United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
W. Grimm United States District Judge.
accepting a Rule 68 offer of judgment in this case alleging
various violations of the First and Fourth Amendments
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff Allan Sergeant
now has filed a motion for attorneys' fees and costs.
Sergeant seeks fees at hourly rates within the ranges set by
the Local Rules for the time spent on this matter by his
attorneys. Acol argues that paying Sergeant the full lodestar
amount would be excessive because Sergeant did not engage in
meaningful settlement discussions, employed too many
attorneys, and the difficulty of the case did not warrant the
hours billed. After evaluating Sergeant's billing
statements and the parties' arguments, I am awarding
Sergeant attorneys' fees in the amount of $202, 836.56
and costs in the amount of $1, 723.41.
Sergeant initiated this lawsuit after being stopped by
Officer Alfie Acol in March 2014. Am. Compl. ¶ 13.
During the stop, Acol frisked Sergeant and then conducted a
public strip search by “pull[ing] SERGEANT's
underwear down to just above his knees, exposing his genital
and anal areas” outside a CVS in Laurel, MD.
Id. ¶¶ 13, 31, 44-45.
the litigation, Acol and the other Defendants moved to
dismiss many of the claims Sergeant brought against Acol,
Thomas Houck, a fellow officer, the chief of the Laurel
Police Department, the Laurel Police Department
(“Police Department”), and the City of Laurel,
Maryland (“Laurel”). ECF No. 12. In his
Opposition to the Motion to Dismiss, ECF No. 14, Sergeant
voluntarily dismissed the three counts alleged against the
chief of the Police Department, the Police Department, and
Laurel. In my memorandum opinion and order, I found that the
four state constitutional tort claims did not comply with the
notice requirements of the Local Government Tort Claims Act
(“LGTCA”) and dismissed all four claims. Order,
ECF No. 16. As such, four federal law claims pursuant to
§ 1983 remained: two Fourth Amendment claims against
Acol, one Fourth Amendment claim against Acol and “Doe,
” and one First Amendment claim against Acol and
“Doe.” Id. “Doe” was later
amended to Houck. Second Am. Compl., ECF No. 27.
March 6, 2017, Sergeant filed a motion for entry of judgment
in this matter after the parties had negotiated a settlement
before Magistrate Judge Sullivan. ECF No. 63. The settlement
followed Sergeant's acceptance of an offer of judgment
Defendants made pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 68. See ECF No. 59.
This judgement only was against Acol in the amount of $125,
001.00, plus any reasonable attorneys' fees to be
determined by the Court. Or. J., ECF No. 64. Sergeant has
moved for attorneys' fees in the amount of $279, 158.00
for services provided by the Partnership for Civil Justice
Fund (“PCJF”) and the Washington Lawyers'
Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs
(“WLC”), as well as $1, 723.41 in litigation
expenses. Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 70., Pl.'s Reply, ECF
42 United States Code § 1988 provides that in an action
brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, such as this one,
“the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing
party, other than the United States, a reasonable
attorney's fee as part of the costs . . . .”
Because judgment has been entered in Plaintiff's favor,
there is no dispute that he is the prevailing party entitled
to attorneys' fees. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S.
424, 433 (1983) (“‘plaintiffs may be considered
‘prevailing parties' for attorney's fees
purposes if they succeed on any significant issue in
litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties
sought in bringing suit.'” (quoting Nadeau v.
Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978)). Further, the
parties agreed that the entry of judgment was for $125,
001.00 and, if any, reasonable attorneys' fees to be
awarded to Sergeant. Def.'s Offer of J., ECF No. 59-1;
calculating an award of attorneys' fees, the Court first
must determine the lodestar amount, defined as a
“reasonable hourly rate multiplied by hours reasonably
expended.” Grissom v. The Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313,
320-21 (4th Cir. 2008); see Plyler v. Evatt, 902 F.2d 273,
277 (4th Cir. 1990) (stating that “[i]n addition to the
attorney's own affidavits, the fee applicant must produce
satisfactory specific evidence of the prevailing market rates
in the relevant community for the type of work for which he
seeks an award” (internal citations omitted)).
“[T]here is a ‘strong presumption' that the
lodestar figure is reasonable, but that presumption may be
overcome in those rare circumstances in which the lodestar
does not adequately take into account a factor that may
properly be considered in determining a reasonable
fee.” Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542,
554 (2010). In determining whether the lodestar results in a
reasonable fee, this Court evaluates “the twelve
well-known factors articulated in Johnson v. Georgia Highway
Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974) and
adopted by the Fourth Circuit in Barber v. Kimbrell's,
Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 (4th Cir. 1978).” Thompson,
2002 WL 31777631, at *6 (footnotes omitted). Those factors
(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and
difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to
properly perform the legal service; (4) the preclusion of
other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the
case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or
contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the
circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results
obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the
attorneys; (10) the “undesirability” of the case;
(11) the nature and length of the professional relationship
with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.
Id. at *6 n.19 (citing Johnson, 488 F.2d at 717-19).
