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Wingate v. Whitlatch

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 2, 2017

CYNTHIA A. WHITLATCH, in her official and individual capacities, Defendant.


          Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees & Costs. Dkt. # 226. Defendant opposes the reasonableness of the requested fees. Dkt. # 238. For the reasons that follow, the Court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Plaintiff's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Wingate brought this civil rights action against the City of Seattle, the Seattle Police Department, and Ms. Whitlatch after Ms. Whitlatch arrested him for refusing to drop the golf club that he used as a cane. Dkt. # 14 (Second Amended Complaint). The Court dismissed Mr. Wingate's Fourth Amendment claims and his related state claims for false arrest and false imprisonment based upon Mr. Wingate's plea agreement with the City. Dkt. # 127. The Court also dismissed the City Defendants from this action because Mr. Wingate failed to present a cognizable theory for their involvement beyond vicarious liability. Id., Dkt. # 130.

         The matter went to trial in October 2016. On the sixth day of trial, Mr. Wingate voluntarily dismissed his state claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. Dkt. # 216. On November 8, 2016, the jury found that Ms. Whitlatch had violated Mr. Wingate's Fourteenth Amendment Equal Protection rights and discriminated against him in violation of Washington's Law Against Discrimination. Dkt. # 218. The jury awarded Mr. Wingate $325, 000 in damages. Id.

         Mr. Wingate's attorneys now request that the Court award them $742, 279.50 in fees and $30, 631.02 in costs. Dkt. ## 226, 242, 247. Ms. Whitlatch does not dispute that Mr. Wingate's attorneys should be awarded fees and costs, but does dispute the requested amount. Dkt. # 238. Ms. Whitlatch asks the Court to reduce the attorneys' total fees and costs to $376, 151.82. Id.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Lodestar Method

         Both parties agree that the proper way for the Court to determine Mr. Wingate's attorneys' fees and costs is by using the Lodestar Method. Dkt. ## 226 at p. 4, 238 at p. 4. To calculate the lodestar amount, the Court multiplies the number of hours reasonably expended by the reasonable hourly rate. In re Washington Pub. Power Supply Sys. Sec. Litig., 19 F.3d 1291, 1295 n.2 (9th Cir. 1994); United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 896 F.2d 403, 406 (9th Cir. 1990); Bowers v. Transamerica Title Ins. Co., 100 Wash.2d 581, 597 (1983). The hours reasonably expended must be spent on claims having a “common core of facts and related legal theories.” Martinez v. City of Tacoma, 81 Wash.App. 228, 242-43 (1996); Webb v. Sloan, 330 F.3d 1158, 1168-69 (9th Cir. 2003). The Court discounts hours spent on unsuccessful claims, overstaffing, duplicated or wasted effort, or otherwise unproductive time. Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210 (9th Cir. 1986), opinion amended on denial of reh'g, 808 F.2d 1373 (9th Cir. 1987); Bowers, 100 Wash.2d at 597, 600. The Court may adjust the lodestar calculation “up or down to reflect factors, such as the contingent nature of success in the lawsuit or the quality of legal representation, which have not already been taken into account in computing the ‘lodestar' and which are shown to warrant the adjustment by the party proposing it.” Id. at 594 (citing Miles v. Sampson, 675 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1982)) (emphasis in original); see also Chalmers, 796 F.2d at 1212.

         1. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         The established rate for billing clients may be a reasonable hourly rate, but it is not conclusive. Bowers, 100 Wash.2d at 597. In addition to the established rate, the court may consider the level of skill required by the litigation, time limitations imposed on the litigation, the amount of the potential recovery, the attorney's reputation, and the undesirability of the case. Id.; see also Chalmers, 796 F.2d at 1210-11.

         Ms. Mindenbergs and Ms. Sargent, attorneys for Mr. Wingate, state that their rates are $400 and $350 per hour, respectively. Dkt. # 226. However, in May 2016, Ms. Sargent stated in a declaration that her rate is $325 per hour. Dkt. # 92. Though Ms. Sargent may increase her rates as she sees fit, she offered no authority to prove that she may collect at a higher rate for work that she performed at an agreed-upon lower rate. Moreover, Ms. Sargent did not separate the hours she worked at her previous rate versus those hours she worked at her current rate. Therefore, the Court will reduce her rate to $325 per hour for the hours she worked on this matter. The Court finds that Ms. Mindenbergs's rate of $400 per hour is reasonable based on her experience and is consistent with her prior declaration in this matter. See Dkt. # 93. Similarly, the Court finds that Ms. Farr's hourly rate of $275 is reasonable in the local marketplace. Van Skike v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, 557 F.3d 1041, 1046 (9th Cir. 2009) (“The Supreme Court has consistently held that reasonable fees ‘are to be calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community . . . .'”) (internal citations omitted). The Court also finds that $100-$125 per hour for paralegal work is reasonable in the local marketplace. Ms. Mindenbergs billed out Mr. Proctor's paralegal services at $150 per hour, and though the Court finds this steep when compared to similarly situated paralegals in Seattle's marketplace, it nonetheless approves of this rate for the work done in this matter. Finally, the Court finds that Ms. Catunao's hourly rate of $125 is reasonable.

         The Court notes that Ms. Mindenbergs claims to have employed a third-year law student, Ms. Bakken, to help with the matter. However, there are no time entries for Ms. Bakken-Ms. Mindenbergs merely wrote Ms. Bakken a check for $634.00, Dkt. # 227-1 at p. 18-and nothing to give the Court reason to believe her fees were reasonable or even related to this matter. Therefore, the Court rejects any fees that Mr. Wingate's attorneys may seek for Ms. Bakken.

         2. ...

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