United States District Court, District of Columbia
JOANNE T. CRAIG, Plaintiff,
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants. Document Nos. 149, 150
MEMORANDUM OPINION GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN
PART PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR FEES AND COSTS AND GRANTING
IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF’S BILL OF
RUDOLPH CONTRERAS United States District Judge.
Joanne Craig brought an employment discrimination action
against Defendant the District of Columbia under Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e et
seq. (“Title VII”), and the District of
Columbia Human Rights Act, D.C. Code § 2-1401.01 et
seq. (“DCHRA”). Following a trial, the jury
returned a verdict in favor of Ms. Craig, awarding her $20,
000.00 in compensatory damages against the District.
See Verdict Form, ECF No. 141. With the judgment now
final, Ms. Craig seeks reimbursement of attorney’s fees
and costs incurred in pursuing her successful claim.
See Pl.’s Corr. Mot. Reas. Att’y’s
Fees, Costs & Exp. at 1-4, ECF No. 149
(“Pl.’s Mot.”); see also
Pl.’s Reply Def.’s Opp’n Mot. Reas.
Att’y’s Fees & Costs at 1-2, ECF No. 158
(“Pl.’s Reply”). The District opposes Ms.
Craig’s motion on the ground that the requested award
is unreasonable and excessive. See Def.’s
Opp’n Pl.’s Corr. Mot. Reas. Att’y’s
Fees, Costs & Exp. at 1-12, ECF No. 151
(“Def.’s Opp’n”). Upon consideration
of the parties’ filings, the Court concludes that only
some of Ms. Craig’s requested fees and costs are
reasonable. In this opinion, the Court will also address the
District’s objections to Ms. Craig’s bill of
costs, and concludes that Ms. Craig has failed to justify
certain aspects of her request. Accordingly, the Court will
grant in part and deny in part Ms. Craig’s motion for
fees and costs and will grant in part and deny in part Ms.
Craig’s bill of costs.
Ms. Craig brought this action after being subjected to a
series of sexually charged and inappropriate comments over
the course of her employment with the District of
Columbia’s Metropolitan Police
See Compl. at 2, ECF No. 1. After initially
proceeding pro se, Ms. Craig retained counsel on
October 26, 2011. See Cobbina Decl. ¶ 1, ECF
No. 149-1. Thereafter, Ms. Craig filed her second amended
complaint and set forth various employment discrimination
claims under Title VII and the DCHRA. See 2d Amend.
Compl. at 1-19, ECF No. 26.
response, Defendants moved to dismiss the second amended
complaint. The Court granted the motion as to Ms.
Craig’s claims for unliquidated damages under the DCHRA
and her Title VII claims against Commander Maupin. See
Craig v. District of Columbia, 881 F.Supp.2d 26, 36
(D.D.C. 2012). The following claims remained: (1) sex
discrimination by the District in violation of Title VII and
the DCHRA, (2) sex discrimination by Commander Maupin in
violation of the DCHRA, (3) retaliation by the District in
violation of Title VII and the DCHRA, and (4) retaliation by
Commander Maupin in violation of the DCHRA. See Craig v.
District of Columbia, 74 F.Supp.3d 349, 359 (D.D.C.
2014). After discovery, Defendants moved for summary judgment
and prevailed on all claims except Ms. Craig’s
discriminatory hostile work environment claim against the
District under Title VII and the DCHRA. See id.
2015, the case proceeded to trial. On the third day of trial,
the Court declared a mistrial because of a medical emergency
that arose with Ms. Craig’s counsel. See May
20, 2015 Minute Entry. In January 2016, a second trial
commenced. See Jan. 11, 2016 Minute Entry.
Ultimately, Ms. Craig prevailed at trial against the District
and the jury awarded her $20, 000.00 in damages. See
Craig’s counsel has now filed a motion seeking
attorney’s fees and costs for 985.30 hours of work in
connection with litigating and trying this case through entry
of the judgment.Ms. Craig’s counsel seeks $559,
650.40 in fees based on an hourly rate of $568.00 per hour.
