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Everhart v. Board of Education of Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

June 17, 2016

JON EVERHART, Plaintiff
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, et a!.. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          PE ER J. MESSITTE UNITED SATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Jon Everhart ("Everhart") sued the Board of Education of Prince George's County ("BOE") for employment discrimination alleging, among other claims: (1) hostile work environment based on race, and (2) retaliation. After two lengthy trials, one addressing whether Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, applied to Everhart's claims, and the second addressing whether BOE was liable under Title VI for creating a hostile work environment and for retaliation, Everhart ultimately prevailed on his retaliation claim in both trials, a jury in the second awarding him $350, 000.00 in compensatory damages. Jury Verdict, ECF No. 158. After these trials, Everhart, through his attorney, Bryan Chapman, Esquire, petitioned the Court for an interim award of attorney's fees. On August 14, 2015, the Court awarded Chapman $600, 000.00 in attorney's fees for work performed on the case from its inception through the date of the Order. Interim Order Att'y Fees, ECF No. 212.

         Since the Court's Interim Order of Attorney's Fees, the parties have continued to litigate, in this phase over the question of whether Everhart should be awarded back pay, health and pension benefits, and other equitable relief as a result of his unlawful termination by BOE. The Court held a two-and-a-half day bench trial relative to these issues and ultimately awarded Everhart $198, 170.00 in back pay, ordered that his pension and health benefits be reinstated, and directed BOE to expunge certain negative information from its records pertaining to Everhart. Final Order J., ECF No. 234. Everhart thereafter moved for attorney's fees in connection with work performed in preparation for and during the bench trial, seeking $80, 775.00 at a rate of $300.00 per hour. PL's Mot. Att'y Fees, ECF No. 239. For the reasons that follow, Everhart's Motion for an Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs (ECF No. 239) is GRANTED IN PART, and the Court will award attorney Chapman an additional $53, 850.00 in attorney's fees.

         I.

         Forty-two U.S.C. § 1988 permits a court, in its discretion, to grant an award of reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing party in a Title VI action. In exercising its discretion, a court must calculate the "lodestar" figure, which is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation, multiplied by an hourly rate that is also reasonable. Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986) (holding that the lodestar amount is "the product of reasonable hours times a reasonable rate").

         In deciding what constitutes a "reasonable" number of hours expended and "reasonable" hourly rate, the court is guided by the factors set forth in Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974), abrogated on other grounds by Blanchard v. Bergeron, et al., 489 U.S. 87 (1989), and adopted by the Fourth Circuit in Barber v. Kimbrell's, Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 (4th Cir. 1978). Those include: (1) time and labor required; (2) novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) customary fee; (6) whether fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) amount involved and the results obtained; (9) experience, reputation, and ability of the attorney; (10) the "undesirability" of the case; (11) nature and length of professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases. The "court enjoys wide discretion" in making its lodestar determination. See Thompson v. U.S. Dep't of Hous. & Urban Dev., No. CIV.A. MGJ-95-309, 2002 WL 31777631, at * 13 (D. Md. Nov. 21, 2002) (citing Daly v. Hill, 790 F.2d 1071, 1078 (4th Cir. 1986)).

         II.

         The parties do not dispute that Everhart was the prevailing party at the conclusion of the bench trial with respect to Everharf s entitlement to back pay and other equitable relief. Rather, the parties dispute how much, if anything, Chapman should be awarded for the hours he claims to have expended preparing for and trying these final issues. Chapman has submitted an affidavit and time records in which he claims to have spent a total of 269.25 hours at a rate of $300.00 per hour, resulting in a total request of $80, 775.00 in attorney's fees. See PL's Mot. Att'y Fees, Chapman Affi, ECF No. 239-2, and Exhibit Supplement (hereinafter "Chapman Billing Sheet"), ECF No. 239-4. BOE, once again, surprisingly, argues that the Court should deny any recovery at all.[1] See Defi's Opp'n to Mot. Att'y Fees ("Def.'s Opp'n") 1-2, ECF No. 240. In the alternative, BOE asserts that the Court should reduce Chapman's award to $20, 194.50. Id.

         A.

         Reasonable Rate

         The Court first addresses whether Chapman's billing rate of $300.00 per hour is reasonable. BOE argues that this rate should be reduced by half to $150.00 per hour, or, at the most, to $225.00 per hour. Def.'s Opp'n 4-6. The Court disagrees with BOE.

         An hourly rate is reasonable if it is "in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Duprey v. Scotts Co. LLC, 30 F.Supp. 3d 404, 412 (D. Md. 2014) (citing Blum v. Sienson, 465 U.S. 886, 890 n.l 1 (1984)). "[T]he burden rests with the fee applicant to establish the reasonableness of a requested rate." Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 244 (4th Cir. 2009) (internal citations and quotations omitted).

         In Appendix B to its Local Rules, this Court has established rates that are presumptively reasonable for lodestar calculations. Duprey,30 F.Supp. 3d at 412 (citing Poole ex rel. Elliott v. Textron, Inc., 192 F.R.D. 494, 509 (D. Md. ...


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