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Smith v. District of Columbia

December 19, 2006

MINNIE SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Gladys Kessler United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

On the evening of April 28, 1999, Tron Lindsey, an adjudicated delinquent in the legal custody of the District of Columbia government who had served a period of time at the Oak Hill Youth Center, was shot to death in his apartment by an intruder who has never been identified or apprehended. Tron, and his roommate who was also murdered that evening, had both been moved into an "independent living" program in which they lived on their own in program-provided apartments, but were subject to restrictions and monitoring by program staff.

Ms. Minnie Smith, suing on behalf of her grandson, Tron, obtained a judgment in this case that Tron's substantive due process rights had been violated. All phases of the appellate process have now been completed. Pending before the Court at this time are three sets of pleadings: Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Non-Taxable Expenses, filed on December 29, 2003; Plaintiff's Supplemental Motion for Attorney's Fees, filed November 16, 2005; and Plaintiff's Second Supplemental Motion for Attorney's Fees, filed on August 16, 2006. Upon consideration of the pleadings filed, the extensive record in this case, and the applicable case law, the Court concludes that the first two Motions should be granted in part and denied in part. As to the third Motion, designated as Plaintiff's Second Supplemental Motion for Attorney's Fees, it will be granted in light of the statement of the District of Columbia that it "will not object" to it.*fn1

I. INTRODUCTION

These Motions present difficult issues regarding what is fair, reasonable, and just compensation for the legal services of very high quality lawyers who vigorously, doggedly, and expertly represented the rights of a civil rights plaintiff who received a verdict finding the District of Columbia liable for violations of her grandson's constitutional rights, but awarding that plaintiff an unexpectedly modest amount of compensation.

II. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

In Smith v. District of Columbia, 413 F.3d 86, 89-93 (D.C. Cir. 2005), Judge Tatel described in great detail the facts surrounding Tron's murder, Tron's sad personal history reflecting the virtual total lack of parental love, support, and guidance,*fn2 his involvement with the juvenile delinquency system when he was found guilty of assault, and the manner in which the District of Columbia provided independent living programs for older delinquent youth. In Tron's case, he was placed in a program run by a private contractor, ESA/Re-Direct ("ESA"), which housed the young people assigned to it in a rental apartment complex owned by Defendant Queenstown Apartments. Tron was shot to death by an intruder inside his apartment in that complex. Plaintiff sued, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that the District of Columbia had failed to adopt standards, guidelines, or procedures to safeguard those older children in the District of Columbia's custody and to ensure their safety, even though they were living in private apartments and were being supervised by social workers in an independent living program.

There was extensive pretrial litigation in this case. The District of Columbia filed motions to dismiss, to recuse this Judge, to stay the proceedings, and for summary judgment. There were discovery disputes necessitating a motion to compel by Plaintiff. There were numerous depositions and exchanges of written discovery. Finally, in March of 2003, the case went to trial and on March 27, 2003, the jury concluded that the District of Columbia and ESA were jointly and severally liable to the Plaintiff in the amount of $72,000 on both her Section 1983 and common law claims. The jury also found that neither the Defendant Queenstown Apartments nor the individual Defendant Gayle L. Turner were liable.*fn3 The trial lasted 12 days and Plaintiff presented 22 witnesses, including five expert witnesses.

Defendants appealed and on July 5, 2005, a divided panel of our Court of Appeals affirmed the judgment, with Chief Judge Ginsburg dissenting. Defendant District of Columbia then sought both rehearing and rehearing en banc of the panel's decision, asserting that the case presented issues of "exceptional importance." See Petition for Rehearing and Rehearing En Banc, at 2. The Court of Appeals asked Plaintiff to respond to the petition, which she did. There was no majority in the Court of Appeals for rehearing or rehearing en banc, and the Court issued its mandate on November 1, 2005. The deadline for filing any petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court expired on January 18, 2006, with no such petition having been filed. Thus, all litigation concerning the underlying jury verdict and judgment is complete at this time.

On December 29, 2003, after completion of the trial and entry of judgment, Plaintiff filed her first Motion for Attorney's Fees and Non-Taxable Expenses. In that Motion, she initially identified $1,328,946.79 in billable hours and expenses, consisting of $1,027,576 for 3,303.25 hours of work performed by attorneys, $209,833.50 for 778.25 hours of work performed by paralegals and law clerks, and $91,537.29 in expenses. Plaintiff excluded from the original calculations in her Motion any time that had been spent on unsuccessful claims that were not factually and/or legally related to those claims upon which she prevailed; this exemption included more than 700 hours of attorney time, which reduced the total to $1,248,331.79. In addition, Plaintiff voluntarily took a further 10 percent reduction of attorney time before submitting her fee requests, and after the exclusion of those hours spent litigating claims on which she had not prevailed. Plaintiff's initial fee award request, therefore, amounted to $1,123,498.61. At the conclusion of the briefing on that Motion, Plaintiff again reduced her fee request by the amount of $26,400.36, of which $14,640.45 represented work performed by attorneys and $11,759.91 represented expenses. Thus, the final amount requested by Plaintiff in her first Motion was $1,097,098.25

On November 16, 2005, after completion of the appeal process in the Court of Appeals, but prior to expiration of the time for filing a petition for certiorari with the Supreme Court, Plaintiff filed her Supplemental Motion for Attorney's Fees. In that Motion, she initially sought an additional total amount of $186,596.86, consisting of $176,497 for work performed by attorneys and $10,099.86 in expenses. Plaintiff used the same hourly rates derived from the 2003 Updated Laffey Matrix rates discussed, infra, that she had used in her previous filings. At the conclusion of the briefing on her Supplemental Motion, Plaintiff reduced her fee request by the amount of $1,984.32, consisting of a 10 percent reduction in expenses amounting to $1,007.82 and a reduction of 2.25 hours of work performed by attorneys, amounting to $976.50. Thus, the final total amount requested in Plaintiff's Supplemental Motion was $184,612.54.

On August 16, 2006, Plaintiff filed her Second Supplemental Motion for Attorney's Fees requesting an additional total amount of $23,376.45, of which $23,132.20 represented 59.2 hours of attorney/paralegal time and $256.25 in expenses. As noted earlier, the District of Columbia has not challenged the Second Supplemental Motion for Attorney's Fees.*fn4

Thus, for all three filings, Plaintiff has requested a total amount of $1,305,099.25 in attorney's fees and expenses, of which $1,215,973.58 represents work performed by attorneys, paralegals, law clerks and $89,125.67 represents expenses.*fn5

III. LEGAL ANALYSIS

Plaintiff has filed her applications for attorney's fees and expenses pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 ("§ 1988"). That provision, enacted by Congress in 1976 as the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, authorized the district courts to award reasonable attorney's fees to prevailing parties in civil rights litigation. The seminal case on calculation of attorney's fees for prevailing parties in such cases, pursuant to § 1988, is Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983), which advised trial courts that "[t]he most useful starting point in determining the amount of reasonable fees is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." 461 U.S. at 433.*fn6 This figure is commonly referred to as the lodestar. Hensley also set forth other considerations that ...


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