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Thomas v. Cannon

United States District Court, W.D. Washington

March 28, 2018

FREDRICK and ANNALESA THOMAS; and JO-HANNA READ, as Guardian ad Litem of E.T., a minor, Plaintiffs,
v.
JASON CANNON; BRIAN MARKERT; RYAN MICENKO; MICHAEL WILEY; MICHAEL ZARO; CITY OF FIFE; CITY OF LAKEWOOD; and PIERCE COUNTY METRO SWAT TEAM, Defendants. FREDRICK THOMAS and ANNALESA THOMAS, as Co-Administrators of the Estate of Leonard Thomas, and its statutory beneficiaries, Plaintiffs,
v.
BRIAN MARKERT; MICHAEL WILEY; NATHAN VANCE; MICHAEL ZARO; SCOTT GREEN; JEFF RACKLEY; CITY OF FIFE; CITY OF LAKEWOOD; PIERCE COUNTY METRO SWAT TEAM; and JOHN DOES 1 through 10, Defendants. TIMEKEEPER RATE HOURS CLAIMED HOURS AWARDED TOTAL TIMEKEEPER RATE HOURS CLAIMED HOURS AWARDED TOTAL TIMEKEEPER RATE HOURS CLAIMED HOURS AWARDED TOTAL

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF THE ESTATE'S PETITION FOR ATTORNEY FEES, COSTS, AND EXPENSES

          Barbara Jacobs Rothstein U.S. District Court Judge

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Plaintiff the Estate of Leonard Thomas moves pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, 28 U.S.C. § 1920, Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2), and LCR 7(d)(3) for an order awarding attorneys' fees and nontaxable expenses as the prevailing party on the judgment entered on July 14, 2017. (ECF 252.) Plaintiff initially requested $786, 990 in fees and $42, 387.33 in costs. (ECF 252.) In a supplemental declaration, Plaintiff requested an additional $121, 732.50 in fees and $5, 291.90 in costs. (ECF 340.) In a final supplemental declaration, Plaintiff requested a further $3, 062.50 in fees. (ECF 365.)

         Having reviewed the parties' submissions, the record of the case, and the relevant legal authority, the Court will GRANT IN PART Plaintiff's Motion.

         II. DISCUSSION

         Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), a plaintiff who prevails under § 1983 “should ordinarily recover an attorneys' fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). Plaintiff is requesting a “lodestar” fee, the product of the number of attorney hours reasonably expended in the litigation multiplied by the attorney's reasonable rate of hourly compensation. Moreno v. City of Sacramento, 534 F.3d 1106, 1111 (9th Cir. 2008). The lodestar calculation also includes the number of hours reasonably spent by paralegals and investigators. See Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 277 (1989). Under the lodestar method, “a district court must start by determining how many hours were reasonably expended on the litigation, and then multiply those hours by the prevailing local rate for an attorney of the skill required to perform the litigation.” Moreno, 534 F.3d at 1111. The number of hours to be compensated is calculated by considering whether the time could reasonably have been billed to a private client. Id. (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434). As a general rule, “the court should defer to the winning lawyer's professional judgment as to how much time he was required to spend on the case.” Id. at 1112. Defendants raise a number of objections to the hours and wages claimed by Plaintiff, which the Court will address in turn.

         A. Hourly Rates

         Defendants challenge the hourly rates charged by three individuals at Connelly Law Offices, the firm representing Plaintiff. John R. Connelly, the partner and lead trial counsel, requests $625 per hour; Meaghan M Driscoll, an associate and second chair, requests $350 per hour, and Brooke E. Marvin, a litigation paralegal, requests $150 per hour. In determining hourly rates, the Court must look to the “prevailing market rates in the relevant community.” Bell v. Clackamas County, 341 F.3d 858, 868 (9th Cir. 2003). The rates of comparable attorneys in the forum district are usually used. See Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1405 (9th Cir. 1992). In making its calculation, the Court should also consider the experience, skill, and reputation of the attorney requesting fees. Schwarz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 73 F.3d 895, 906 (9th Cir. 1995). The Court is allowed to rely on its own knowledge and familiarity with the legal market in setting a reasonable hourly rate. Ingram v. Oroudjian, 647 F.3d 925, 928 (9th Cir. 2011).

         In support of his proposed rate of $625 per hour, Connelly identifies a 2012 case where the Court approved his rate of $550 per hour. Ostling v. City of Bainbridge Island, No. 3:11-CV-05219-RBL, 2012 WL 4846252, at *1 (W.D. Wash. Oct. 11, 2012). Defendants suggest $550 remains the maximum rate that Connelly may reasonably charge. Consistent with the Court's finding that Tim Ford is entitled to $600 per hour for his efforts on behalf of the Thomas family plaintiffs, the Court finds that Connelly is entitled to $600 per hour as well.

         Driscoll is a 2015 law school graduate with prior experience as second chair trial counsel in a wrongful death motor vehicle collision case. (ECF 254 at 2.) In support of her proposed rate of $350 per hour, Driscoll provides the National Law Journal's 2013 sampling of nationwide billing rates. (ECF 254 Ex. B.) The sampling reveals that for the Seattle market, Perkins Coie, a large international law firm, charges $215 per hour for “associate low” and $405 per hour for “associate average.” (Id.) Angela Galloway, a fifth year associate for the Thomas family plaintiffs, billed $325 per hour. (ECF 247 at 10.) Sam Kramer, an attorney for the Thomas family plaintiffs who, like Driscoll, graduated law school in 2015, billed $275 per hour, which a King County Superior Court judge found reasonable in January 2017. (Id.) The Court agrees that this is a reasonable rate for Driscoll.

         Marvin is a paralegal with over 16 years of experience. (ECF 255 at 2.) Defendants note that paralegals with unknown experience were awarded $110 per hour in a 2016 case. Rookaird v. Bnsf Ry. Co., No. 14-176RSL, 2016 WL 7180305, at *3 (W.D. Wash. Dec. 9, 2016). Plaintiffs, meanwhile, note that Christy Caldwell, a paralegal for the Thomas family plaintiffs with less experience than Marvin, billed at $175 per hour. The Court is satisfied that $150 per hour is a reasonable rate for Marvin.

         B. Duplicative, Unreasonable, or Vague Entries

         Defendants contend that several of Plaintiff's hourly entries are duplicative, unreasonable, or lack sufficient description. First, Defendants object to Plaintiff's practice of billing nine hours a day for trial, in addition to five to seven hours each day for preparation. Including a full lunch period and all other breaks, trial days generally lasted from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm, or 7.5 hours. Thus, the Court finds 7.5 hours to be a reasonable sum to be billed for “trial” each day, and reduces Connelly's time by 15 hours, Driscoll's time by 12 hours, and Marvin's time by 15 hours. (Unlike Connelly and Marvin, Driscoll did not bill 9 hours for trial on July 5 and July 6, 2018.)

         Next, Defendants argue that Connelly should not be compensated for the 3.8 hours spent on initial case evaluation, because he has not put forth evidence that his firm generally charges individuals who bring potential lawsuits to him for initial consultations. Plaintiff does not respond to this objection, and so Connelly's time is reduced by 3.8 hours.

         Defendants ask the Court to deduct all entries for intra-office conferences. As the Court ruled on the Thomas family plaintiffs' fee motion, these periodic consultations were reasonably necessary to prepare the case.

         Defendants ask the Court to deduct 90 hours from Marvin's fee petition because there was no need for the paralegal's assistance. However, Defendants recognize that Defendants and the Thomas family plaintiffs employed three attorneys each at trial, while the Estate employed two attorneys and a paralegal. The Court finds that ...


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