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Guerrero v. California Department of Corrections & Rehabilitation

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 16, 2016

VICTOR GUERRERO, Plaintiff,
v.
CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND REHABILITATION; STATE PERSONNEL BOARD, Defendants.

          ORDER RESOLVING OBJECTIONS, ADOPTING SPECIAL MASTER'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION WITH ONE MODIFICATION, AND FIXING COMPENSATION

          WILLIAM ALSUP UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         INTRODUCTION

         In this Title VII challenge, plaintiff moved for attorney's fees and expenses. A prior order held that plaintiff was entitled to a reasonable amount of attorney's fees and costs based on his victory (Dkt. No. 313). The special master then issued a report and recommendation regarding the amount of the award. This order resolves the pending objections and adopts the special master's report and recommendation with one modification.

         STATEMENT

         The history of this action has been summarized in prior orders and will not be repeated herein (Dkt. No. 277). In short, after a six-day bench trial, an order found that defendants had violated Title VII by discriminating against plaintiff, a Latino job applicant, based on his previous use of an invalid social security number. Plaintiff filed his motion for attorney's fees and expenses on October 30, 2015 (Dkt. 296). An order appointed Attorney Christina Chen as the special master under Rules 53 and 54.

         The special master reviewed the parties' submissions and allowed supplemental submissions. The special master then filed a 73-page report regarding attorney's fees and expenses (Dkt. No. 352).

         In short, plaintiff sought $1, 621, 776.15 in attorney's fees (including fees on fees), $22, 469.61 in statutory costs, and $145, 972.86 in non-statutory litigation expenses. Defendants contended the attorney's fees should be reduced to $279, 265. The special master recommended an award of $1, 186, 307.70 in attorney's fees, $20, 569.01 in statutory costs, $145, 972.86 in non-statutory litigation expenses, and $50, 717.12 of fees-on-fees. This recommendation reflected a 15 percent reduction to the lodestar, which the report concluded was appropriate given that plaintiff had achieved "good - but not excellent - overall results when viewed in relation to the 3, 000 hours claimed" (id. at 1-2, 62).

         The special master submitted an invoice for her fees and recommended a 50-50 allocation of her fees between defendants and plaintiff. The report also recommended staying any award of reasonable attorney's fees, costs, and expenses until after all appeals had been exhausted.

         On May 12, 2016, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) moved to modify the special master's recommendation. The California State Personnel Board (SPB) and plaintiff lodged objections.

         ANALYSIS

         1. Defendants' Objections.

         Defendants object to the recommended 15 percent reduction of the lodestar, arguing a further reduction is warranted. Defendants assert that a 35 percent reduction is warranted due to plaintiff's limited success.

         First, defendants argue that a further reduction is warranted because plaintiff could have obtained the same individual relief in state court. In response, plaintiff argues that defendants failed to properly raise this argument in their original oppositions to plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees, thereby forfeiting this argument. This order agrees.[1] Furthermore, CDCR proffers no authority for the conclusion that a fee reduction is appropriate because plaintiff could have obtained the same relief in state court. Moreover, the assertion is speculative; ascertaining whether plaintiff could have obtained the same relief in state court is beyond the purview of this motion. This objection is therefore Overruled.

         Second, defendants argue a further reduction is warranted because the success achieved by plaintiff was limited in comparison to the scope of the litigation as a whole. The report acknowledged that reaching a fair and appropriate percentage for the lodestar reduction here was "tricky" (Dkt. 352 at 65). The report concluded that a 15 percent reduction was warranted because plaintiff obtained "make-whole equitable relief" but not "broad systemic reforms." The report noted the absence of on-point case law for our situation. Nonetheless, the recommended reduction is appropriate given other holdings in our ...


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