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Moore v. Millenium Acquisitions, LLC

United States District Court, E.D. California

March 21, 2017

RONALD MOORE, Plaintiff,
v.
MILLENIUM ACQUISITIONS, LLC, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES (DOC. NO. 71)

         This matter is before the court on plaintiff Ronald Moore's March 31, 2016 motion for attorneys' fees. (Doc. No. 71.) Defendants filed their opposition to plaintiffs motion on May 3, 2016. (Doc. No. 74.) On May 6, 2016, plaintiff filed their reply. (Doc. No. 76.) For the following reasons, the court will grant in part and deny in part plaintiffs motion for attorneys' fees.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff, Ronald Moore, brought suit against defendants, Millenium Acquisitions, LLC, and Timeless Investments, Inc., pursuant to Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12181 et seq. (“ADA”), the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, Cal. Civ. Code § 51, (“Unruh Act”), and California Health & Safety Code § 19955. (Doc. Nos. 1, 19.) In his complaint, plaintiff alleged accessibility violations at an ARCO AM/PM gas station located in Fresno, California. (Id.)

         On March 4, 2016, the court granted plaintiff's motion for summary judgment in part. (Doc. No. 61.) On March 8, 2016, pursuant to the stipulation of the parties, the claims remaining after the granting of partial summary judgment in favor of plaintiff were dismissed and judgment was entered. (Doc. Nos. 63, 64.) Thereafter, plaintiff moved for the award of attorneys' fees under the ADA and state law. (Doc. No. 71.)

         ANALYSIS

         Plaintiff moves for an award in the amount of $87, 777.78, requesting $80, 748.50 in attorneys' fees (after voluntarily deducting fees related to a sanctions motion brought against defendant), and $7, 029.28 in litigation expenses. (Doc. No. 71-1 at 15.)

         The ADA and the Unruh Act permit a prevailing plaintiff to recover attorneys' fees and costs.[1] 42 U.S.C. § 12205; Cal. Civ. Code § 55. Fee-shifting statutes such as these “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 Citizen' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986). Attorneys' fee awards are calculated through a two-step process known as the “lodestar method.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Van Skike v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, 557 F.3d 1041, 1048 (9th Cir. 2009) (“The Supreme Court has stated that the lodestar is the ‘guiding light' of its fee-shifting jurisprudence, a standard that is the fundamental starting point in determining a reasonable attorney's fee.”) (quoting City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 562 (1992)); Schwarz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 73 F.3d 895, 901 (9th Cir. 1995). In the first step, a court multiplies hours reasonably spent in litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433; Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 978 (9th Cir. 2008); Ferland v. Conrad Credit Corp., 244 F.3d 1145, 1146-48 (9th Cir. 2001). The party seeking an award of fees must submit evidence supporting the hours worked and the rates claimed. Van Gerwen v. Guarantee Mut. Life Co., 214 F.3d 1041, 1045 (9th Cir. 2000); see also Hensley, 461 U.S. at 461. However, “a district court should exclude from the lodestar amount hours that are not reasonably expended because they are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Van Gerwen, 214 F.3d at 1045 (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434); see also McCown v. City of Fontana, 565 F.3d 1097, 1102 (9th Cir. 2009); Tahara v. Matson Terminals, Inc., 511 F.3d 950, 955 (9th Cir. 2007). The lodestar amount should also exclude hours that plaintiff spent on unsuccessful claims, if these claims were unrelated to claims plaintiff brought successfully. McCown v. City of Fontana, 565 F.3d 1097, 1103 (9th Cir. 2009); Schwarz, 73 F.3d at 901; see also Hensley, 461 U.S. at 44 (“[T]he extent of a plaintiff s success is a crucial factor for determining the proper amount of an award of attorney's fees.”).

         In the second step, a court may adjust the lodestar amount “to account for other factors which are not subsumed within it.” Ferland, 244 F.3d at 1149 n.4; see Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1975) (listing additional factors district courts may consider in determining fee awards); see also Cairns v. Franklin Mint Co., 292 F.3d 1139, 1158 (9th Cir. 2002) (stating that “[t]he court need not consider all . . . factors, but only those called into question by the case at hand and necessary to support the reasonableness of the fee award.”) (citation omitted). Nonetheless, the lodestar amount is presumptively reasonable, and an adjustment should occur only in “rare and exceptional cases, where there is both specific evidence on the record and detailed findings” that the initial amount is unreasonably low or unreasonably high. Van Gerwen, 214 F.3d at 1045 (internal quotations omitted); Camacho, 523 F.3d at 982; see also Hiken v. Dep 't of Defense, 836 F.3d 1037, 1044 (9th Cir. 2016) (“There is a ‘strong presumption' that the lodestar figure represents a reasonable award.”).

