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Hamner v. Anne Arundel County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 14, 2014

KARLA ROBINSON HAMNER
v.
ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MARYLAND, et al.

MEMORANDUM

CATHERINE C. BLAKE, District Judge.

Plaintiff Karla Robinson Hamner brought this action in 2010 for, inter alia, sexual harassment and retaliation in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. According to Hamner, County Executive John R. Leopold grabbed her arms and yelled at her for not maintaining eye contact with him. Hamner claimed that, following her complaints to Chief of Staff Erik Robey and Director of Personnel Andrea Fulton, she was involuntarily transferred to the police department and given a provisional placement. She was not hired for a permanent position and, ultimately, was terminated in September 2008. Following several years of litigation, on September 20, 2013, defendant Anne Arundel County, Maryland ("the County") made an offer of judgment in the amount of $110, 000.00, which Hamner accepted on September 24, 2013. The next day, the court entered judgment in favor of Hamner and against the County, but retained jurisdiction to determine reasonable attorney's fees and costs.

Hamner's motion for attorney's fees and costs is now ripe. She requests $173, 556.25 in fees and $2, 596.34 in costs, as well as an enhancement of fees due to "the great odds against a successful result" and in light of the fees charged by private defense counsel hired to represent Leopold, who was later dismissed from the suit.[1] (Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 109-6, at 11.) The parties have fully briefed the issues, and no oral argument is necessary. See Local R. 105.6. For the reasons stated below, attorney's fees in the amount of $103, 069.50 and costs in the amount of $1, 225.34 will be granted. The court will not order any enhancement of fees.

ANALYSIS

The attorney's fee provision of Title VII authorizes the court, in its discretion, to allow the prevailing party a reasonable fee. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5(k). In deciding the amount of fees to award, the court must calculate the lodestar, or "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888 (1984). A reasonable fee is one that is "sufficient to induce a capable attorney to undertake the representation of a meritorious... case." Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 552 (2010). According to the Supreme Court, "the lodestar method yields a fee that is presumptively sufficient to achieve this objective." Id.

Here, the County concedes that Hamner is the prevailing party and that some award of fees and costs is appropriate. The County, however, does not agree with Hamner's proposed hourly rates, or with the number of hours claimed. It also challenges the amount of costs requested.

A. Hourly Rates

The court considers Hamner's proposed hourly rates of (1) $495.00 for attorney John M. Singleton and (2) $240.00 for an unnamed associate attorney. Hamner also requests reimbursement for paralegal time at $140.00 per hour. The County, by contrast, urges the court to apply hourly rates of $337.50 for Singleton and $105.00 for the paralegal; it asks the court not to award any fees for the associate attorney.

The court agrees with the County that Hamner fails to provide sufficient evidence "that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation." Blum, 465 U.S. at 895, n.11; see also CoStar Group, Inc. v. LoopNet, Inc., 106 F.Supp.2d 780, 787-88 (D. Md. 2000) (indicating that the burden is on the fee applicant to show the requested hourly rates are appropriate). To support the requested hourly rate for Singleton, Hamner relies on the Laffey Matrix[2] and refers to Singleton's affidavit, which indicates that he has been practicing labor and employment law for thirty-three years and has tried "numerous" cases involving employment law issues. (Aff. of Singleton, ECF No. 110, at 2.) But neither the Laffey Matrix nor Singleton's single, unsupported affidavit is sufficient evidence of the prevailing market rate. Cf. Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 245 (4th Cir. 2009) ("Examples of the type of specific evidence that we have held is sufficient to verify the prevailing market rates are affidavits of other local lawyers who are familiar both with the skills of the fee applicants and more generally with the type of work in the relevant community."). Indeed, the rate suggested by the Laffey Matrix is significantly higher than that set forth in Appendix B of the Local Rules for the District of Maryland. According to Appendix B, a lawyer who has been admitted to the bar for fifteen or more years may be awarded $275.00 to $400.00. See Local R., App. B: Rules and Guidelines for Determining Attorneys' Fees in Certain Cases. Therefore, in light of the local rules and the number of years Singleton has been practicing law, the court finds that an hourly rate of $375.00 is reasonable.

Turning to the proposed hourly rate for the associate attorney, Hamner offers no information as to the associate's level of experience in Title VII matters or even the number of years the associate has been practicing law. Without any information to the contrary, the court will assume the associate had the lowest level of experience, and will award an hourly rate of $150.00. See id. (specifying accepted hourly rates of $150.00 to $190.00 for lawyers with fewer than five years' experience).

Finally, as for the requested rate for the paralegal, the court again notes that the requested rate is significantly above that allowed by Appendix B, which specifies that paralegals and law clerks may receive $95.00 to $115.00 per hour. Id. The court has no information regarding the paralegal's level of experience and, thus, cannot conclude that she is entitled to the upper end of accepted rates. Rather, the court is satisfied that a $105.00 hourly rate is reasonable.

B. Hours Claimed

In addition to challenging plaintiff's counsel's hourly rates, the County argues that certain hours must be deducted from the lodestar calculation. The County asks the court to deduct all hours claimed for the preparation of the fee petition because Hamner failed to comply with the requirements of local rules. See Local R. 109.2(b) (stating that a motion requesting attorney's fees must contain "a detailed description of the work performed broken down by hours or fractions thereof expended on each task"); see also Local R., App. B: Rules and Guidelines for Determining Attorneys' Fees in Certain Cases (stating that time must be recorded by specific task). Using the description "fee petition preparation, " Hamner claims 7.8 hours for Singleton and 3.2 hours for the paralegal. She does not, however, provide time entries further breaking down those hours. Although the description "fee petition preparation" is somewhat vague, Hamner has provided enough information for the court to understand the nature of the fees requested. As for the number of hours claimed, the court notes that the fee petition was contested, and that it attempts to justify hours in litigation spanning more than three years. In light of those facts, the number of hours dedicated to the fee petition is reasonable.

Relatedly, the County argues that other time entries lack sufficient detail to be compensable. The challenged time entries document hours spent reviewing the case file, meeting and calling Hamner, traveling to and meeting with witnesses, drafting affidavits, and conducting legal research into County laws. Although the time entries provide enough information to assess the necessity of the charges, the court still finds certain reductions are warranted to account for Singleton's thirty-three years of experience and the level of efficiency with which he is expected to have worked. The court expects that, over the course of more than three years of litigation, plaintiff's counsel will dedicate considerable hours to speaking with his client. Indeed, Singleton's time records show he was in regular contact with his client throughout the case. Nevertheless, considering the frequency with which Singleton spoke with his client, the court finds that some of the lengthy phone conversations were unnecessary and reflect excessive ...


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