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Miller v. Schmitz

United States District Court, E.D. California

February 18, 2014

ISAAC MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
STEVEN JOHN SCHMITZ, et al, Defendants.

ORDER ON MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS FEES (Doc. 135)

LAWRENCE J. O'NEILL, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

After a jury trial in this matter, Plaintiff Isaac Miller ("Plaintiff") moves this Court for an award of attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). For the reasons discussed below, the Court GRANTS in part Plaintiff's motion for fees.

BACKGROUND

On January 29, 2012, Plaintiff brought this action for civil rights violations and expungement of his arrest record against Defendants Officer Steven John Schmitz ("Schmitz"), Ronald Silva ("Silva") and the City of Hanford ("the City") based on Plaintiff's arrest and prosecution following an altercation that occurred on February 17, 2010. This Court construed Plaintiff's complaint to allege claims for malicious prosecution against Schmitz under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, expungement of Plaintiff's arrest record by the City pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2201, and malicious prosecution against Silva under California law.

On April 15, 2013, Plaintiff and Silva reached a settlement agreement.

On August 6, 2013, this Court denied Schmitz and the City's (collectively "Defendants'") motion for summary judgment of Plaintiff's claims against them.

The parties then participated in a jury trial on the two claims against Defendants. On November 27, 2013, the jury returned a favorable verdict for Plaintiff as to both claims and awarded Plaintiff $500, 000.00 in damages.

On December 30, 2013, Plaintiff filed the instant motion for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1988(b). Defendants did not file an opposition, and Plaintiff did not file a reply.

DISCUSSION

A. Legal Standard

The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), authorizes district courts to award "a reasonable attorney's fee" to prevailing civil rights litigants. "The purpose of § 1988 is to ensure effective access to the judicial process for persons with civil rights grievances." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983) (internal quotation omitted). "[T]he district court has discretion in determining the amount of a fee award." Id. at 437.

In the Ninth Circuit, the proper method for determining reasonable attorney's fees is to use the "lodestar method." Id. at 433; Jordan v. Multnomah Cnty., 815 F.2d 1258, 1262 (9th Cir. 1987). In calculating the lodestar, the court must determine both a reasonable number of hours and a reasonable hourly rate for each attorney. Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1211 (9th Cir. 1986). "Determination of a reasonable hourly rate is not made by reference to rates actually charged the prevailing party." Id. at 1210 (citing White v. City of Richmond, 713 F.2d 458, 461 (9th Cir. 1983)). The established standard for determining a reasonable hourly rate is the "rate prevailing in the community for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin. Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 979 (9th Cir. 2008) (citation omitted). "In determining reasonable hours, counsel bears the burden of submitting detailed time records justifying the hours claimed to have been expended." Chalmers, 796 F.2d at 1211 (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429). "Those hours may be reduced by the court where documentation of the hours is inadequate; if the case was overstaffed and hours are duplicated; if the hours expended are deemed excessive or otherwise unnecessary." Id. (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433-34).

The Ninth Circuit "requires that courts reach attorney's fee decisions by considering some or all of twelve relevant criteria set forth in Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67 (9th Cir. 1975)." Quesada v. Thomason, 850 F.2d 537, 539 (9th Cir. 1988). The Kerr factors are: (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 ...


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