         I. Lodestar calculation

         In their opposition to plaintiffs motion for attorneys' fees, defendants contend that plaintiff has incorrectly calculated the lodestar amount. They make three arguments in this regard: (i) both attorney Tanya Moore's time purportedly expended on this case as well as her hourly rate are excessive; (ii) the time purportedly spent by and hourly rate for paralegals Sacks and Law are excessive; (iii) plaintiff is not entitled to the full amount of claimed litigation expenses; and (iv) the award of attorneys' fees should be reduced due to plaintiff's limited success in this litigation. The court analyzes each of defendants' contentions below.

         A. Reasonable hourly rates

         The court “must determine a reasonable hourly rate to use for attorneys and paralegals in computing the lodestar amount.” Gonzalez v. City of Maywood, 729 F.3d at 1196, 1205 (9th Cir. 2013) (citation omitted). In assessing applications for attorneys' fees, the reasonable hourly rates are to be calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant legal community. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984); Ingram v. Oroudjian, 647 F.3d 925, 928 (9th Cir. 2011) (“We have held that ‘[i]n determining a reasonable hourly rate, the district court should be guided by the rate prevailing in the community for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation.'”) (quoting Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210-11 (9th Cir. 1986)); Van Skike, 557 F.3d at 1046. It is also the general rule that the “relevant legal community” is the forum district, and that the local hourly rates for similar work should normally be employed. Gonzalez, 729 F.3d at 1205; Prison Legal News v. Schwarzenegger, 608 F.3d 446, 454 (9th Cir. 2010); Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1405 (9th Cir. 1992); Davis v. Mason County, 927 F.2d 1473, 1488 (9th Cir. 1991). The initial burden is on the applicant to produce satisfactory evidence that the requested rate is “in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.” Blum, 465 U.S. at 895 n.11; see also Gonzalez, 729 F.3d at 1206 (“[T]he fee applicant has the burden of producing ‘satisfactory evidence' that the rates he requests meet these standards.”); Nadarajah v. Holder, 569 F.3d 906, 916 (9th Cir. 2009); Camacho, 523 F.3d at 978; L.H. v. Schwarzenegger, 645 F.Supp.2d 888, 893 (E.D. Cal. 2009) (“Finally, a reasonable rate should reflect not only the market rates, but the skill and experience of the prevailing party's counsel.”). “[R]ate determinations in other cases, particularly those setting a rate for the plaintiffs' attorney, are satisfactory evidence of the prevailing market rate.” Hiken, 836 F.3d at 1044 (quoting United Steelworkers of Am. v. Phelps Dodge Corp., 896 F.2d 403, 407 (9th Cir. 1990); see also Welch v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 480 F.3d 942, 947 (9th Cir. 2007).

         Plaintiff represents that attorney Moore specializes in representing plaintiffs in disability actions, and has significant expertise litigating ADA actions such as this one. (Doc. No. 71-2 at 2, ¶ 2.) In her own declaration, attorney Moore states that she has filed and successfully prosecuted nearly 1, 000 civil rights actions, and that while her standard billing rate is $400 an hour, she has reduced her rate for this case to $300 an hour. (Id. at 2-3, ¶ 5.) Plaintiff has not submitted declarations in support of this claimed market rate but instead has chosen to rely primarily on the fact that $300 per hour has been found reasonable for attorney Moore's work in the disability rights actions brought in the Fresno Division of the Eastern District of California which he lists. (Doc. No. 71-1 at 9.) As noted, this is satisfactory evidence of the market rate.

         In opposing the motion for attorneys' fees, defendants argue that a $300 hourly rate is unreasonable with respect to attorney Moore's services and suggests that a $200 hourly rate is more appropriate. (Doc. No. 74 at 14.) However, defendants offer no evidence whatsoever in support of their suggestion that $200 an hour is the prevailing market rate, nor do defendants cite any decisions in which the rate they suggest was found to be reasonable.

