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Johnson v. Vu

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 29, 2017

SCOTT JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
BACH THUOC VU, in his individual and representative capacity as Trustee--Vole Irrevocable Family Trust; KIMBERLY T. LE, and Does 1-10, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES

          JOHN A. MENDEZ, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Plaintiff Scott Johnson (“Plaintiff” or “Johnson”) sued Defendants Bach Thuoc Vu (“Vu”) and Kimberly T. Le (“Le”) (collectively, “Defendants”) in November 2014 alleging Defendants' Boomer Medical Clinic did not comply with state and federal disability access laws. Compl. at 1, 4-7, ECF No. 1. Johnson brought four claims against Defendants: (1) violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), (2) violation of the Unruh Civil Rights Act, (3) violation of the California Disabled Persons Act, and (4) negligence. Id. at 4-7. In April 2015, Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed Vu without prejudice. ECF Nos. 11, 12. In February 2016, the parties stipulated to “settle the portion of the case[] relating to issues of injunctive relief.” Consent Decree at 2, ECF No. 24. The parties noted that the Court should not dismiss the case in its entirety because “monetary issues are still at issue . . . [and] these issues may still proceed to trial.” Id. at 3. In February 2017, Johnson moved for partial summary judgment on his first and second claims. Mot. Summ. J. at 3-9, ECF No. 31-1. Johnson did not address his third or fourth claims in his motion for summary judgment. The Court granted Johnson's motion. ECF No. 35. In April 2017, Johnson voluntarily dismissed his third and fourth claims. ECF No. 38. Johnson now requests attorneys' fees on his first and second claims. ECF No. 37.

         I. OPINION

         A. Legal Standard

         A prevailing party may recover reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses under the ADA and the Unruh Act. 42 U.S.C. § 12205; Cal. Civ. Code § 52(a). “[A] plaintiff ‘prevails' when actual relief on the merits of his claim materially alters the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the defendant's behavior in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff.” Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12 (1992). To determine a reasonable fee, courts calculate “the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).

         B. Analysis

         1. Hours Reasonably Expended

         District courts have discretion in determining the number of hours reasonably expended on a case. See Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1211 (9th Cir. 1986). A court should exclude from a request for attorneys' fees hours that were not reasonably expended, “such as those incurred from overstaffing, or ‘hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” The Sierra Club v. United States Envtl. Prot. Agency, 75 F.Supp.3d 1125, 1148 (N.D. Cal. 2014) (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434). Despite its discretion, a court “may not attempt to impose its own judgment regarding the best way to operate a law firm, nor to determine if different staffing decisions might have led to different fee requests.” Moreno v. City of Sacramento, 534 F.3d 1106, 1115 (9th Cir. 2008).

         Plaintiff's motion requests $16, 199 in fees and costs, but his reply reduces the request to $14, 274. Mot. for Attorneys' Fees (“Mot.”) at 16; Reply at 4. In support of his request, Plaintiff submitted a billing statement itemizing the hours expended by attorneys Mark Potter, Phyl Grace, Isabel Masanque, Chris Carson, and Amanda Lockhart. Billing Statement at 1, ECF No. 37-3.

         Defendant Le asks the Court to reduce several of the billing entries. Opp'n at 2.

         a. Mr. Potter's 9/30/2014 Entry

         Le argues Mr. Potter's billing entry of 0.9 hours on 9/30/2014 is unreasonable in light of “the hundreds of cases Plaintiff's firm has filed in this District.” Id. at 2. Given that this case mirrors dozens of others brought by Johnson, the Court finds Le's argument meritorious. The Court reduces the 9/30/2014 entry to 0.3 hours.

         b. Mr. Potter's 11/3/2014, 11/18/2014, and 2/3/2015 Entries

         Le argues a more junior attorney or staff member could have completed the public records request, review of cover sheet, and drafting discovery for which Mr. Potter billed a total of 3.4 hours in the November and February billing entries. Opp'n at 2. Johnson responds that the Ninth Circuit rejected the same argument in Moreno. Reply at 1-2. Under Moreno, a district court cannot reduce attorneys' fees solely because a more junior attorney could have completed the work. See Moreno, 534 F.3d at 1115. In following Moreno, this Court will not reduce the ...


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