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Castillo-Antonio v. Bueno

United States District Court, N.D. California

September 13, 2019




         Plaintiff Jose Daniel Castillo-Antonio (“Plaintiff”), a physically disabled person, and Defendant Guadalupe Antonio Bueno (“Defendant Bueno”), the owner and operator of Tacos Sinaloa, reached a settlement agreement after Plaintiff sued Defendant for multiple Americans with Disabilities Act violations, claiming that Bueno's business was inaccessible to Plaintiff and others. (Dkt. No. 43.)[1]'[2] Now before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees. (Dkt. No. 46). After careful consideration of the parties' briefing, and having had the benefit of oral argument on August 29, 2019, the Court GRANTS in part Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees because the total hours sought are not reasonable.


         I. Complaint Allegations & Procedural History

         On July 30, 2018, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Guadalupe Antonio Bueno, Anh Chan, Don Chan, Judy Chan, Richard Chan, and Golden Valley & Associates, Inc. (Dkt. No. 1.) The complaint alleged that Tacos Sinaloa, a taco truck in Oakland, California, was subject to the “‘readily achievable' barrier removal requirements of Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.” (Id. at ¶ 1.) The complaint also alleged several other related state code violations, including violations of the California Civil Code and the California Health and Safety Code. Plaintiff, who requires use of a wheelchair, alleged barriers such as improper parking spaces, inaccessible routes from parking space to entry of the food service area, too high of a service counter, steep ramps, and too small of a bathroom. (Id. at ¶¶ 4-5.) These barriers interfered with Plaintiff's access to the facilities at Tacos Sinaloa, depriving him of full and equal enjoyment of the services, facilities and privileges, and causing him embarrassment and humiliation. (Id. at ¶ 5.) Defendants were parties that Plaintiff believed owned, operated, possessed, built, and kept Tacos Sinaloa. (Id. at ¶ 8.) Plaintiff sought injunctive relief, damages, and litigation expenses. (Id. at Prayer for Relief ¶¶ 1-8.)

         The Clerk of Court entered default as to Golden Valley & Associates, Inc., Don Chan, Judy Chan, Richard Chan, and Anh Chan on September 18, 2018 for failing to appear after service. (Dkt. No. 12.) The entry of default as to Golden Valley & Associates, Inc. was subsequently vacated following the parties' stipulation, (see Dkt. No. 26), and the Court granted the parties' stipulated dismissal with prejudice as to Golden Valley & Associates, Inc. on July 29, 2019, (see Dkt. No. 49).

         As relevant to the instant motion, on September 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed a motion to strike Bueno's answer and affirmative defenses. (See Dkt. No. 13.) The Court issued an Order addressing that motion on November 26, 2018, directing the parties to comply with General Order 56 and ordering Bueno to file an amended answer. (Dkt. No. 32.) Bueno did so on December 11, 2018. (Dkt. No. 35.) On June 4, 2019, the parties attended an ADR session where they partially settled the case and agreed that attorney's fees would be decided by a separate motion. (Dkt. No. 43.) Plaintiff filed the instant motion for attorney's fees on July 15, 2019. (Dkt. No. 46.) The motion is fully briefed, (Dkt. Nos. 50, 51, 54), [3] and the Court heard oral argument on August 29, 2019. (Dkt. No. 55.)


         I. Attorney's Fees Under the ADA

         Plaintiff's claim arose under the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 (“ADA”) and related state laws. The ADA permits the “prevailing party” to seek attorneys' fees and costs. 42 U.S.C. § 12205. A plaintiff “prevails” when he or she enters into a legally enforceable settlement agreement against the defendant. Barrios v. Cal. Interscholastic Fed'n, 277 F.3d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir. 2002).

         To calculate an award of attorneys' fees, district courts apply “the lodestar method, multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate.” Ryan v. Editions Ltd. W., Inc., 786 F.3d 754, 763 (9th Cir. 2015) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). “A reasonable hourly rate is ordinarily the prevailing market rate in the relevant community.” Kelly v. Wengler, 822 F.3d 1085, 1099 (9th Cir. 2016) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). “[T]he burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory evidence-in addition to the attorneys' own affidavits-that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.” Camancho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 980 (9th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

         The party requesting fees also bears “the burden of submitting billing records to establish that the number of hours” requested are reasonable. Gonzalez v. City of Maywood, 729 F.3d 1196, 1202 (9th Cir. 2013). The number of hours should not exceed the number of hours reasonably competent counsel would bill for similar services. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. Courts may reduce the hours expended “where documentation of the hours is inadequate; if the case was overstaffed and hours are duplicated; if the hours expended are deemed excessive or otherwise unnecessary.” Chalmers v. City of Los Angeles, 796 F.2d 1205, 1210 (9th Cir. 1986) (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433-34).

         The Ninth Circuit has identified several factors courts should consider in determining the reasonableness of the number of hours expended and the hourly rate charged, including: (1) the “experience, reputation, and ability of the attorney”; (2) “the outcome of the results of the proceedings”; (3) “the customary fees”; and (4) “the novelty or the difficulty of the question presented.” Id. (citing Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1975), abrogated on other grounds by City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557 (1992)).

         II. Amount Requested

         Plaintiff requests $21, 700.00 in attorney's fees. (Dkt. No. 46 at ¶ 1.) In support of the requested amount, Plaintiff's counsel, Mr. Mac Bride, submits a declaration with exhibits, including an itemized list of counsel's activities and the corresponding hours for his work in this case. (Dkt. No. 46-2, Ex. 1.) The total amount requested constitutes 62 hours at $350 per hour; that total includes the time spent on the instant motion. (Id. at 3.) Defendant opposes the amount requested and asks the Court to reduce the requested fees to a “reasonable, noninflated amount.” (Dkt. No. 50 at 19). The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff is due a fee award. Accordingly, the Court addresses the reasonableness of the hours expended and the requested rate in turn, below, and concludes that a reduction in the hours expended is warranted.

         a. Reasonableness of Hours Expended

         Defendant challenges the hours expended as “inflated” and/or unreasonable based on the time spent on the following tasks: (1) drafting the complaint; (2) litigating with dismissed defendant Golden Valley; (3) researching and drafting the September 2018 motion to strike affirmative defenses; (4) communicating with Plaintiff; (5) reviewing the site inspection reports; (6) reading emails; (7) reviewing Defendant's amended answer; and (8) drafting the instant motion. (See Dkt. No. 50 at 12-18.) The Court address each item in turn.

         1. The Complaint

         Mr. Mac Bride asserts that he spent 4.7 hours drafting the complaint. (See Dkt. No. 46-2, Ex. 1 at 1.) Defendant argues that it could not have taken Plaintiff 4.7 hours to draft because it is “basically a simple ‘cut and paste' document” similar to “the 200 complaints that Plaintiff has filed in this court.” (Id. at 12.) Defendant includes as exhibits to its opposition the complaints in four recent cases in this District involving Plaintiff and Plaintiff's counsel. (See Dkt. Nos. 50-1 - 50-4, Exs. 1-4.) Defendant also cites other district court cases in the Ninth Circuit where the court reduced the amount of time “frequent ...

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