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Sierra Club v. Jackson

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 4, 2013

SIERRA CLUB, Plaintiff,
Lisa P. JACKSON, in her official capacity as Administrator, United States Environmental Protection Agency, et al., Defendants.

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Robert Steven Ukeiley, Berea, KY, for Plaintiff.

Eileen T. McDonough, U.S. DOJ, Environmental Defense Section, Washington, DC, for Defendants.


REGGIE B. WALTON, District Judge.

The plaintiff, the Sierra Club, brought this action against Lisa P. Jackson in her capacity as the Administrator of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (" EPA" ), as well as the EPA itself (together, " the EPA" ), alleging unreasonable delay under Section 304(a) of the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. § 7604 (2006), in responding to the plaintiff's request that the EPA develop computer models for measuring ozone particles. Complaint (" Compl." ) ¶¶ 34-43. Currently before the Court is the Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs Under the Clean Air Act, 42 U.S.C. § 7604(d) (" Pl.'s Mot." ). Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, the Court concludes for the following reasons that the plaintiff's motion must be granted in part and denied in part.[1]

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The Sierra Club's complaint alleged that the EPA had unreasonably delayed in (1) responding to the Sierra Club's petition for rulemaking (" claim one" ) and (2) designating air quality computer models for ozone particles (" claim two" ). Compl. ¶¶ 34-43. On January 4, 2012, the EPA responded to the Sierra Club's petition for rulemaking. Stipulation of Dismissal at 2, ECF No. 12. Accordingly, on January 16, 2012, the parties filed a stipulation dismissing claim one with prejudice and claim two without prejudice, id., and thus the only matter currently before the Court is what fees, if any, are due to the Sierra Club's attorneys, Pl.'s Mot. at 1. The EPA does not dispute that the Sierra Club is entitled to fees in this matter. Defs.' Opp'n at 1. The disagreement centers solely on how much compensation is reasonable.

The Sierra Club is primarily represented by the Law Office of Robert J. Ukeiley in Berea, Kentucky. Pl.'s Mot. at 1. The EPA argues that Mr. Ukeiley and his associates should be compensated based on the prevailing rates in Kentucky, where the legal work was performed. Defs.' Opp'n at 7. The EPA further argues that because claim two was dismissed without prejudice, the Sierra Club was not sufficiently successful on that claim to warrant attorney fees for time spent litigating that claim. Defs.' Opp'n at 17. On the other hand, the Sierra Club contends that Mr. Ukeiley's practice is national in scope and the rate should be calculated according to the Laffey index,[2] a tool for determining the prevailing rate in the Washington, D.C. area where the litigation took place. Pl.'s Mem. at 9. The Sierra Club also argues that the two claims are so intertwined that it is impossible to separate the time spent litigating them in the way that the EPA suggests. Pl.'s Reply at 7.

In addition to Mr. Ukeiley's fees, the Sierra Club also seeks fees for work performed by Neil Levine, a Colorado attorney hired to work on the fee application itself. Pl.'s Mem. at 16. The EPA does not contest Mr. Levine's rates, and the parties have agreed on the number of hours of work for which he should be compensated. Defs.' Opp'n at 18-19. However, the EPA argues that his work is compensable only if the Sierra Club succeeds on its motion for fees. Id.

In the final analysis, the Sierra Club seeks a total of $37,275.92 [3] in attorney fees related to this litigation, Pl.'s Reply at 1, where as the EPA contends that the amount should be only $5,122, Defs.' Opp'n at 19. The EPA does not dispute the $471.91 in costs claimed by the Sierra Club. Pl.'s Reply at 1 n. 2.

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The Clean Air Act allows citizens to bring suit to compel agency compliance with its statutory obligations. 42 U.S.C. § 7604(a). Under the Clean Air Act, " the court may award costs of litigation (including reasonable attorney and expert witness fees) whenever it determines that such award is appropriate." Id. § 7604(d). In order to award attorney fees under the Clean Air Act, a court must engage in a two-step inquiry, determining first whether the party seeking fees is the prevailing party, and second, whether the requested fees are reasonable. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983); see also Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565, 106 S.Ct. 3088, 92 L.Ed.2d 439 (1986). Here, the EPA does not contest that the Sierra Club is at least a partially prevailing party within the meaning of § 7604(d), Defs.' Opp'n at 1, and so the Court confines its analysis to the reasonableness of the fees requests.

Generally, the " starting point" for calculating a reasonable fee is " the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933. The result is known as the Lodestar figure, and there is a " strong presumption" that it is reasonable and consistent with the purposes underlying fee-shifting provisions applicable to citizen suits. Delaware Valley, 478 U.S. at 565, 106 S.Ct. 3088. Thus, to arrive at the appropriate amount of fees that should be awarded, the Court will use the Lodestar formula, which calls for the Court to first calculate the ...

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