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Navarro. DHL Global Forwarding

United States District Court, C.D. California

May 21, 2018


          Present: The Honorable CHRISTINA A. SNYDER Judge.


         Proceedings: (IN CHAMBERS) - PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES (Dkt. 124, filed March 23, 2018)


         On April 10, 2015, plaintiff Salvador Navarro filed this employment discrimination action in Los Angeles County Superior Court against defendant DHL Forwarding and Does 1-50 inclusive. Dkt. 1-1. Defendant removed the case to this Court on July 21, 2015. Dkt. 1. On March 6, 2017, the Court granted in part and denied in part defendant's motion for summary judgment. Dkt. 43. On May 9, 2017, the case proceeded to a jury trial on five claims: (1) wrongful termination in violation of public policy, (2) failure to reasonably accommodate plaintiff's disability in violation of California's Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”), Cal. Gov. Code §§ 12900 et seq., (3) failure to engage in an interactive process in violation of FEHA, (4) failure to take all reasonable steps to prevent discrimination in violation of FEHA, and (5) disability discrimination in violation of FEHA. Dkts. 50, 60. On May 17, 2017, the jury returned a verdict for plaintiff on all five claims and awarded him $1, 530, 000 in damages. Dkt. 83. On October 4, 2017, the Court denied defendant's post-trial motions. Dkt. 95. The Court entered judgment on March 13, 2018. Dkt. 122.

         On March 23, 2018, plaintiff filed the above-captioned motion for attorneys' fees. Dkt. 124 (“Mot.”). On April 4, 2018, defendant filed its opposition, dkt. 125 (“Opp'n”); and plaintiff filed a reply on April 9, 2018, dkt. 128 (“Reply”). The Court held a hearing on April 30, 2018. Having carefully considered the parties' arguments, the Court finds and concludes as follows.


         Under FEHA, the Court has discretion to award reasonable attorneys' fees to the prevailing party. Cal. Gov't Code § 12965(b). Generally, “[a]bsent circumstances rendering the award unjust, an attorney fee award should ordinarily include compensation for all the hours reasonably spent in litigating the action to a successful conclusion.” Horsford v. Bd. of Trustees of Cal. State Univ., 132 Cal.App.4th 359, 394 (2005) (citations and internal quotations omitted) (emphasis in original). In order to accomplish the legislative purpose of “assuring the availability of counsel to bring meritorious actions under FEHA, the goal of an award of attorney's fees is to fix a fee at the fair market value for a particular action.” Id. at 394 (citing Ketchum v. Moses, 24 Cal.4th 1122, 1132 (2001)) (internal quotations omitted).

         Both federal and California courts have adopted the lodestar method for calculating reasonable attorneys' fees. Chavez v. City of Los Angeles, 47 Cal.4th 970, 984-85 (2010). The lodestar is the product of the hours counsel reasonably spent on the case and a reasonable hourly rate. Greene v. Dillingham Constr. N.A. Inc., 101 Cal.App.4th 418, 422 (2002). In determining whether the plaintiff's claimed hours are reasonable, a court must review attorneys' time records to determine whether the hours are adequately documented in a manner that can be properly billed directly to clients. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-34 (1983). The court must assess whether the hours claimed are vague, block-billed, excessive or duplicative, or whether the hours in their entirety must be reduced because of limited success in the action. Cotton v. City of Eureka, 889 F.Supp.2d 1154, 1176 (N.D. Cal. 2012); Chavez, 47 Cal.4th at 989. To assist the court with this exercise of its discretion, “[t]he fee applicant has the burden of producing satisfactory evidence, in addition to the affidavits of its counsel, that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services of lawyers of reasonably comparable skill and reputation.” Jordan v. Multnomah County, 815 F.2d 1258, 1263 (9th Cir. 1987).

         In calculating the lodestar amount, the court considers any relevant factors listed in Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67 (9th Cir. 1975), cert. denied, 425 U.S. 951 (1976).[1] To the extent that the Kerr factors are not addressed in the calculation of the lodestar, they may be considered in determining whether the fee award should be adjusted upward or downward with a multiplier, once the lodestar has been calculated. Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1212 (9th Cir. 1986). However, there is a strong presumption that the lodestar figure represents a reasonable fee. Jordan, 815 F.2d at 1262.


         Plaintiff seeks an award of attorneys' fees in the amount of $522, 112.50 for James A. Otto (“Otto”) and $103, 837.50 for Regina Ashkinadze (“Ashkinadze”) adjusted by a multiplier of 2.5, which brings the total requested fees to $1, 564, 875. Defendant argues there is no reasonable basis to apply a multiplier in this case and asks the Court to exclude excessive, redundant and otherwise non-recoverable fees.

         A. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         In determining a reasonable hourly rate, a court should look to the prevailing market rates in the relevant legal community. Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 551 (2010). By multiplying this rate by the number of hours expended on the litigation, the fee award will “roughly approximate[ ] the fee that the prevailing attorney would have received if he or she had been representing a paying client who was billed by the hour in a comparable case.” Id. In determining a reasonable hourly rate, a district court should consider “the experience, skill, and reputation of the attorney requesting fees.” Chalmers, 796 F.2d at 1210; see also Moreno v. City of Sacramento, 534 F.3d 1106, 1114 (9th Cir. 2008) (factors to consider include the novelty and difficulty of the issues, the experience of counsel, and fee awards in similar cases).

         In support of the attorneys' fees request, plaintiff submits declarations by his counsel in addition to five declarations by trial attorneys practicing in employment and general litigation in the Los Angeles area. See dkt. 124-1. Plaintiff's requested lodestar amount is based on an hourly billing rate of $650 per hour for Otto and $450 per hour for Ashkinadze. Mot. at 16. Otto is a sole practitioner with over 28 years of employment litigation experience. Declaration of James A. Otto (“Otto Decl.”) ¶¶ 3-6. Ashkinadze, also a sole practitioner, has 10 years of employment and civil rights litigation experience. Declaration of Regina Ashkinadze (“Ashkinadze Decl.”) ¶¶ 3-6. Todd F. Nevell, Mark Lieber, Ali Moghaddami, Loren Nizinski and Stephen C. Ball submitted declarations stating that the requested rates are reasonable for attorneys of similar skill, experience, and reputation for work of similar complexity. Dkt. 124-1. Defendant does not dispute ...

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