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State of Texas v. United States

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 30, 2017

STATE OF TEXAS, Plaintiff,
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and JEFFERSON SESSIONS, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the United States, Defendants, and WENDY DAVIS, et al., Defendant-Intervenors.


          ROSEMARY M. COLLYER United States District Judge

         This motion for appellate attorney's fees comes at the end of long and complex litigation under the Voting Rights Act. As Texas appealed the decision of a three-judge court in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia that certain of its 2011 redistricting plans could not be approved, the Supreme Court decided that the provision of the Voting Rights Act requiring Texas to obtain such approval was unconstitutional. Nonetheless, to the State's consternation, this Court granted attorney's fees as “prevailing parties” to Intervenor-Defendants who had challenged the new Texas district maps. Defendant-Intervenors now seek attorney's fees for their successful defense of the first fee award on appeal. The Court will grant in part and deny in part their motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         After the 2010 Census, the State of Texas enacted redistricting plans for the Texas House of Representatives, the Texas Senate, and the United States House of Representatives to reflect its growing population and new congressional seats. At that time, Texas was covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, 52 U.S.C. § 10304(a), which required covered jurisdictions seeking to change any voting procedure to obtain either administrative preclearance from the Attorney General or judicial preclearance from a three-judge court in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. 52 U.S.C. § 10304(a). The purpose of preclearance was to ensure that a proposed change “neither has the purpose nor will have the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race or color, ” 52 U.S.C. § 10304(a), or language minority, id. § 10303.

         The State of Texas sought a declaratory judgment that its proposed redistricting plans had neither the purpose nor the effect of denying or abridging the right to vote on account of race, color or language minority. The Federal Government opposed preclearance of the redistricting maps for the U.S. House of Representatives and for the Texas State House of Representatives but not the redistricting map for the Texas State Senate. Seven parties were granted Defendant-Intervenor status, each of whom challenged aspects of all three maps as individual voters, elected State senators or representatives, or civil rights advocacy groups.

         After a two-week bench trial, the three-judge court determined that Texas had acted with discriminatory purpose or effect and denied preclearance to all three redistricting plans, in whole or in part. See Texas v. United States, 887 F.Supp.2d 133, 138-39 (D.D.C. 2012). Texas immediately filed a petition for certiorari to the Supreme Court, which was opposed by the Federal Government and Defendant-Intervenors. Before the Supreme Court addressed the three-judge court opinion in Texas v. United States, the Court invalidated Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, which required Texas, among other political bodies, to submit to preclearance. See Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S.Ct. 2612 (2013). The Supreme Court then vacated and remanded the decision in Texas v. United States to the three-judge district court panel to decide whether the case was moot. Texas moved to dismiss all claims as moot in light of Shelby County. The three-judge court agreed that the case was mooted both by Shelby County and by the State's adoption of superseding redistricting plans, and so it was dismissed. See Mem. and Order [Dkt. 255].

         The three-judge court then dissolved. See Order [Dkt. 263]. The case was returned to the undersigned, who had served on the three-judge court and to whom the case was originally assigned by random draw.

         Three of the Defendant-Intervenors (hereinafter “Intervenors”) thereupon sought reimbursement for costs and legal fees incurred in the litigation before the District Court. See Davis Mot. [Dkt. 256], Gonzales Mot. [Dkt. 257], NAACP Mot. [Dkt. 258]. The Davis Intervenors are Texas State senators and representatives from voting districts in the Fort Worth area. The Gonzales Intervenors are a group of Hispanic and Black Texas voters. The Texas State Conference of NAACP Branches is a civil rights advocacy group concerned with minority voting rights in Texas.

         Texas opposed in an Advisory, arguing that Intervenors were not prevailing parties for purposes of attorney's fees. See Advisory [Dkt. 259]. On June 18, 2014, this Court granted Intervenors' motion for attorney's fees, after finding that they were prevailing parties and that the Texas Advisory had waived most of the state's rights to argue otherwise about fee entitlement or amount. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. See Texas v. United States, 49 F.Supp.3d 27 (D.D.C. 2014), aff'd, 798 F.3d 1108 (D.C. Cir. 2015). When Texas appealed the D.C. Circuit decision on fees, the Supreme Court denied certiorari. Texas v. Davis, 136 S.Ct. 981 (2016). Intervenors subsequently filed the instant motion for attorney's fees in the Circuit to recover fees and costs incurred in defending the fee award before both the Circuit and the Supreme Court. The D.C. Circuit remanded the motion because “[t]he motions and accompanying responses raise fact questions about the appropriate rates and hours for appellate work done by intervenors' counsel” that are best determined by the district court. D.C. Cir. Order 3/17/2015 [Dkt. 273]. The matter returned to the undersigned Judge.


         Once a party has established that it is entitled to attorney's fees, a court must determine whether the fees sought are reasonable. In doing so, courts traditionally apply a three-part analysis: “(1) determination of the number of hours reasonably exp[e]nded in litigation; (2) determination of a reasonable hourly rate or ‘lodestar';[1] and (3) the use of multipliers as merited.” Save Our Cumberland Mountains, Inc. v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516, 1517 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (citing Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886 (1984)). To determine a reasonable hourly rate, courts consider three 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.” Reed v. District of Columbia, 843 F.3d 517, 521 (D.C. Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         Parties seeking fee awards must offer evidence, in addition to the attorney's own affidavit, to demonstrate that the fees requested “are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1108 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (quoting Blum, 465 U.S. at 896 n. 11). Fee applications must “produce data concerning the prevailing market rates in the relevant community for attorneys of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Id.

         In determining the reasonable number of hours expended by attorneys, there must be a “good faith effort to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983).

         III. ...

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