However, the Supreme Court has noted (and experience awarding
attorneys' fees has confirmed) that the subjective
Johnson factors provide very little guidance and, in any
event, that “‘the lodestar figure includes most,
if not all, of the relevant factors constituting a
‘reasonable attorney's fee.'” Perdue, 559
U.S. at 551, 553 (quoting Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley
Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 549, 566
(1986)). After the lodestar number is calculated, “the
court must ‘subtract fees for hours spent on
unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful ones.'
Finally, the court should award ‘some percentage of the
remaining amount, depending on the degree of success enjoyed
by the plaintiff.'” McAfee v. Boczar, 738 F.3d 81,
88 (4th Cir. 2013) (citing Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs.,
LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243-44 (4th Cir. 2009).
calculating the lodestar amount, the party seeking fees
“must show that the number of hours for which he seeks
reimbursement is reasonable and does not include hours that
are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.”
Travis v. Prime Lending, No. 3:07cv00065, 2008 WL 2397330, at
*4 (W.D. Va. June 12, 2008) (concluding, after an initial
determination that the attorney's hourly rate was
reasonable for the particular district, that attorney's
fees requested by Plaintiff were reasonable based on
documentation of hours worked and tasks completed); Flynn v.
Jocanz, 480 F.Supp.2d 218, 220-21 (D.D.C. 2007) (awarding
requested attorneys' fees based on affidavits and the
import, Appendix B to this Court's Local Rules, Rules and
Guidelines for Determining Attorneys' Fees in Certain
Cases, provides the following “Guidelines Regarding
a. Lawyers admitted to the bar for less than five (5) years:
b. Lawyers admitted to the bar for five (5) to eight (8)
c. Lawyers admitted to the bar for nine (9) to fourteen (14)
d. Lawyers admitted to the bar for fifteen (15) to nineteen
(19) years: $275-425.
e. Lawyers admitted to the bar for twenty (20) years or more:
f. Paralegals and law clerks: $95-150.
Loc. R. App'x B ¶ 3 (footnote omitted). However,
these Guidelines are not definitive; they are “solely
to provide practical guidance to lawyers and judges when
requesting, challenging and awarding fees.” Loc. R.
App'x B n.6. The Court may also consider
“affidavits of lawyers in the [relevant] legal
community attesting to the customary rates charged for
[similar matters].” Poole ex rel. Elliott v.
Textron, Inc., 192 F.R.D. 494, 509-10 (D. Md. 2000).
Plaintiff seeks a total of $279, 158.00 in attorneys'
fees for services provided by PCJF and WLC, as well as $1,
723.41 in costs. Pl.'s Reply 1. As required by this
Court's local rules, Plaintiffs have provided itemized
billing entries, see, e.g., PCJF Billing Entries,
ECF No. 70-1; WLC Billing Entries, ECF No. 70-2; Reply
Expenses, ECF No. 80-2. Sergeant also has filed declarations
setting forth the experience level of each person who
recorded time on his case. Verheyden-Hilliard Decl., ECF No.
70-3; Messineo Decl., ECF No. 70-4; Corkery Decl., ECF No.
70-5; Freeman Decl., ECF No. 70-9. Acol does not dispute
Plaintiff's hourly rates, but does argue that the hours
Plaintiff's counsel billed are excessive and should be
reduced. Def. Opp'n 1. Accordingly, Acol proposes that
Plaintiffs' fee request be reduced by 50%, for an award
of $128, 770,  or otherwise substantially reduced.
Id. at 43. Acol also opposed Sergeant's costs
for copying, telephone, postage, room rental for a
deposition, and an expert's fee. Id. at 42.
Sergeant withdrew a charge of $750.00 for WLC reviewing the
draft third amended complaint, for compensation for the
expert witness fees in the amount of $3, 437.00, and the
deposition meeting room in the amount of $400. Pl.'s
Reply 21, 39.
mere fact that Plaintiff has set forth the attorneys'
fees based upon time actually expended by his attorneys does
not require me to take them at their word when calculating
the lodestar amount; rather, Plaintiffs only are entitled to
a “reasonable hourly rate multiplied by hours
reasonably expended.” Grissom, 549
F.3d at 320 (emphasis added); see also Hensley, 461
U.S. at 433-34 (“The district court also should exclude
from this initial fee calculation hours that were not
‘reasonably expended.'”). Defendants do not
oppose the rates Plaintiff's counsel seek, and I find
them reasonable as they are within the guidelines set by this
Court's Local Rules- despite all of them being at the
highest acceptable rate. Although the declarations Sergeant
has filed do not indicate the years each of the attorneys
began practicing, they do note the years each graduated from
law school. See, e.g. Messineo Decl. ¶ 3;
Verheyden-Hilliard ¶ 3. Given each of the attorney's
graduation dates and declared experience, I find each to be
billing at a reasonable rate. Therefore, I will adopt the
following rates as proposed by Sergeant:
1. Attorney Carl Messineo: $475 per hour
2. Attorney Mara Verheyden-Hilliard: $475 ...