of Dyer Country, Tenn., 471 U.S. 234, 235 (1985). Therefore, an attorney must use "billing judgment" when litigating cases, which requires that the attorney only bill hours to one's adversary that would properly be billed to the attorney's own client. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434; Copeland, 641 F.2d at 891; Laffey I, 572 F. Supp. at 361. Accordingly, "[c]counsel for the prevailing party should make a good faith effort to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary . . . ." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434.

III. Legal Analysis

The plaintiff complains that the defendants were deliberately "lax" in providing discovery, resulting in discovery being extended well beyond the original closing date of February 28, 2002. Bill of Costs at 1. Consequently, the plaintiff contends that he was "prejudiced . . . [because] he was forced to take depositions of witnesses without having the requested documentary evidence beforehand." Id. Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(4)(C), the plaintiff seeks to recover as a sanction fees and costs in the amount of ...

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