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Langer v. 1600 E Downtown Property, LLC

United States District Court, C.D. California

June 9, 2015



CHRISTINA A. SNYDER, District Judge.

Proceedings: (In Chambers) PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR AN AWARD OF ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS (Dkt. No. 20, filed April 27, 2015)


Plaintiff Chris Langer filed this lawsuit on December 2, 2014, against defendants 1600 E Downtown Property, LLC; American Celebrations, Inc; and Does 1 through 10. Plaintiff, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair for mobility, visited a Los Angeles store leased and operated by defendants and encountered a lack of compliant handicapped-accessible parking spaces. Plaintiff alleged claims for (1) violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq.; (2) violations of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 51-53; (3) violations of the California Disabled Persons Act, Cal. Civ. Code §§ 54-54.8; and (4) negligence. See generally Compl.

On March 13, 2015, plaintiff filed a notice indicating that he had accepted an offer of judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. Dkt. No. 17. On April 13, 2015, the Court entered judgment in favor of plaintiff on all claims. Dkt. No. 19. That judgment (1) awarded $2, 001.00 in favor of plaintiff and against defendants "for any and all claims for damages that are or may be awardable and recoverable in this action, " and (2) ordered that defendants "will pay reasonable attorneys' fees and costs the amount of which will be determined by noticed motion and against which defendants may contest the requested amount as being unreasonable and/or unnecessary." Id.

On April 27, 2015, plaintiff filed a motion for attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $10, 300. Dkt. No. 20. On May 11, 2015, defendants filed an opposition, arguing that plaintiff's requested amount is unreasonable. Dkt. No. 21. Plaintiff filed a reply on May 18, 2015. Dkt. No. 22. On June 1, the Court held a hearing on the matter. After considering the parties' arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.


A. Attorneys' Fees

Both the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Unruh Civil Rights Act provide for reasonable attorneys' fees to be awarded to a prevailing plaintiff. See 42 U.S.C. § 12205; Cal. Civ. Code § 52(a). Here, the agreed-to judgment orders defendants to pay attorneys' fees and costs. Thus, the only dispute presented by the instant motion is whether the fees plaintiff has requested are reasonable.

Both the California Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit apply the "lodestar" method for calculating reasonable attorneys' fees, designed to determine the "basic fee for comparable legal services in the community." Ketchum v. Moss, 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132 (2001); see Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 2008). The "lodestar' is calculated by multiplying the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate." Camacho, 523 F.3d at 978 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).[1] The party seeking attorneys' fees must submit evidence supporting the number of hours worked, and the district court should exclude "hours that are not reasonably expended because they are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.'" Van Gerwen v. Guarantee Mut. Life Co., 214 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2000) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983)). Generally, compensable attorney hours include "time spent in establishing the entitlement to and amount of the fee." In re Nucorp Energy, Inc., 764 F.2d 655, 659-60 (9th Cir. 1985); accord Serrano v. Unruh, 32 Cal.3d 621, 639 (1982). In the context of civil rights litigation, the Supreme Court has cautioned that "[h]ours that are not properly billed to one's client also are not properly billed to one's adversary pursuant to statutory authority." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 (emphasis in original) (quoting Copeland v. Marshall, 641 F.2d 880, 891 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (en banc)).

Three attorneys worked on plaintiff's case. Inclusive of time spent on this motion for attorneys' fees, plaintiff asserts that Mark Potter ("Potter") spent 20.3 hours working on this case, Russell Handy ("Handy") spent.7 hours, and Phyl Grace ("Grace") spent 2.1 hours. Dkt. No. 20 Ex. 2. Defendants first argue that any hours billed after defendants made a settlement offer in February are unreasonable. Defendants also object to several specific time entries billed.

1. Hours Billed After the February 2015 Settlement Offer

Addressing defendants' first argument requires some background regarding the parties' settlement negotiations. In early January 2015, defendants offered to settle this case for $1, 500. Dkt. No. 20 Ex. 3. Plaintiff's counsel countered with an offer to settle for $11, 000, arguing that plaintiff was "entitled to no less than $4, 000 and reimbursement of attorney fees and costs, " and noting that the subject property would have to be brought in compliance before any settlement could be reached. Id. On February 2, 2015, defendants' counsel emailed plaintiff's counsel stating that the regulatory violation at issue had been cured through the installation of a van-accessible parking space completed on January 24, 2015, and attaching pictures of the new parking space as well as a Rule 68 offer of judgment in the amount of $3, 500. Dkt. No. 20 Ex. 4. That offer of judgment was based on statutory damages of $2, 000 and an additional $1, 500 for fees and costs, which defendants argue was the "full value of the case" at that time.[2] Id. Plaintiff did not accept that offer of judgment before it expired. Plaintiff's motion asserts that this was because plaintiff's counsel asked his client "to confirm that the parking was remediated to his satisfaction, " which he had not done by the time the offer expired. Dkt. No. 20 at 1. The record does not reflect any counter-offers by plaintiff, or any other communications from plaintiff's counsel to defendants' counsel in the month following the February 2 offer.

On March 9, 2015, defendants' counsel made another Rule 68 offer, this time for $2, 0001. Dkt. No. 20 Ex. 5. This offer stated that plaintiff "may pursue by appropriate motion" attorneys' fees and costs, but did not state that plaintiff was entitled to recover attorneys' fees. Id. Plaintiff's counsel responded that as written, the Rule 68 offer would not entitle plaintiff to recover attorneys' fees and costs, but that he would recommend that his client accept the offer if it were amended to include an express agreement that defendants would pay fees and costs. Dkt. No. 20 Ex. 6. Defendants' counsel agreed to add the requested language, and proffered a new Rule 68 offer of judgment. Id. This third Rule 68 offer was accepted, and became the Court's judgment. Dkt. No. 19. Between entry of judgment and the filing of the instant motion, the parties exchanged ...

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