United States District Court, E.D. California
CHRIS WILLIS, MARY WILLIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND SUCCESSORS IN INTEREST TO STEPHEN WILLIS, Plaintiff,
CITY OF FRESNO, OFFICER GREG CATTON, and OFFICER DANIEL ASTACIO, Defendants.
ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS'
FEES AND COSTS
BARBARA A. MCAULIFFE UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' renewed motion
for attorneys' fees following remand from the Ninth
Circuit. (Doc. 376). On January 20, 2018, Defendants filed an
opposition to the motion. (Doc. 377). Plaintiffs filed a
reply on January 31, 2018. (Doc. 378). The Court deemed the
matter suitable for decision without oral argument pursuant
to Local Rule 230(g) and took the matter under submission.
(Doc. 379). Having carefully considered the parties'
submissions, as well as the entire record in this case, the
Court (1) GRANTS IN PART Plaintiffs' Motion for
Attorneys' Fees and Costs and awards Plaintiffs
$1, 141, 865.70 in attorneys'
fees and $108, 078.47 in costs for
a total award of $1, 249, 944.17,
and (2) ORDERS Defendants to bear their own fees and costs.
Factual and Procedural Background
March 28, 2009, Stephen Willis was fatally shot by Defendants
Greg Catton and Daniel Astacio, who are Officers with the
Fresno Police Department. Stephen Willis's parents, Chris
and Mary Willis (“Plaintiffs”), alleged that
Stephen Willis's Fourth Amendment rights were violated as
a result of the shooting. Plaintiffs further alleged that
Officer Catton and Officer Astacio were negligent in causing
the death of Stephen Willis.
over four years of extensive litigation and a ten-day jury
trial, the jury returned a verdict finding that Officer
Catton used excessive force in violation of Stephen's
Fourth Amendment rights, and Officer Catton was negligent in
causing Stephen's death. The jury found Officer Astacio
was not liable on Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment and
negligence claims. On Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claim,
the jury awarded $1 in nominal damages. On Plaintiffs'
wrongful death claim, the jury awarded funeral and burial
expenses in the amount of $10, 224.00, and further awarded
Plaintiffs $1, 500, 000.00 in compensatory damages. However,
the jury found that Stephen Willis was 80% comparatively at
fault in causing his injuries. Accordingly, on January 31,
2014, the Court entered judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs,
and awarded Plaintiffs $1 on Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment
claim, and $302, 044.80 (20% of $1, 510.224.00) on
Plaintiffs' wrongful death claim. (Doc. 251).
Determination of the Initial Fee Request
the verdict and post-trial motions, Plaintiffs filed a Motion
for Attorneys' Fees on May 14, 2014, seeking $2, 590,
173.75 in fees (lodestar fees of $1, 726, 782.50 with a 1.5
multiplier), and costs in the amount of $197, 490.57 for over
3, 500 hours of work performed by eight attorneys and two
legal assistants. (Doc. 299, Attach. 1). Defendants opposed
the fee request, asserting that Plaintiffs were not entitled
to any attorneys' fees based on the nominal damages
awarded on Plaintiffs' Fourth Amendment claim, but in the
alternative, Defendants argued that the unreasonableness of
both Plaintiffs' requested hourly rate and the number of
hours Plaintiffs' counsel expended on the litigation
warranted a significant reduction in requested costs. (Doc.
17, 2014, the Court granted the Initial Fee Motion in part
(“Initial Fee Order”), awarding $717, 642.74 in
attorneys' fees and $106, 852.20 in costs. The Court
ruled that Plaintiffs are prevailing parties entitled to
attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. But the
Court made minor reductions to the hours claimed based on
limited instances of impermissible block billing. (Doc. 316
at 26-28). The Court also ruled that Plaintiffs failed to
prove that the rates requested were reasonable because they
were improperly based on San Francisco hourly rates rather
than hourly rates in the local Fresno legal community. (Doc.
316 at 14-18). Further, the Court also denied Plaintiffs'
request for a lodestar enhancement and instead made a 35%
across-the-board downward adjustment to the lodestar
calculation given the limited success achieved by Plaintiffs.
Ninth Circuit Mandate
timely appealed the jury verdict and this Court's
“determination of Plaintiffs reasonable hourly
rates” and the “reduction to the lodestar amount
in granting Plaintiffs award for attorney's fees.”
(Doc. 329). On appeal, the Ninth Circuit affirmed all aspects
of the trial court proceedings, except this Court's
refusal to permit pre-death pain and suffering damages.
See Willis v. City of Fresno, 680 Fed.App'x.589,
592 (9th Cir. 2017); (Doc. 343 at 5). The Ninth Circuit
issued an opinion vacating this Court's judgment on
Plaintiffs' 28 U.S.C. §1983 claim and remanded the
case so that Plaintiffs “may present evidence in
support of their claim for pre- death pain and suffering
damages, ” in light of the intervening change of
controlling law established in Chaudhry v. City of Los
Angeles, 751 F.3d 1096, 1105 (9th Cir. 2014).
Ninth Circuit also remanded the matter for reconsideration of
attorneys' fees and costs consistent with its ruling that
Plaintiffs were entitled to seek damages for pre-death pain
and suffering as follows:
We decline to rule on plaintiff's contentions that the
district court abused its discretion by reducing
counsel's hourly rates and by imposing an
across-the-board 35% reduction. The district court should
revisit these issues following the limited re-trial on the
issue of pre-death pain and suffering damages.
(Doc. 343 at 7).
Proceedings Following Remand
remand, the parties stipulated to a bench trial on the
remaining pre-death damages issues with briefing and based
upon evidence already in the record. (Docs. 348, 353). This
Court issued findings of fact and conclusions of law and
awarded Plaintiffs an additional $25, 000 for Stephen
Willis's pre-death pain and suffering. (Doc. 251.)
Following the bench trial, this Court also ordered:
Consistent with the Ninth Circuit's instruction that this
court revisit its decision to reduce counsel's hourly
rates and to impose an across-the-board 35% reduction (Doc.
343), [Plaintiffs shall file a renewed motion for
attorneys' fees.] Any motion for attorneys' fees and
costs shall be filed by December 20, 2017. The motion should
be full and complete, in and of itself, and include any prior
requests Plaintiffs wish the Court to consider.
Additional Fees and Costs Sought on Remand
renewed Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs following
remand seeks an award of $1, 790, 307.50 in attorneys'
fees, and an award of costs of $108, 078.47. (Doc. 376-1,
Appendix A). This amount includes $1, 726, 782.50 in lodestar
fees as of May 2014; fees in the amount of $21, 675.00 for
attorney work performed in opposing Defendants' writ of
certiorari to the Supreme Court; fees in the amount of $32,
737.50 for attorney work in connection with the pre-death
pain and suffering bench trial; and an additional $9, 112.50
for preparing the renewed motion for attorneys' fees.
(Doc. 376 at 1-2). Unlike the Initial Fee Motion,
Plaintiffs' do not seek a multiplier on their lodestar
fees in the renewed motion. With respect to costs, Plaintiffs
seek $106, 852.20 that the Court previously awarded in the
Initial Fee Order and additional costs of $1, 226.27 incurred
since that award in May 2014.