See Pl.’s Reply Ex. 1 at 24, ECF No. 158-1.
Ms. Craig’s initial fee motion failed to attach
supporting documentation and billing invoices to support the
requested fee award. See Pl.’s Mot. at 1-5.
Thereafter, the District filed its opposition, emphasizing
that omission. See Def.’s Opp’n at 1,
5-12. Despite Ms. Craig’s error, the Court accepted Ms.
Craig’s reply to the District’s opposition, which
included the necessary documentation and evidence to support
her fee request, and sua sponte granted the District
leave to file a surreply. See Mar. 7, 2016 Minute Order.
Ms. Craig submitted a bill of costs, seeking payment of $10,
costs for the following: $350.00 in filing fees, $7, 567.91
in deposition transcripts and pretrial transcripts, $679.92
in witness fees, and $2, 205.00 for summons and subpoena
fees. See Bill of Costs, ECF. No. 150.
Ms. Craig’s motions requires an analysis of two
distinct requests: her requests for reasonable
attorney’s fees and costs, and her bill of costs. The
Court will consider each in turn.
Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney’s Fees and
Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) requires a party seeking
attorney’s fees and “related nontaxable
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 movant to
the award.” Id. It must also state the amount
or provide a fair estimate of the award sought. Id.;
see also Does I, II, III v. District of Columbia.,
448 F.Supp.2d 137, 139-40 (D.D.C. 2006).
Title VII, the court is authorized, in its discretion, to
award “the prevailing party . . . a reasonable
attorney’s fee (including expert fees) as part of the
costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e- 5(k). Generally,
“[a] reasonable fee is one that is adequate to attract
competent counsel, but that does not produce windfalls to
attorneys.” West v. Potter, 717 F.3d 1030,
1033 (D.C. Cir. 2013) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465
U.S. 886, 897 (1984)) (internal quotation marks omitted). In
awarding appropriate attorney’s fees, the court’s
determination is based on a two-step inquiry. Does I, II,
III, 448 F.Supp.2d at 140.
the court must determine whether the plaintiff is the
prevailing party. Id. Plaintiffs are 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 Title VII; 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.”
Ashraf-Hassan v. Embassy of Fr. in the U.S., No. CV
11-805 (JEB), 2016 WL 3014615, at *3 (D.D.C. May 24, 2016)
(quoting Air Transp. Ass’n of Can. v. FAA, 156
F.3d 1329, 1335 (D.C. Cir. 1998)) (internal quotation marks
the court must determine whether the plaintiff’s fee
request is reasonable. Does I, II, III, 448
F.Supp.2d at 140. In calculating a reasonable fee award, a
district court must determine: (1) the reasonable hourly rate
(or “lodestar”) for the services rendered by the
plaintiff’s attorney, (2) the number of hours
reasonably expended on the litigation, and (3) whether the
plaintiff has offered specific evidence demonstrating that
this is one of the rare cases where a lodestar enhancement or
multiplier is appropriate. See Covington v. District of
Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995);
Heller v. District of Columbia, 832 F.Supp.2d 32, 38
(D.D.C. 2011). “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, 461 U.S. at
433. With respect to the number of hours expended, the court
must exclude hours that are “excessive, redundant, or
otherwise unnecessary.” Does I, II, III, 448
F.Supp.2d at 140 (quoting Palmer v. Rice, No.
CIV.A.76-1439, 2005 WL 1662130, at *9 (D.D.C. July 11,
the plaintiff bears the burden of establishing both her
entitlement to attorney’s fees and the reasonableness
of the fees she seeks. See Covington, 57 F.3d at
1107; 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.
Ms. Craig prevailed and is therefore entitled to reasonable
attorney’s fees, the District argues that Ms.
Craig’s requested fees are excessive and lack the
requisite specificity to justify the number of hours
reasonably expended. See Def.’s Opp’n at
1; Mem. P. & A. Supp. Def.’s Sur-Reply at 4-13, ECF
No. 163 (“Def.’s Sur-Reply”). Specifically,
the District requests that the Court reduce Ms. Craig’s
counsel’s request by eighty percent. Def.’s
Sur-Reply at 15.
