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Lemmons v. ACE Hardware Corporation

United States District Court, N.D. California

February 1, 2015

PORTIA LEMMONS, Plaintiff,
v.
ACE HARDWARE CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING IN PART MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES Re: Dkt. No. 122

JON S. TIGAR, District Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff's motion for attorney fees, litigation expenses, and costs totaling $272, 912 in this action for discrimination on the basis of disability relating to the Berkeley Ace Hardware store located in Berkeley, CA.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background

Plaintiff Portia Lemmons brought this action against Defendants Ace Hardware Corporation ("Ace"), Berkeley Hardware, Inc., and EQR-Acheson Commons Limited Partnership ("EQR") for claims arising out of Defendants' purported denial of access to disabled persons at the Berkeley Ace Hardware store in Berkeley, California ("the store"). Complaint, ECF No. 1. Lemmons has lived with cerebral palsy since birth and claimed that she had encountered numerous barriers that prevented her from fully accessing the store during the course of visits over the last several years. ECF No. 107 at 2-4.

Ace and Berkeley Hardware have a franchising agreement that permits Berkeley Hardware to operate the store while using the "Ace" name. Id. at 1. EQR owns the building in which the store is located and leases it to Berkeley Hardware. Id . Defendants insist that EQR plans to tear down the building that houses the store in the near future and that the store plans to relocate to a new space. ECF No. 130 at 7. As of the date of this order, the store remains in operation in the EQR building. ECF No. 122 at 4.

B. Procedural History

The Defendants entered into a court-enforceable settlement agreement with Lemmons. The parties did not reach any agreement as to damages or attorney's fees. Id.

The parties subsequently brought cross-motions for summary judgment. ECF No. 64, 80. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff that the Defendants Berkeley Hardware and EQR-Acheson Commons Limited Partnership ("EQR") were liable for $52, 000 in damages under the Unruh Act for the "difficulties, discomfort, or embarrassment" she suffered during her visits to the store. ECF No. 107 at 21-22. Lemmons had agreed to limit her recovery to the statutory minimum of $4, 000 per visit to the store. Id. at 22. The Court found Lemmons could not recover for her California Disabled Persons Act claim because she had already recovered under the Unruh Act and plaintiffs are not permitted to recover under both statutes. Id. at 25-26.

The Court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant Ace Hardware, concluding that Ace could not be held liable as an "operator" under the ADA because Ace, as a franchisor, lacked "specific control" over the store. Id. at 11-12.

C. Jurisdiction

The Court has jurisdiction over this action under 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1367.

II. LEGAL STANDARD

Recognizing the "need for private lawsuits to enforce disabled access, " California disability laws and the Americans with Disabilities Act both provide for fee shifting to successful plaintiffs. Blackwell v. Foley , 724 F.Supp.2d 1068 at 1075 (N.D. Cal 2010). "Upon motion, a court may award attorneys' fees to a successful party against one or more opposing parties in any action which has resulted in the enforcement of an important right affecting the public interest if: (a) a significant benefit, whether pecuniary or nonpecuniary, has been conferred on the general public or a large class of persons, (b) the necessity and financial burden of private enforcement or of enforcement by one public entity against another public entity, are such as to make the award appropriate, and are such as to make the award appropriate, and (c) such fees should not in the interest of justice be paid out of the recovery, if any." Cal. Civ. Proc. Code § 1021.5. California Civil Code § 55 also provides that the prevailing party in an action for injunctive relief under California's disability laws "shall be entitled to recover reasonable attorney's fees."

"California courts, like their federal counterparts, utilize the lodestar (or touchstone') approach to determine a proper fee award to a prevailing plaintiff in a civil rights law suit." Muniz v. United Parcel Serv., Inc. , 738 F.3d 214, 222 (9th Cir. 2013). Under the lodestar, "[t]he most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley v. Eckerhart , 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Courts "should exclude from this initial fee calculation hours that were not reasonably expended." Id. at 434 (internal quotation and citation omitted). "Counsel for the prevailing party should make a good faith effort to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, just as a lawyer in private practice ethically is obligated to exclude such hours from his fee submission." Id . If "a plaintiff has achieved only partial or limited success, the product of hours reasonably expended on the litigation as a whole times a reasonable hourly rate may be an excessive amount." Id. at 436.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Hourly Rate

Plaintiff's request that the "reasonable hourly rate[s]" used by the Court for calculating the lodestar in this case should be as follows: "Paul L. Rein, $645; Celia McGuinness, $550; Catherine Cat' Caballo, $475; senior paralegal Aaron Clefton, $190; paralegal Emily O'Donohoe, $155, and paralegal Holly Jaramillo, $135." ECF No. 122 at 12. In support of their proposed hourly rates, Plaintiff's counsel point to their "education, experience, and expertise in disability rights law, " declarations provided by other attorneys practicing in the field, and other decisions in this District awarding similar hourly rates for attorneys practicing in the Rein Law Office. Although Defendants take issue with the reasonableness of the hours expended by Plaintiff's counsel on the litigation, they do not ...


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