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Roberts v. City and County of Honolulu

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

September 12, 2019

Andrew Namiki Roberts, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City and County of Honolulu, Defendant-Appellee.

          Argued and Submitted October 9, 2018 Honolulu, Hawaii

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Hawaii Alan C. Kay, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 1:15-cv-00467-ACK-RLP

          Richard L. Holcomb (argued), Holcomb Law LLC, Honolulu, Hawaii; Alan Beck, San Diego, California; for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Nicolette Winter (argued) and Curtis E. Sherwood, Deputy Corporation Counsel, Department of the Corporation Counsel, Honolulu, Hawaii, for Defendant-Appellee.

          Before: Kim McLane Wardlaw, Marsha S. Berzon, and Johnnie B. Rawlinson, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Civil Rights/Attorney's Fees

         The panel vacated the district court's award of attorney's fees, following the settlement of a civil rights action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and remanded.

         The panel held that plaintiff received substantially all of his requested relief in the settlement agreement. As a result, as the prevailing party, he was entitled to reasonable attorney's fees. The panel held that the district court failed to apply the correct legal standard in determining the prevailing attorney hourly rate. Specifically, the panel held that the district court's wholesale rejection of the relevant attorney declarations submitted by plaintiffs and the court's singular reliance on the hourly rates previously awarded to plaintiffs in unrelated cases departed from the correct legal standard and constituted legal error, resulting in an abuse of discretion. The panel remanded for the district court to determine a reasonable hourly rate, adduced by examining rates for comparable work performed by attorneys in the relevant community with similar skill, experience, and reputation.

         The panel further remanded for the district court to make a specific finding regarding when the settlement agreement was sufficiently final for purposes of determining whether plaintiffs were entitled to compensation for unfiled motions.

          OPINION

          RAWLINSON, Circuit Judge

         Andrew Roberts (Roberts) appeals the district court's award of attorney's fees to his counsel, Richard Holcomb (Holcomb) and Alan Beck (Beck), following settlement of a civil rights action. Specifically, Roberts contends that (1) the district court applied an erroneous legal standard, and (2) the district court abused its discretion in denying fees for work performed before the settlement agreement was finalized. Because we agree that the district court did not apply the correct legal standard for awarding legal fees, we vacate and remand for application of the correct legal standard. We also remand for the district court to make a specific finding regarding when the settlement agreement became final.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Roberts, a permanent resident of the United States, filed a civil rights action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the City and County of Honolulu (the City). In his complaint, Roberts alleged that the City violated his rights under the Second, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution when it denied Roberts a firearm permit pursuant to a City policy requiring ...


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