Reasonableness of Hourly Rate
Craig’s counsel seeks fees at a rate of $568 per
hour-which matches the United States Attorneys’ Office
Laffey rate for an attorney with thirty-one or more
years of experience. See Pl.’s Mot. at 3. To
determine whether an hourly rate is reasonable, the court
considers three sub-elements: “(1) the
attorney[’s] billing practices, (2) the
attorney[’s] skill, experience, and reputation and (3)
the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.”
Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 100 (D.C.
Cir. 2015) (quoting Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107)
(internal quotation marks omitted). Here, although the
District fails to rebut any of these elements, the Court must
still determine whether Ms. Craig satisfied her burden to
justify her requested rate. See Ashraf-Hassan, 2016
WL 3014615, at *4 (“[B]ecause the burden lies with
Plaintiff to justify the rate, the Court must nonetheless
determine for itself whether she has done so.”).
Specifically, Ms. Craig must “produce satisfactory
evidence-in addition to [her] attorney’s own
affidavits-that [her] requested rates are in line with those
prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers
of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and
reputation.” Eley, 793 F.3d at 105 (emphasis
omitted) (quoting Blum, 465 U.S. at 895 n.11).
reviewing the record, the Court finds that Ms. Craig’s
counsel’s requested rate of $568 per hour is consistent
with his customary billing practices and supported by
counsel’s skill, experience, and reputation. With
respect to customary billing practices, Ms. Craig’s
counsel attests that the rate reflects “[m]y current
normal and customary rate I charge clients.” Cobbina
Decl. ¶ 5. Additionally, Ms. Craig’s
counsel’s affidavit details his extensive relevant
experience. See id. ¶¶ 2-4. Mr. Cobbina
has practiced law as a member of the District of Columbia bar
since 1981. See Id. ¶ 2. He also asserts that
“[o]ver the course of more than 30 years, my practice
has been varied but always included the representation of
plaintiffs, particularly employees who have become the focus
of my practice.” See Id. ¶ 3. In addition
to Ms. Craig’s counsel’s own declaration, Ms.
Craig’s counsel attaches several affidavits from other
attorneys who practice employment law corroborating his
extensive experience and remarking on his favorable
reputation. See, e.g., Cashdan Decl. ¶ 11, ECF
No. 158-2; Leckar Decl. ¶¶ 5-6, ECF No. 158-3; Karl
Decl. ¶¶ 17, 22, ECF No. 158-4. Accordingly,
counsel’s requested rate need not be adjusted downward
to account for any deficiency in skill or experience.
respect to the prevailing market rate, Ms. Craig seeks
reimbursement for attorney’s fees at hourly rates set
forth in the standard Laffey Matrix published by
United States Attorney’s Office for the District of
Columbia [hereinafter “USAO Matrix”].
See Pl.’s Mot. ¶ 4; Cobbina Decl. ¶
5. Courts in this district customarily apply the USAO Matrix
in determining the “lodestar” reasonable hourly
rate for attorney’s fees in complex civil litigation.
See Laffey v. Nw. Airlines, Inc., 572 F.Supp. 354,
371 (D.D.C. 1983), aff’d in part, rev’d in
part on other grounds, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1984),
overruled in part on other grounds en banc by Save Our
Cumberland Mountains, Inc. v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516 (D.C.
Cir. 1988). Indeed, courts in this district have been
reluctant to depart from the USAO Matrix “absent a
strong showing that such a departure is justified by the
nature and complexity of the litigation.” Am. Lands
All., 525 F.Supp.2d at 150. In this circuit, courts have
concluded that Title VII cases are sufficiently complex to
merit Laffey rates, and the District does not
contest the complexity of Ms. Craig’s Title VII
litigation claim. See Hansson v. Norton, 411 F.3d
231, 236 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (acknowledging that a reasonable
hourly rate is guided by the Laffey matrix in Title
VII actions); Makray v. Perez, No. CV 12-520, 2016
WL 471271, at *9 (D.D.C. Feb. 8, 2016) (declining to engage
in a determination of the “complexity of
litigation” because defendant did “not contest
that the plaintiff’s successful Title VII gender
discrimination lawsuit amount[ed] to complex federal
litigation” (internal quotation marks omitted)).
advocating in favor of the Laffey rate, Ms.
