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Blake v. Maynard

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

July 10, 2013

SHAIDON BLAKE, Plaintiff,
v.
GARY MAYNARD, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

ALEXANDER WLLIAMS, Jr. District Judge.

Plaintiff Shaidon Blake filed suit against Defendant James Madigan and a host of others alleging the excessive use of force after Plaintiff was punched multiple times by Madigan. The suit was brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. At trial, the jury found Madigan liable and ordered that Madigan pay Plaintiff $50, 000 in compensatory damages. There are currently two pending motions: Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees, Doc. No. 138, and Madigan's Motion for New Trial or, in the Alternative, Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment. Doc. No. 139. For the following reasons, the Court will GRANT Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees and DENY Madigan's Motion for New Trial.

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Shaidon Blake is an inmate in the Maryland Department of Corrections. Blake accused James Madigan, a correctional officer, of punching him in the face several times with a "fist clenched over a key ring." Blake pursued a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim against Madigan, and the case proceeded to trial. At trial, while Blake did not call a medical expert, Blake himself testified of the significant pain and suffering that he incurred as a result of Defendant's actions. He also offered several medical records. After hearing this evidence, the jury found Madigan liable on Blake's § 1983 claim, and awarded Blake $50, 000 in compensatory damages.

The Parties have filed two post-verdict motions. The Plaintiff filed a Motion for Attorney Fees, Doc. No. 138, while the Defendant has filed a Motion for New Trial or, in the Alternative, Motion to Alter or Amend the Judgment, Doc. No. 139.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), a prevailing plaintiff in a § 1983 suit may receive "a reasonable attorney's fee." "A court's award of reasonable attorneys' fees is the product of the reasonable hours expended multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Sutton v. Smith, No. Civ.A. AW-98-2111, 2001 WL 743201, at *1 (D. Md. June 26, 2001). This Court has considered twelve factors in determining the reasonableness of this product:

(1) the time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised; (3) the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the attorney's opportunity costs in pressing the instant litigation; (5) the customary fee for like work; (6) the attorney's expectations at the outset of the litigation; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount in controversy and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship between attorney and client; and (12) attorneys' fees awards in similar cases.

Id.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 (PLRA) places limitations on the attorney fees that can be awarded in cases brought by prisoners. The PLRA stipulates that the fee must have been "directly and reasonably incurred in proving an actual violation of the plaintiff's rights, " and that "the amount of the fee is proportionately related to the court ordered relief for the violation." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d). Section 1997e further provides that an award of attorney fees may not exceed 150% of the judgment. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(2). Additionally, a calculation of attorney fees may not "be based on an hourly rate greater than 150 percent of the hourly rate established under 3006A of Title 18 for payment of court-appointed counsel." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(3). The current rate of compensation in the District of Maryland is $125 per hour. See CJA Hourly Rates, http://www.mdd.uscourts.gov/publications/forms/CJARates.pdf.

Plaintiff submits evidence that Mayer Brown attorneys worked 2, 187 hours on this case at varying rates, all of which exceed the statutory maximum of $187.50 per hour. Doc. No. 138-2. In accruing these hours, Plaintiff argues that his counsel had to review years of medical evidence, take a number of depositions, consult a medical expert, and prepare for and conduct trial. Doc. No. 138-1, at 3. Multiplying the number of hours worked by the statutory maximum, Plaintiff submits that his attorneys would be entitled to $410, 062.50 in fees were it not for the statutory cap on attorney fees at 150% of the judgment. Consequently, Plaintiff asks for the full $75, 000, which is 150% of Plaintiff's $50, 000 judgment. Noting the substantial amount of work performed by Plaintiff's counsel, the Court grants Plaintiff the statutory maximum of $75, 000 in attorney fees.

The PLRA also provides that a Court must order that a portion of the attorney fees come out of the plaintiff's judgment. 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(2). This portion may not exceed 25% of the judgment. Id. The Court may exercise discretion in determining the amount of the judgment that gets directed toward attorney fees. See Sutton, 2001 WL 743201, at *2. In the past, when the conduct of the officer has been egregious, this Court has directed $1.00 of the judgment toward attorney fees and has required the defendant to pay the remainder. See id.

Because of the egregious conduct of the Defendant, the Court orders that $1.00 of Plaintiff's attorney fees be taken from Plaintiff's judgment. At trial, the jury found that Defendant "maliciously and sadistically" violated Plaintiff's constitutional rights by punching him several times in the face and throwing him to the ground, causing his head to hit the concrete floor with substantial force. Such egregious behavior requires that only a nominal amount of Plaintiff's judgment be used to pay his attorney fees. See Sutton, 2001 WL 743201, at *2. Hence, the Court orders attorney fees ...


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