Becker v. Arco Chemical Co., CIV. A. 95-7191.

Decision Date22 July 1998
Docket NumberNo. CIV. A. 95-7191.,CIV. A. 95-7191.
Citation15 F.Supp.2d 621
PartiesWilliam BECKER, Plaintiff, v. ARCO CHEMICAL COMPANY, Defendant.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Pennsylvania

George P. Wood, Stewart Wood & Branca, Carmen R. Matos, Stewart, Wood & Branca, Norristown, PA, for Plaintiff.

Maureen M. Rayborn, Daniel V. Johns, Ballard, Spahr, Andrews & Ingersoll, Philadelphia, PA, for Defendant.


EDUARDO C. ROBRENO, District Judge.

This is an age discrimination case. After an eleven-day trial, the jury awarded plaintiff $736,000 in damages. Presently before the Court are plaintiff counsel's petition for $562,421.25 in attorney's fees and $36,613.95 in costs, and plaintiff's motion to mold the verdict to include post-trial interest, and pre-trial interest on the back pay award, and to reflect tax consequences suffered by plaintiff. Defendant opposes the petition for attorney's fees and costs as excessive, and objects to the Court molding the verdict. For the reasons which follow, the Court will grant counsel attorney's fees in the reduced amount of $313,125.70, costs in the reduced amount of $26,738.84, and will mold the verdict to include pre-trial interest on the back pay award. The Court also grants the plaintiff post-trial interest on the entire verdict.


The plaintiff, William P. Becker ("Becker") sued his former employer, ARCO, for age discrimination in connection with his discharge from employment. Specifically, Becker alleged in a three-count complaint that the conduct of ARCO employees violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA") and the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act ("PHRA"), and constituted intentional infliction of emotional distress. The Court granted summary judgment in favor of ARCO on the claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress. The remaining claims under the ADEA and the PHRA proceeded to trial.

At the conclusion of an eleven-day jury trial, at which twenty-one witnesses testified, the jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff. Becker was awarded $186,095 in back pay damages, $380,000 in front pay damages, and $170,000 in compensatory damages. The jury declined to award punitive or liquidated damages. In accordance with the verdict, the Court entered judgment in favor of plaintiff in the amount of $736,095 on November 3, 1998.

Following the conclusion of trial, plaintiff's counsel ("counsel") filed a petition for $562,421.25 in attorney's fees and $36,613.95 in costs. The $562,421.25 in attorney's fees is comprised of $434,500 in attorney's fees related to litigation, a 20% fee enhancement amounting to $86,900, $24,996.25 in overtime, and $16,025 in fees relating to the preparation of the fee petition.


A plaintiff who has prevailed on the merits of his ADEA claim is entitled to an award of attorney's fees pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 626(b). See Blum v. Witco Chem. Corp., 829 F.2d 367, 377 (3d Cir.1987). "The court in such action shall, in addition to any judgment awarded to the plaintiff or plaintiffs, allow a reasonable attorney's fee to be paid by the defendant, and costs of the action." 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) (1965 & Supp.1998) (as incorporated by 29 U.S.C. § 626(b)).

"The ADEA prohibits age discrimination in employment against any person over age forty. Because the prohibition against age discrimination contained in the ADEA is similar in text, tone, and purpose to that contained in Title VII, courts routinely look to law developed under Title VII to guide an inquiry under the ADEA." Brewer v. Quaker State Oil Refining Corp., 72 F.3d 326, 330 (3d Cir.1995) (citations omitted). The Third Circuit has noted that "[s]ince [42 U.S.C.] § 1988 is similar in purpose and design to § 706(k) of Title VII [which provides for recovery of attorney's fees and costs], cases interpreting § 1988 can be applied to § 706(k) as well." Sullivan v. Commonwealth of Pa. Dep't of Labor and Indus., Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation, 663 F.2d 443, 447 n. 5 (3d Cir.1981) (citations omitted).

Because the principles of Title VII jurisprudence would apply in deciding substantive issues in ADEA cases, the same principles should also apply in determining the reasonableness of attorney's fees and costs. The Court therefore finds that cases interpreting 42 U.S.C. § 1988 can be applied to 29 U.S.C. § 626(b) as well.

