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Johnson v. Iqbal

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 20, 2016



         This matter is before the court on plaintiff Scott Johnson’s motion seeking attorneys’ fees and costs under the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., and the Unruh Civil Rights Act (Unruh Act), California Civil Code §§ 51-53. ECF No. 20. Defendant Shahnaz Parveen Iqbal opposed the motion, Opp’n, ECF No. 22, and Johnson replied, Reply, ECF No. 23. Finding the matter suitable for disposition on the papers, the court submitted it without a hearing. As explained below, the court GRANTS in part and DENIES in part Johnson’s motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Johnson, physically disabled, filed this action on January 25, 2015 based on (1) the ADA, (2) the Unruh Act, (3) the California Disabled Persons Act, California Civil Code §§ 54-54.8, and (4) common law negligence after encountering accessibility barriers when patronizing the Paisano Market in Stockton, California (the Property). See generally ECF No. 1. Johnson sought injunctive relief and statutory damages. Id. at 9. Iqbal answered. ECF No. 11.

         Thereafter, the parties engaged in settlement discussions. Mem. P. & A., ECF No. 20-1 at 1. The final settlement agreement was signed by Johnson and Iqbal on November 20, 2015 and November 18, 2015, respectively, and provided, in relevant part, for Iqbal to pay Johnson $4, 000 and bring the Property into compliance with the ADA and Title 24 of the California Code of Regulations, the California Building Standards Code. Settlement Agreement, ECF No. 20-4 at 1-2, Ex. 2. On November 12, 2015, the parties filed a notice of settlement, ECF No. 18, which also noted that a motion for attorneys’ fees would be filed shortly.


         Both the ADA and the Unruh Act permit recovery of fees by a “prevailing” plaintiff. 42 U.S.C. § 12205; Cal. Civ. Code § 55. Such fee-shifting statutes “enable private parties to obtain legal help in seeking redress for injuries resulting from actual or threatened violation of specific . . . laws, ” Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens’ Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986); they are not intended “to punish or reward attorneys, ” Van Gerwen v. Guarantee Mut. Life Co., 214 F.3d 1041, 1047 (9th Cir. 2000). A plaintiff who enters into a legally enforceable settlement agreement is considered a prevailing party. Barrios v. Cal. Interscholastic Fed’n, 277 F.3d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir. 2002). Because plaintiff has here obtained “substantial relief” on “related” claims based on “a common core of facts or . . . related legal theories, ” the court may award full fees under either the ADA or Unruh Act claim and need not distinguish between the fees awarded under each. See El-Hakem v. BJY Inc., 415 F.3d 1068, 1075-76 (9th Cir. 2005); see also Schwarz v. Sec’y of Health & Human Servs., 73 F.3d 895, 901- 02 (9th Cir. 1995) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 440 (1983)).

         To calculate recoverable fees, both federal and state courts look to the lodestar, Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433; Ketchum v. Moses, 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132 (2001), which is “strong[ly] presum[ed]” to represent a reasonable fee, Del. Valley Citizens’ Council, 478 U.S. at 565. The court arrives at this figure by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433; Ketchum, 24 Cal.4th at 1132. The fee applicant bears the burden of showing that the requested rate is reasonable based on “the prevailing market rate in the community for similar services of lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” D’Emanuele v. Montgomery Ward & Co., Inc., 904 F.2d 1379, 1384 (9th Cir. 1990) (internal quotation marks omitted), overruled on other grounds by Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 559 (1992). In making this determination, courts look to other decisions in “the forum in which the district court sits, ” Barjon v. Dalton, 132 F.3d 496, 500 (9th Cir. 1997); see also Nadarajah v. Holder, 569 F.3d 906, 917 (9th Cir. 2009), and “accord[s] more weight to . . . fee awards made in the last two years, ” Johnson v. Allied Trailer Supply, No. 13-1544 WBS EFB, 2014 WL 1334006, at *5 n. 3 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 3, 2014) (citing Bell v. Clackamas Cnty., 341 F.3d 858, 869 (9th Cir. 2003) (finding abuse of discretion where district court “appl[ied] market rates in effect more than two years before . . . work . . . performed”)).

         In “rare and exceptional cases, ” the lodestar figure may be adjusted by using a multiplier, for example to reflect specific evidence offered “to show that the quality of service rendered was superior to that one reasonably should expect in light of the hourly rates charged and that the success was ‘exceptional.’” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 899 (1984) (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434); see also Del. Valley Citizens Council, 478 U.S. at 565.


         A. Fees Both parties agree the case was not litigated extensively and Johnson’s counsel expended less than a week’s worth of time on the representation. Mem. P. & A. at 11; Opp’n at 1-2. Johnson is seeking compensation for this week based on the lodestar without any adjustment, in the amount of $8, 090. Iqbal does not challenge Johnson’s entitlement to fees, requested hourly rate, or requested costs. Instead, Iqbal challenges only a few of the billing entries for attorneys Mark Potter and Phyl Grace. The court first reviews the challenged billing entries and then the hourly rate.

         1. Disputed Hours

         Iqbal challenges certain entries in the billing statements submitted by Johnson for Mr. Potter and Ms. Grace. Specifically, Iqbal challenges, (1) the hours spent on the drafting of discovery, (2) hours accomplishing seemingly duplicative tasks, (3) hours spent reviewing billing entries, and (4) the hours spent drafting the reply to this motion.

         a) Drafting of Discovery

         The court stayed the case on June 25, 2015, six months after it was filed. ECF No. 12. Johnson’s counsel conceded in the Reply that Mr. Potter did not immediately realize the case had been stayed, and inadvertently drafted the discovery after the June date. Reply at 5. But Johnson contends the hours should still be included because the draft was used after the stay was lifted and a pretrial scheduling conference was set; he does not explain how the draft was actually used. Id. at 6. Johnson does not point to any other billing entries to show any discovery was actually conducted or scheduled to be conducted. Furthermore, the parties filed the notice of settlement on the date of the pretrial scheduling conference, prior to the setting of a discovery schedule. ECF Nos. 16-18. The court thus finds unpersuasive Johnson’s argument that the draft discovery became useful while the parties were in settlement ...

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