Craig’s counsel attests that his requested rate is
consistent with other attorney’s rates in this market.
Specifically, Ms. Craig’s counsel attaches the
affidavits of several other attorneys who claim that the
requested rate is consistent with, or even understates,
prevailing market rates for Title VII litigation in
Washington, D.C. See, e.g., Cashdan Decl. ¶ 8
(“[My] hourly market rate range for my services is
$540-$570.00, and clients . . . are regularly billed in this
range.”); Leckar Decl. ¶ 4 (“My current
hourly billing rate is between $515.00-$575.00 per hour for
commercial litigation matters.”); Karl Decl. ¶ 12
(“My current hourly rate for employment cases is
$700.”). These supporting affidavits also assert that
similarly qualified attorneys-those with “50
years” or “30 plus years” experience- who
engage in employment discrimination cases customarily charge
rates comparable to those proposed in Ms. Craig’s
counsel’s present request. See, e.g., Cashdan
Decl. ¶¶ 3, 8; Leckar Decl. ¶¶ 2-4. The
attached affidavits also confirm a consistent practice of
billing at or near Laffey matrix rates in Title VII
cases in this market. See, e.g., Cashdan Decl.
¶¶ 8, 10; Leckar Decl. ¶¶ 4, 7; Karl
Decl. ¶¶ 12, 22. Thus, the Court concludes that the
attached affidavits and explanations provide adequate
justification to employ the USAO Matrix in calculating Ms.
Craig’s counsel’s fee award. See
Ashraf-Hassan, 2016 WL 3014615 at *4 (concluding that
plaintiff’s counsel’s affidavit and several other
affidavits, including two attorneys not affiliated with
plaintiff’s counsel, justified awarding a reasonable
rate guided by the Laffey matrix in a Title VII
action); see also Does I, II, III, 448 F.Supp.2d at
139-40 (awarding fees based on the Laffey Matrix in
a Title VII action).
part, the District provides no counter-evidence that would
justify departing from the Laffey rate. See
Def.’s Opp’n at 5-8; Def.’s Sur-Reply at
5-6. Beyond objecting on the ground that this material was
not initially included in Ms. Craig’s fee request-a
ground the Court has already rejected, see supra
note 3-the District’s surrreply provides no legal or
evidentiary support for deviating from the Laffey
rate. See Def.’s Sur-Reply at 5. Therefore,
the Court will award Ms. Craig’s counsel
attorney’s fees based on his requested rate of $568 per
Number of Hours Reasonably Expended
Court turns to the reasonableness of Ms. Craig’s
counsel’s request for fees covering 985.30 hours of
work. An attorney seeking fees must “maintain
contemporaneous, complete and standardized time records which
accurately reflect the work done by each attorney.”
See Heller, 832 F.Supp.2d at 50 (quoting
Nat’l Ass’n of Concerned Veterans v.
Sec’y of Def., 675 F.2d 1319, 1327 (D.C. Cir.
1982)). The District argues that the recorded hours are
excessive because Ms. Craig “has fallen short of
meeting her burden of proof that the hours she expended were
reasonable.” See Def.’s Sur-Reply at 6.
Specifically, the District objects to the reasonableness of
both the number of hours expended and the specificity, or
lack thereof, of counsel’s billing invoices.
Id. at 9, 13. In addition to considering the
District’s argument, the Court will address whether a
reduction is warranted due to the limited success of Ms.
The Reasonableness and Detail of Expended Hours
District submits a list of objectionable entries from Ms.