B. Loadstar Method

The calculus in determining the amount of attorney's fees a prevailing party is entitled to receive in a civil rights action is well-settled. "The initial estimate of a reasonable attorney's fee is properly calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation [by] a reasonable hourly rate." Blum v.. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 888, 104 S.Ct. 1541, 79 L.Ed.2d 891 (1984) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40(1983)). This estimate is called the "lodestar." Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir.1990). Procedurally,

[t]he party seeking attorney's fees has the burden to prove that its request for attorney's fees is reasonable. To meet its burden, the fee petitioner must submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed. In a statutory fee case, the party opposing the fee award then has the burden to challenge by affidavit or brief with sufficient specificity to give fee applicants notice, the reasonableness of the requested fee. The district court cannot decrease a fee award based on factors not raised at all by the adverse party. Once the adverse party raises objections to the fee request, the district court has a great deal of discretion to adjust the fee award in light of those objections.

Id. (internal citations and quotations omitted). Even after calculating the lodestar, "[h]owever, the district court has the discretion to make certain adjustments to the lodestar," if the party opposing the fee petition has met its "burden of proving that an adjustment is necessary." Id. (citations omitted). Thus, a court makes two reasonableness determinations: the hourly rate and the number of hours expended by the attorneys.

C. Reasonableness of the Hourly Rate
1. Community Market Rate

The Supreme Court has held that the reasonable hourly rates applicable to the labors of attorneys for a prevailing party should be "the prevailing market rate[ ] in the relevant community." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. at 895, 104 S.Ct. 1541. Yet, the Supreme Court also cautioned that:

[m]arket prices of commodities and most services are determined by supply and demand. In this traditional sense there is no such thing as a prevailing market rate for the service of lawyers in a particular community. The type of services rendered by lawyers, as well as their experience, skill and reputation, varies extensively — even within a law firm. Accordingly, the hourly rates of lawyers in private practice also vary widely. The fees charged often are based on the product of hours devoted to the representation multiplied by the lawyer's customary rate. But the fee usually is discussed with the client, may be negotiated, and it is the client who pays whether he wins or loses. The § 1988 fee determination is made by the court in an entirely different setting: there is no negotiation or even discussion with the prevailing client, as the fee — found to be reasonable by the court — is paid by the losing party. Nevertheless, as shown in the text above, the critical inquiry in determining reasonableness is now generally recognized as the appropriate hourly rate. And the rates charged in private representations may afford relevant comparisons.

In seeking some basis for a standard, courts properly have required prevailing attorneys to justify the reasonableness of the requested rate or rates. To inform and assist the court in the exercise of its discretion, the burden is on the fee applicant to produce satisfactory evidence — in addition to the attorney's 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. A rate determined in this way is normally deemed to be reasonable, and is referred to — for convenience — as the prevailing market rate.

Id. at 895 n. 11, 104 S.Ct. 1541. Thus, the Supreme Court recognized the "inherent difficulty" in determining a "market rate" for legal services when, in reality, there exists no "market" in the conventional sense of "economic activity in which buyers and sellers come together and the forces of supply and demand affect prices." Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary 728 (1988). See Paul A. Samuelson, Economics 53 (1980) ("[T]he market price reaches its competitive equilibrium ... where the forces of demand and supply are just in balance.").

In this circuit, the leading authority for determining the prevailing "market rate" is Student Pub. Interest Research Group of New Jersey, Inc. v. AT & T Bell Labs., 842 F.2d 1436 (3d Cir.1988) [hereinafter SPIRG]. In SPIRG the hourly rate charged by a law firm that handled only public interest cases was lower than the rate commanded by "conventional firms performing work of equivalent complexity." Id. at 1438. The Third Circuit held that "the community billing rate charged by attorneys of equivalent skill and experience performing work of similar complexity, rather than the firm's billing rate, is the appropriate hourly rate for computing the lodestar." Id. at 1450. To determine the "community market rate," the Third Circuit directed courts "to assess the experience and skill of the attorneys and compare their rates to those of comparable lawyers in the private business sphere." Id. at 1447 (emphasis added); see also Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183 ("Thus, the court should assess the experience and skill of the prevailing party's attorneys and...

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