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

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 2, 2016

JON EVERHART, Plaintiff
v.
BOARD OF EDUCATION OF PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, el al. Defendants

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

         Jon Everhart ("Everhart") sued the Board of Education of Prince George's County C'BOE") for employment discrimination alleging, among other claims: (I) 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 with respect to his retaliation claim in both trials, a jury in the second awarding him $350, 000.00 in compensatory damages. Jury Verdict, ECF No. 158. BOE noted an appeal, Notice of Appeal. ECF No. 181, but this Court's Judgment was recently affirmed by the Fourth Circuit. Judgment of USCA, ECF No. 248. Following the jury trial, Everhart, through his attorney, Bryan Chapman, Esquire. petitioned the Court for an interim award of attorney's fees, and on August 14, 205,, the Court awarded him $600, 000.00 in attorneys s fees for work performed on the case from its inception through the date of the Order. August 14.2015. Interim Order Att'y Fees, ECF No. 212.

         Following the Interim Order of Attorney's Fees, the parties continued to litigate 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, I70.00 in back pay, ordered his pension and health benefits to 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 in preparation for and during the bench trial. On June 17, 2016 the Court awarded him an additional $53, 850.00 in attorney's fees. Order of Additional Att'y Fees, ECF No. 243.

         On July I, 20I6, BOE moved to reopen the case relative to the Court's Interim Order of Attorney's Fees awarding Chapman $600, 000 in attorney's fees. Mot. To Reopen and Relief from Interim Order, ECF No. 244. In a Memorandum Order and Opinion, the Court found that Chapman sought compensation for time as to which he had in fact received credit for in another case, Fordyce v. Prince George's County, DKC 13-0741. ECF Nos. 249, 250. The Court accordingly reopened the case and reduced its Interim Order of Attorney's Fees, ECF NO.2I2, by $12, 900.00. Id. After the reduction, the Interim Order of Attorney's Fees stands at $587.100.00, and the Order of Additional Attorney's Fees, ECF No. 239, stands at $53, 850.00.

         In its Memorandum Order and Opinion, the Court noted that since the Fourth Circuit had affirmed its judgment on appeal, Everhart should file a Motion for Attorney's Fees for the appellate work performed. The Court specifically stated, "[Attorney] Chapman is cautioned to be particularly scrupulous in describing the work he performed and the amount of time he claims for such work."

         On October 25, 2016, Everhart moved for attorney's fees and costs incurred from April 13, 2016 to October 25, 2016 in connection with work performed on the BOE appeal and for preparation of the instant Motion for Attorney's Fees. Pl. s Mot. Att'y Fees, ECF No. 252. In his Motion, Everhart seeks additional fees of $63, 875.00 ($59, 325.00 for the appellate work, [1] $4, 050.00 for preparing the instant motion'[2] and $500.00 for professional printing costs). Id. BOE responded on November 14, 2016 requesting that Everhart's Motion either should be denied in its entirety, or in the alternative, significantly reduced. See Def.s Opp'n to Mot. Atfy Fees (''Def.ss Opp'n"),, ECF No. 253. For the reasons that follow, Everhart's Motion for Attorney's Fees, ECF No. 252, is GRANTED-IN-PAR.. The Court will award attorney Chapman an additional $46, 650.00 in attorney's fees and costs.

         I.

         Forty-two U.S.C. S 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. This pertains to fees a plaintiff incurs in the event he is successful on appeal. See Hut to v. Finney, 437 U.S. 678, 699, 98 S.Ct. 2565, 57 L.Ed.2d 522 (1978). See also Wolfe v. Routzahn. 953 F.Supp.2d 627, 635 (D. Md. 2013) ("[D]istrict courts may factor into the fee award the time and energy a prevailing party expends in prosecuting a successful appeal or defending against a merit less one."). 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 A, 489 U.S, 87 (1989). and adopted by the Fourth Circuit in Barber v. Kimbrell's. Inc., 5ll F.2d 216, 226 (4th Cir. 1978). They include the (I) 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 circumstance;; (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 with respect to BOE's appeal to the Fourth Circuit. Rather, they dispute how much, if anything. Chapman should be awarded for the time he claims to have expended while working on the appeal.[3] For the appellate work alone, Chapman has submitted an affidavit and billing statement in which he claims to have spent a total of 197.75 hours at a rate of$300000 per hour, resulting in a request of$59, 325.00 in attorney's fees. See Pl.'s Mot. Atfy Fees, Chapman Aff., ECF No. 252-2. and Exhibit Billing Statement, ECF No. 252-4. BOE. once again, surpassingly, argues that the Court should deny any recovery at ¶ 1.[4] See Def.ss Opp .. In the alternative, BOE asserts that the Court should reduce Chapman's award to $25, 057.00. Id

         A.

         Reasonable Rate

         For the reasons detailed in the Court's June 17, 2016 Memorandum Opinion, ECF No. 242, granting-in-part Everhart's Motion for Attorney's Fees, the Court concludes that Chapman's requested billing rate of ...


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