Craig’s counsel’s invoice and argues that certain
recorded entries were not reasonably expended or adequately
detailed. See Def.’s Sur-Reply at 6-13. In
response, Ms. Craig attests that the work reflected in the
time entries was reasonable and necessary for the prosecution
of this case. See Pl.’s Resp. Def.’s
Sur-Reply Filed Opp’n Pl.’s Mot. Att’y
Fees, Costs, & Exp. at 2-8, ECF No. 165
(“Pl.’s Sur-Surreply”). Regarding the
contested entries, the district observes that because
“[c]ases may be overstaffed, and the skill and
experience of lawyers vary widely, ” the prevailing
party’s counsel “should make a good-faith effort
to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive,
redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Castle v.
Bentsen, 872 F.Supp. 1062, 1066 (D.D.C. 1995) (quoting
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434). To satisfy the burden of
justifying a reasonable fee, Ms. Craig’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.” Role Models Am., Inc. v.
Brownlee, 353 F.3d 962, 970 (D.C. Cir. 2004) (internal
quotation marks and alterations omitted) (quoting In re
Olson, 884 F.2d 1415, 1428 (D.C. Cir. 1989) (per
curiam)). Satisfactory documentation consists of
“contemporaneous time records of hours worked . . .
plus a detailed description of the subject matter of the work
with supporting documents, if any.”
Ashraf-Hassan, 2016 WL 3014615, at *5 (quoting
In re Donovan, 877 F.2d 982, 994 (D.C. Cir. 1989)
(per curiam)). “Where the documentation of hours is
inadequate, the district court may reduce the award
accordingly.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. A
fixed, percentage reduction may be warranted when a large
number of billing entries suffer from one or more
deficiencies. Role Models Am., Inc., 353 F.3d at
District first objects to an award of fees covering the time
Ms. Craig’s counsel spent preparing for the first
trial, which ended in a mistrial. See Def.’s
Sur-Reply at 8. Specifically, the District argues that it
should not be “penalized” for Ms. Craig’s
counsel’s illness, which necessitated the mistrial.
Id. The D.C. Circuit has not specifically addressed
whether a plaintiff who prevails after multiple trials should
be awarded the reasonable fees incurred in preparing for each
trial. However, several other circuits allow an award of
attorney fees for multiple trials, so long as “the
plaintiff’s unreasonable behavior did not cause the
need for multiple proceedings and as long as counsel’s
time was reasonably expended.” Waldo v. Consumers
Energy Co., 726 F.3d 802, 826 (6th Cir. 2013) (quoting
Abner v. Kan. City S. Ry. Co., 541 F.3d 372, 381-82
(5th Cir. 2008)); accord Flitton v. Primary Residential
Mortg., Inc., 614 F.3d 1173, 1177 (10th Cir. 2010);
O’Rourke v. City of Providence, 235 F.3d 713,
737 (1st Cir. 2001); Gierlinger v. Gleason, 160 F.3d
858, 877-78 (2d Cir. 1998); Jaffee v. Redmond, 142
F.3d 409, 416 (7th Cir. 1998). These circuits have eschewed a
bright-line, categorical rule declining to award fees for
multiple trials, concluding, instead, that “[t]he
question of whether a party ‘prevailed’ and
whether a fee award is ‘reasonable’ is not one to
parse too thinly . . . [based on] the number of trials
required to reach a result.” Waldo, 726 F.3d
at 826 (quoting Abner, 541 F.3d at 382). This
principle includes additional trials necessitated by a
mistrial: “where a party is not at fault for causing
mistrial, an award of attorneys’ fees may be
merited.” Abner, 541 F.3d at 381 (mistrial
declared where jury was unable to reach a verdict in first
trial); cf. Gierlinger, 160 F.3d at 878 (affirming
fees awarded by the district court after sua sponte
declaring a mistrial due, in part, to publicity, and even
though the district court concluded that
“plaintiff’s attorney is not blameless for [the]
mistrial”). The mere fact that two trials were
necessary to obtain a favorable result is not dispositive,
although the court’s reasonableness analysis should, of