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Jane v. Dist. of Columbia

September 5, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document No. 66




The plaintiffs, female emergency medical technicians with the District of Columbia's Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department ("FEMSD"), filed this action in 2002, alleging sex discrimination and deprivation of constitutional rights. The parties settled the suit in September 2005 and, pursuant to the settlement agreement, the case is now before the court on the plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and costs. Because the plaintiffs are prevailing parties and because most (but not all) of the fees and costs requested are reasonable, the court grants in part and denies in part the plaintiff's motion.


The plaintiffs are women who were hired as emergency medical technicians with the FEMSD. The plaintiffs allege that after the FEMSD hired them, they received letters from the District of Columbia informing them that all female applicants had to take a pregnancy test. Compl. ¶ 15. The letter went on to inform them that, as a condition of employment, the pregnancy test had to be negative. Id. During their new hire training program, the FEMSD also informed the plaintiffs that their employment could be terminated if they became pregnant during the first year of their employment. Id. ¶ 18. After the plaintiffs learned that they were pregnant, they terminated their pregnancies for fear of losing their jobs. Id. ¶¶ 22-23.

"Following some extensive motion practice," and after the Department of Justice intervened, the District of Columbia made an offer of judgment to each of the three plaintiffs in the amount of $101,000.00 "plus reasonable attorneys' fees to be determined by the Court." Order (Sept. 6, 2005) at 4. The plaintiffs now move the court to accept their attorneys' fees calculations. The court now turns to the plaintiffs' motion.


A. Legal Standard for Attorneys' Fees

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) requires a party seeking attorneys' fees and "related non-taxable expenses" to file a motion with the court. FED. R. CIV. P. 54(d)(2)(A). The motion "must specify the judgment and the statute, rule, or other grounds entitling the moving party to the award." Id. It must also state the amount or provide a fair amount of the award sought. Id.; see also Herbin v. Dist. of Columbia, 2006 WL 890673, at *2 (D.D.C. Apr. 4, 2006).

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a district court may, in its discretion, award reasonable attorneys' fees to the prevailing party. Palmer v. Rice, 2005 WL 1662130, at * 9 (D.D.C. July 11, 2005) (citing 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k)); Talley v. Dist. of Columbia, 443 F. Supp. 2d 5, 7 (D.D.C. 2006). A court's determination of the appropriate attorneys' fees, in other words, is based on a two-step inquiry. First, the court must determine whether the party seeking attorneys' fees is the prevailing party. A prevailing party "is one who has been awarded some relief by a court." Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Va. Dep't of Health and Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 603 (2001).

Second, the court must determine whether the attorneys' fees sought are reasonable. "The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). The plaintiff bears the burden of demonstrating that the number of hours spent on a particular task is reasonable. Role Models Am., Inc v. Brownlee, 353 F.3d 962, 970 (D.C. Cir. 2004). The plaintiff's "supporting documentation must be of sufficient detail and probative value to enable a court to determine with a high degree of certainty that such hours were actually and reasonably expended." Id. (quoting In re Olson, 884 F.2d 1415, 1428 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (internal punctuation omitted); see also Covington v. Dist. of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (stating that "a fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award, documenting the appropriate hours, and justifying the reasonableness of the rates"). "To determine the number of 'hours reasonably expended,' the district court must exclude hours that are 'excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.'" Palmer, 2006 WL 1662130, at * 9 (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434). With respect to the reasonable hourly rate, attorneys' fees in civil rights ...

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