         Accordingly, the court now finds-as other judges of this court have previously found- that $300 is a reasonable hourly rate for attorney Moore's work. See, e.g., Moore v. Watkins, No. 1:15-cv-00115 JAM-GSA, 2015 WL 5923404, at *5 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 9, 2015); Kalani v. Nat'l Seating and Mobility, Inc., No. 2:13-cv-00061 JAM-CKD, 2014 WL 3956669, at *2-3 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 13, 2014); Gutierrez v. Vantia Props., LLC, No. 1:13-cv-00642-LJO, 2014 WL 2106570, at *8 (E.D. Cal. May 20, 2014); Moore v. E-Z-N-Quick, No. 1:13-cv-01522-LJO-SAB, 2014 WL 1665034, at *6 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 24, 2014); cf. Kalani v. Statewide Petroleum, Inc., No. 2:13-cv-02287-KJM-AC, 2014 WL 4230920, at *6 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 25, 2014) (fixing attorney Moore's reasonable hourly rate at $250 per hour based upon the evidence presented in that case).

         With respect to the hourly rate sought for paralegal work performed in connection with this litigation, plaintiff seeks an hourly rate of $115. Once again, plaintiff relies on prior decisions of judges of this court finding that to be the appropriate market rate for such work. (Doc, No, 71-1 at 9.) In opposing plaintiff's motion, defendants argue that a $115 hourly paralegal rate is elevated. (Doc. No. 74 at 15-16.) In support of this contention, defendants cite various decisions in which judges of this court have determined that in those cases the appropriate hourly rate for paralegals was $75. See, e.g., Deocampo v. Potts, No. 2:06-1283 WBS CMK, 2014 WL 788429, at *9 (E.D. Cal. Feb. 25, 2014); Joe Hand Promotions, Inc. v. Albright, No. CIV. 2:11-2260 WBS CMK, 2013 WL 4094403, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 12, 2013).

         Judges of this court have specifically determined that the reasonable market rate for work performed by paralegals Sacks and Law in other ADA cases is $115 per hour. See, e.g., Moore v. Watkins, No. 1:15-cv-00115 JAM-GSA, 2015 WL 5923404, at *5 (E.D. Cal. Oct. 8, 2015); Gutierrez v. Leng, No. 1:14-cv-01027-WBS-SKO, 2015 WL 1498813, at *7 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 31, 2015); E-Z-N Quick, 2014 WL 1665034, at *6; cf. Kalani, 2014 WL 4230920, at *6 (finding that a $75 hourly rate was appropriate for work performed by paralegals Sacks and Law). Those prior determinations are satisfactory evidence of the prevailing market rate. See Hiken, 836 F.3d at 1044. Accordingly, the court determines that the $115 hourly rate for the work of paralegals Sacks and Law to be the prevailing market rate that it will adopt.

         B. Hours reasonably expended

         The attorneys' fee applicant also bears the burden of establishing the appropriate number of hours expended. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437; see also Carson, 470 F.3d at 891; Jadwin v. County of Kern, 767 F.Supp.2d 1069, 1100 (E.D. Cal. 2011) (“The fee applicant bears the burden of documenting the appropriate hours expended in the litigation and must submit evidence in support of those hours worked.”). The party opposing the fee application has the burden of rebutting that evidence. Camacho, 523 F.3d at 982; see also Toussaint, 826 F.2d at 904; Jadwin, 767 F.Supp.2d at 1100 (“The party opposing the fee application has a burden of rebuttal that requires submission of evidence to the district court challenging the accuracy and reasonableness of the hours charged or the facts asserted by the prevailing party in its submitted affidavits.”).

         1. Attorney Moore's time

         As noted above, plaintiff seeks an attorney fee award of $80, 748.50. According to billing records submitted in connection with the motion, this fee request is in part based upon a total of 201.7 hours expended on the case by plaintiff's lead counsel, attorney Tanya Moore. (Doc. No. 71-1 at 10). With respect to the attorney time expended by attorney Moore, the court finds that while the time claimed in connection with many of the tasks performed is reasonable, some of the attorney time claimed is unreasonable, duplicative, or inadequately documented. Accordingly, and as addressed in more detail below, the court concludes that the number of attorney hours attributable to attorney Moore should be reduced.

         In moving for attorneys' fees, plaintiff has presented attorney billing statements documenting the following time ...


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