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Estate of Allen v. Baltimore County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 28, 2019

THE ESTATE OF ALFRED ALLEN, JR.,
v.
BALTIMORE COUNTY, MARYLAND

          MEMORANDUM

          CATHERINE C. BLAKE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Now pending before the court is a motion for attorney's fees and expenses and request for hearing filed by the plaintiff, the estate of Alfred Allen, Jr. ("the estate"). Oral argument is not necessary to resolve the motion. See Local R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons stated below, the court will grant the motion in part, awarding the estate attorney's fees in the amount of $158, 181.40 and costs in the amount of $13, 865, totaling $172, 046.40.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         This case has an extensive factual and procedural history, and the court presumes familiarity with its prior opinions. See ECF 217; Allen v. Bait. County, Md., 91 F.Supp.3d 722 (D. Md. 2015). On January 11, 2011, Mr. Allen, then a corrections officer with Baltimore County's Department of Corrections, attended a medical examination as instructed by his employer. On February 16, 2011, the county notified Mr. Allen that he was being terminated as a correctional officer based upon the results of the medical examination. The county offered Mr. Allen the choice between a demotion to a civilian administrative position or discharge. Mr. Allen accepted the civilian position.

         On October 15, 2013, the estate[1] filed its complaint against the county, alleging that the county had illegally required Mr. Allen to undergo a medical examination and illegally discharged/demoted Mr. Allen from his correctional officer position, both in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"). Based upon the alleged violations, the estate requested back pay and other economic and compensatory damages, totaling $4.6 million in damages and fees. The county filed its answer on November 15, 2013, contesting both of the estate's claims. On June 18, 2014, during the pendency of the litigation, the county reinstated Mr. Allen as a correctional officer, On March 18, 2015, the court granted in part and denied in part the county's motion for summary judgment, denying the estate's illegal examination claim and permitting its illegal discharge/demotion claim to proceed.

         Beginning on August 3, 2015, the court held a jury trial on Mr. Allen's claims. On the sixth day, the court declared a mistrial after the jury could not agree on a verdict.

         On December 2, 2016, the estate, with the county's consent, filed its amended complaint. The amended complaint removed all requests for economic and compensatory damages except for the estate's request for back pay for the period of Mr. Allen's discharge from the county. The parties agreed to have the court adjudicate the outstanding issue, and submitted their respective proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law on April 10, 2017.

         On December 10, 2017, the court issued its memorandum and order, finding in favor of the estate and awarding it the stipulated amount of $32, 871.59 in back pay. On February 2, 2018, the estate filed its motion for attorney's fees and expenses, requesting $387, 647.50 in attorney's fees and $13, 865.00 in expenses, totaling $401, 512.50. Further, on April 16, 2018, the estate filed its reply to the county's opposition to the motion, to which it attached an affidavit from Ms. Cahill which stated that she had expended an additional 40.7 hours on this case, increasing the request for fees by an additional $20, 350.00. ECF 230-5 at p. 2. The motion has been fully briefed and is ripe for consideration.

         ANALYSIS

         Pursuant to the ADA, successful plaintiffs are entitled to attorney's fees and expenses. 42 U.S.C. § 12205.[2] Such awards are within the court's discretion and must be reasonable. Id. A reasonable fee is "a fee that is sufficient to induce a capable attorney to undertake the representation of a meritorious civil rights case." Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 552 (2010) (internal citations omitted). In order "to qualify as a prevailing party, a civil rights plaintiff must obtain at least some relief on the merits of his claim." Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111 (1992).

         It is the court's responsibility to determine what amount of attorney's fees is reasonable, in consideration of the specific facts of each case. See Hemley, 461 U.S. at 433. Leaving the question of attorney's fees to the district court's discretion is "appropriate in view of the district court's superior understanding of the litigation." Id. at 437. While the district court may award attorney's1 fees at its discretion, some guidelines for how to calculate such awards exist.

         As a starting point, district courts should determine both the reasonable hourly rate for the attorney involved and the reasonable hours expended, commonly referred to as the lodestar figure. Id. at 433; see also McAfee v. Boczar, 738 F.3d 81, 88 (4th Cir. 2014) (holding that district courts must first calculate the lodestar figure when awarding attorney's fees). Courts should consider the following twelve factors in evaluating the reasonableness of the lodestar figure:

(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 ...

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