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Davis v. Sundance Apartments

August 5, 2008

THOMAS DAVIS; PAMELA DAVIS; RACHEL E. DAVIS AND NATHAN T. DAVIS, MINORS, BY AND THROUGH THEIR GUARDIAN AD LITEM, PAMELA DAVIS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
SUNDANCE APARTMENTS, A BUSINESS OF UNKNOWN FORM; JAMES W. WATT, A.K.A., JAMES KIN SING WATT; ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Frank C. Damrell, Jr. United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

This matter is before the court on plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to an offer of judgment plaintiffs accepted from defendants.*fn1 Fed. R. Civ. P. 68.*fn2 By this motion, plaintiffs' counsel seeks $55,580.00 in attorneys' fees and $1,105.00 in costs incurred to engage the services of a private investigator. Defendants concede that the offer of judgment entitles plaintiffs to an award of fees and costs, however, they challenge the amounts requested as unreasonable and excessive.

For the reasons set forth below, the court awards attorneys' fees in the amount of $26,922.50 and costs in the amount of $1,105.00. The instant case involved the prosecution of a straightforward housing discrimination claim; there were no court appearances and minimal discovery, and the action was pending for only 81/2 months; ultimately, it was settled for monetary compensation in the aggregate amount of $45,000.00 for the four plaintiffs. Under these circumstances, the reduced award is warranted.

BACKGROUND

In this action, plaintiffs sought relief from defendants for alleged discrimination against families with children in the operation of the Sundance Apartments. Plaintiffs alleged violations of the Fair Housing Act of 1968, 42 U.S.C. § 3601 et seq. and other related state laws, including the California Fair Employment and Housing Act ("FEHA"), Cal. Gov't Code § 12955 et seq., and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 51 et seq.*fn3

On May 9, 2008, defendants made plaintiffs an offer of judgment pursuant to Rule 68.*fn4 (Notice of Offer of Judgment and Acceptance, filed May 28, 2008.) Therein, defendants offered to pay damages in the aggregate of $45,000.00 to plaintiffs, "plus legally recoverable court costs accrued to [May 9, 2008] and reasonable attorneys' fees incurred to [the same date] where recoverable as costs of suit." (Id.) Plaintiffs accepted the offer, and judgment was entered in favor of plaintiffs on May 30, 2008.

Plaintiffs now move for an award of attorneys' fees and costs.

STANDARD

The Fair Housing Act, FEHA and the Unruh Civil Rights Act each provide a statutory basis for an award of attorneys' fees and costs in this case. See 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(2) (authorizing the court to award "the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee and costs"); Cal. Gov't Code § 12965(b) (authorizing the court to award to "the prevailing party reasonable attorney fees and costs except where such action is filed by a public agency [or official]"); Cal. Civ. Code § 52 (authorizing the court to award to the prevailing party any reasonable "attorney's fees as may be determined by the court"). Here, it is undisputed that plaintiffs were the prevailing parties in this action. Pursuant to the offer of judgment, defendants paid plaintiffs $45,000.00 in damages and agreed to pay reasonable costs and attorneys' fees in an amount determined by the court.

The United States Supreme Court has held that the standards used for the Civil Rights Attorney's Fee Awards Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, are generally applicable in all cases in which Congress has authorized an award of attorneys' fees for a prevailing party. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 n.7 (1983). The Fair Housing Act and related state laws are no exception to this rule.

A prevailing party "should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429 (internal quotations omitted). District courts are given discretion in calculating the amount of attorneys' fees. Id. at 437. However, the district court must make clear its reasons for a certain fee award, especially "when an adjustment is requested on the basis of either the exceptional or limited nature of relief obtained by the plaintiff." Id.

The party seeking fees bears the burden of documenting and substantiating fees, and those fees must be reasonable and necessary to the litigation. Id. at 434. In determining the award, courts typically use the "lodestar" method to calculate attorneys' fees. Widrig v. Apfel, 140 F.3d 1207, 1209 (9th Cir. 1998). Under this method, the court multiplies the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 (court may credit party with fewer hours if the time claimed is "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary"). There is a strong presumption that the lodestar amount is reasonable, though the court may adjust the lodestar figure if various factors overcome that presumption of reasonableness. Fischer v. SJB-P.D, Inc., 214 F.3d 1115, 1119 (9th Cir. 2000). The following twelve factors are generally used to adjust a fee award:

(1) the time and labor required, (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly, (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 ...


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