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Wesby v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

May 23, 2016

THEODORE WESBY, et al. Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants. Re Document: 90, 96

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge

         Granting In Part And Denying In Part Plaintiffs’ Supplemental Motions For Attorney’s Fees

         I. INTRODUCTION

         The Plaintiffs in this case are sixteen individuals who brought a civil rights suit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the District of Columbia and five police officers after they were arrested while attending a party. This Court granted Plaintiffs’ summary judgment motion with respect to Plaintiffs’ false arrest and unlawful entry claims against Officers Campanale, Parker, and the District of Columbia. See Wesby v. District of Columbia, 841 F.Supp.2d 20 (D.D.C. April 9, 2015). This Court also granted Defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment on all claims against the police officers in their official capacities. See Id. At trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of the sixteen Plaintiffs, awarding them $680, 000 in compensatory damages against Defendants Campanale, Parker, and the District of Columbia. See Jury Verdict, ECF No. 73. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a motion seeking attorney’s fees and costs, which this Court granted. See Order on Pls.’ Mot. for Att’y Fees and Costs at 1, ECF No. 86. In calculating Plaintiffs’ fee award of $246, 896.25, this Court relied on the hourly rates set forth in the United States Attorneys’ Office (“USAO”) Laffey Matrix. See Id. Defendants appealed this fee award, while Plaintiffs did not. See Defs.’ Notice of Appeal, ECF No. 88.

         Defendants also appealed the district court’s ruling granting Plaintiffs summary judgment on the false arrest and unlawful entry claims. See Wesby v. District of Columbia, 765 F.3d 13 (D.C. Cir. 2015). The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. See Id. Plaintiffs filed a supplemental motion for attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and Rule 54 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure seeking fees relating to the appeal. See Pls.’ Suppl. Mot. for Att’y Fees, ECF No. 90.

         Defendants then moved for rehearing en banc on November 3, 2014. See Defs.’ Mem. P. & A. Opp’n Pls.’ 2d Suppl. Mot. for Att’y Fees and Costs at 1, ECF No. 101 [hereinafter “Defs.’ 2d Mem. Opp’n”]. The Court of Appeals denied Defendants’ motion for rehearing on February 8, 2016. See Wesby v. District of Columbia, 816 F.3d 96 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (order denying Defendants’ motion for rehearing en banc). Plaintiffs filed a second supplemental motion for attorney’s fees for counsel’s work relating to the en banc proceedings. See Pls.’ 2d Suppl. Mot. for Att’y Fees Re Appeal at 1, ECF No. 96.

         In both motions for attorney’s fees, Plaintiffs request fees calculated using hourly rates under the Enhanced Laffey Matrix. See Pls.’ Mem. P. & A. Supp. Mot. for Att’y Fees and Costs at 4, ECF No. 90 [hereinafter “Pls.’ 1st Mem. Supp.”]; id. Ex. 3, ECF No. 90-3; Pls.’ Mem. P. & A. Supp. Mot. for Att’y Fees and Costs at 4, ECF No. 96 [hereinafter “Pls.’ 2d Mem. Supp.”]; id. Ex. 3, ECF No. 96-3. Plaintiffs’ counsel submitted affidavits cataloguing the number of hours he worked on this case. See Pls.’ 1st Mem. Supp., Ex. 2, ECF No. 90-2; Pls.’ 2d Mem. Supp., Ex. 2, ECF No. 96-2. Defendants oppose Plaintiffs’ proposed fees on the grounds that they are unreasonable, claiming: (1) that the Enhanced Laffey Matrix does not represent the prevailing market rates in the relevant community and (2) that Plaintiffs failed to establish that the time expended working on the case was reasonable. See Defs.’ Mem. P. & A. Opp’n Pls.’ Mot. for Att’y Fees and Costs at 3-10, ECF No. 92 [hereinafter “Defs.’ 1st Mem. Opp’n”]; Defs.’ 2d Mem. Opp’n at 3-7, ECF No. 101. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant in part and deny in part Plaintiffs’ motions for attorney’s fees relating to the appeal.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         In a civil rights suit brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, “the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fee.” 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). Plaintiffs may be considered prevailing parties, and thus entitled to attorney’s fees, “if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.” Harvey v. Mohammed, 951 F.Supp.2d 47, 53 (D.D.C. 2013) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)) (internal quotation marks and alterations omitted)). A litigant need not succeed at every step of the litigation in order to be a prevailing party for the purpose of § 1988; indeed, “a litigant who is unsuccessful at a stage of litigation that was a necessary step to her ultimate victory is entitled to attorney’s fees even for the unsuccessful stage.” Air Transp. Ass’n of Can. v. F.A.A., 156 F.3d 1329, 1335 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Plaintiffs bear the burden of establishing both their entitlement to attorney’s fees and the reasonableness of the fees they seek. See Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995); Turner v. D.C. Bd. of Elections & Ethics, 354 F.3d 890, 895 (D.C. Cir. 2004). A plaintiff can satisfy this burden by submitting evidence of: “the attorneys’ billing practices; the attorneys’ skill, experience, and reputation; and the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107. Once the plaintiff has provided such information, a presumption arises that the hours billed are reasonable and the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut the plaintiff’s showing. Id. at 1109-10.

         In calculating a reasonable fee award, a district court must determine: (1) a reasonable hourly rate (or “lodestar”) for the services rendered by the plaintiffs’ attorney, (2) the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation, and (3) whether plaintiffs have offered specific evidence demonstrating that this is one of the rare cases where a lodestar enhancement or multiplier is appropriate. See Heller v. District of Columbia, 832 F.Supp.2d 32, 38 (D.D.C. 2011); Covington, 75 F.3d at 1107.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs prevailed on appeal and are therefore entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b); Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429. Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiffs are the prevailing party, nor do Plaintiffs argue that they merit a lodestar enhancement or multiplier. See Defs’ 1st Mem. Opp’n at 1-10; Pls.’ 1st Mem. Supp. at 1-5. Therefore, the Court will not address these issues. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs’ requested fees are unreasonable because the Enhanced Laffey Matrix does not represent prevailing market rates in the relevant community and counsel’s time records are not contemporaneous and lack the requisite specificity to establish a reasonable number of hours worked. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         A. ...


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