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Chapman v. Jacobs

United States District Court, E.D. California

September 6, 2019

MARK C. JACOBS, Defendant.



         Before the court is plaintiff's Motion for Reasonable Attorneys' Fees, Including Costs and Litigation Expenses. (Docket No. 29.) Plaintiff Byron Chapman is a physically handicapped person who brought this action based on barriers he encountered at defendant Mark Jacob's law office. Plaintiff alleged violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq., California Health & Safety Code § 19955, and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act, California Civil Code § 51, et seq. The parties settled the case and defendant agreed that plaintiff, as a prevailing party, is entitled to reasonable attorney's fees and costs, as to be determined by the court. This matter was taken under submission pursuant to Local Rule 230(g).

         “The ADA authorizes a court to award attorneys' fees, litigation expenses, and costs to a prevailing party.” Lovell v. Chandler, 303 F.3d 1039, 1058 (9th Cir. 2002); see 42 U.S.C. § 12205. The court also may award attorney's fees to the prevailing party in a suit brought under the Unruh Act. See Cal. Civ. Code §§ 52(a) & 55.55.

         The court calculates the reasonable amount of attorney's fees by following a two-step process. First, the court determines the lodestar calculation -- “the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Second, the court may adjust the lodestar figure “pursuant to a variety of factors.” Gonzalez v. City of Maywood, 729 F.3d 1196, 1209 (9th Cir. 2013) (citation and internal punctuation omitted). There is a strong presumption that the lodestar amount is reasonable. Fischer v. SJB-P.D. Inc., 214 F.3d 1115, 1119 n.4 (9th Cir. 2000). In determining the size of an appropriate fee award, the court need not “achieve auditing perfection.” Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 838 (2011). The court may use estimates and “take into account [its] overall sense of a suit” to determine a reasonable attorney's fee. Id.

         I. Lodestar Computation

         A. Reasonable Number of Hours

         “The prevailing party has the burden of submitting billing records to establish that the number of hours it has requested are reasonable.” Gonzalez, 729 F.3d at 1202. The court may reduce the hours “where documentation of the hours is inadequate; if the case was overstaffed and hours are duplicated; [or] if the hours expended are deemed excessive or otherwise unnecessary.” Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210 (9th Cir. 1986).

         Plaintiff submitted a billing summary itemizing time spent by attorneys Thomas Frankovich and Amanda Lockhart. (Decl. of Thomas Frankovich (“Frankovich Decl.”), Ex. F (Docket No. 30-4).) Plaintiff requests a total of $62, 050 in attorney's fees for 87 hours of work. (Id.) The billing summary shows that Frankovich billed 79 hours and Lockhart billed 8 hours, though defendant maintains that numerous time entries are excessive, redundant, unnecessary, or otherwise more appropriately performed by non-billing staff.

         Frankovich's time sheet proves to be of little help to the court. He does not indicate whether the time for the individual entries is listed in hours or minutes. If the time indicated is in hours, the individual entries add up to a total number of hours far greater than the 79 hours he claims. Indeed, it appears to the court that many of these time entries are missing decimal points or otherwise overestimated. However, the court cannot discern which entries are listed incorrectly and in which ways. Due to these deficiencies with Frankovich's time sheet, the court in its discretion takes a holistic approach in examining his claimed entries. See Fox, 563 U.S. at 838-39.

         Taking this approach, the court reduces Frankovich's total time spent on this case, including the fee application, to 39 hours, which is far more consistent with the expectation he set at the settlement conference.[1] (See Decl. of Elizabeth Stallard ¶ 10 (Docket No. 35-1).) Moreover, looking at the individual entries, it appears that Frankovich overbilled for his work in this case. He has billed for clerical tasks, such as phone calls and emails to the court, for which he cannot recover, at least not a normal attorney's billing rate. See Missouri v. Jenkins by Agyei, 491 U.S. 274, 288 & n.10(1989); Yates v. Vishal Corp., No. 11-CV-00643-JCS, 2014 WL 572528, at *6 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 4, 2014) (disallowing fees billed for purely clerical or secretarial tasks). He has also overbilled for filings, like plaintiff's complaint, remedial letters, and the pretrial statement, that appear to be boilerplate and resemble what he has produced in similar cases. See Johnson v. Xinliang Bai, No. 2:16-cv-1698 WBS GGH, 2017 WL 3334006, at *2 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 4, 2017) (reducing time entries under similar circumstances). Further, he has billed a number of hours related to his consultation with Scottlynn Hubbard, a purported expert on attorney's fees. As will be explained below, the court will not allow plaintiff to recover for any time related to Hubbard's work in this case.

         By contrast, the individual time entries presented for Lockhart are much easier to discern and add up to the eight hours she claims. While defendant maintains that Lockhart spent some of her time on purely secretarial tasks, the court finds the claimed time to be reasonably expended on the case. For instance, any time Lockhart spent on emails appears to relate to the merits of plaintiff's case.

         Having made the above reductions, the court finds that plaintiffs' attorneys reasonably expended a total of 47 hours.

         B. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         The reasonable hourly rate is determined according to “the prevailing market rates in the relevant community, ” Blum v. Stenson,465 U.S. 866, 895 (1984), “for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation, ” Chalmers, 796 F.2d at 1210-11. The relevant legal community “is the forum in which the district court sits, ” Prison Legal News v. ...

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