Kelly v. Wengler

Decision Date20 February 2014
Docket NumberCase No. 1:11–CV–185–S–EJL.
Citation7 F.Supp.3d 1069
CourtU.S. District Court — District of Idaho
PartiesJoshua KELLY, Jose Piña, Andrew Ibarra, Ray Barrios, Randy Enziminger, Michael Miera, Prisoner A, and Prisoner F, Individually and on behalf of a class of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. Timothy WENGLER, and Corrections Corporation of America, Inc., Defendants.

Richard Alan Eppink, American Civil Liberties Union of Idaho Foundation, James D. Huegli, Attorney at Law, Boise, ID, Stephen L. Pevar, American Civil Liberties Union, Hartford, CT, for Plaintiffs.

Daniel Patrick Struck, Tara B. Zoellner, Timothy J. Bojanowski, Struck, Wieneke & Love, P.L.C., Chandler, AZ, Gary Harold Burger, Lisa S. Wahlin, Jones Skelton & Hochuli PLC, Phoenix, AZ, James R. Stoll, Kirtlan G. Naylor, Naylor & Hales, P.C., Boise, ID, for Defendants.


DAVID O. CARTER, District Judge.

Before the Court are the Plaintiffs' motions for attorneys' fees and costs. See Dkts. 96, 102. The Court finds this matter suitable for decision without oral argument. After considering the moving and responding papers, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' motions.

I. Factual and Procedural Background

In April 2011, Plaintiffs filed a class action complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief. Plaintiffs alleged that the level of violence at the Idaho Correctional Center (ICC) violated Plaintiffs' and other inmates' constitutional rights. See Amended Class Action Complaint (“Compl.”) (Dkt. 1). ICC is run by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), a private corporation that contracted with the Idaho Department of Corrections (“IDOC”) to operate ICC. After extensive settlement talks and before class certification, the parties agreed to settle the case and signed a Settlement Agreement. See Settlement Agreement (Dkt. 25 Ex. A). One of the terms of the Settlement Agreement stated that CCA would “agree to comply with the staffing pattern pursuant to CCA's contract with [IDOC].” Settlement Agreement ¶ 4. The Settlement Agreement set out a dispute resolution procedure that included submission of disputes to this Court for resolution. See Settlement Agreement ¶ 15. The Settlement Agreement was set to expire two years from its date of signature, placing its initial termination date in September 2013. Id. ¶ 16. The Settlement Agreement also provided that, should this Court find a material breach of the Settlement Agreement, the Court may award attorneys' fees and costs. Id. ¶ 23.

In December 2012, CCA discovered possible problems with the staffing at ICC. While investigating a harassment claim, CCA found evidence that mandatory posts in ICC were going vacant. See Pls' Ex. 130. On January 23, 2013, the investigator on the harassment matter raised the issue with CCA's assistant general counsel, Scott Craddock. Craddock determined the allegation of falsified staffing hours was credible, and informed IDOC and then-Warden Wengler. CCA hired a law firm to oversee the investigation. In March 2013, the law firm verified that falsifications had taken place. On April 9, 2013, CCA informed state police, the attorney general, and IDOC.

On April 11, 2013, IDOC and CCA each issued a press release about the investigation. CCA's press release stated that the corporation had “concluded an extensive internal investigation of staffing records” and “determined that during a seven-month period last year there were some inaccuracies.” CCA Press Release, Pls' Ex. 106. The press release further stated that CCA would compensate the state for any identified unverified staffing hours, and that [t]he unverified hours represent a fraction of the total staffing requirements, and there was no apparent increase in violence or other security incidents during the period in question.” Id. IDOC's press release, Pls' Ex. 105, provided additional details. It noted that there were nearly 4,800 hours over seven months for which records indicated a correctional officer was staffing a security post that was actually vacant. IDOC announced that CCA acknowledged falsification of staffing records and that Idaho State Police would examine the findings and evidence to review whether a criminal investigation was justified.

In June 2013, Plaintiffs initiated contempt proceedings against CCA. See Motions (Dkts. 39–40). On July 16, 2013, CCA sent Plaintiffs an email offering a settlement with three provisions: 1) an extension of the Settlement Agreement until June 30, 2014; 2) a specific individual named in the offer would act as independent monitor to review ICC staffing for the remainder of the Settlement Agreement; and 3) payment of Plaintiffs' reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred in moving for contempt.

See Reply Ex. 1.

The Court granted expedited discovery and held a contempt hearing on August 7 and 8, 2013. On September 16, 2013, the Court issued a memorandum decision and order, 979 F.Supp.2d 1104, 2013 WL 5797310 (Memorandum Decision) (Dkt. 76) finding CCA in contempt, extending the Settlement Agreement for two years, setting a system for sanctions if compliance did not improve, and implementing compliance monitoring. The Court instructed the parties to agree to a monitor and directed Plaintiffs to submit a motion for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the Settlement Agreement. Id. at 1117–18, at *11.

II. Legal Standard

Plaintiffs state that they seek attorneys' fees under the Settlement Agreement and 42 U.S.C. § 1988, but acknowledge that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) limits fee awards under § 1988.

See Reply at 3. CCA agrees that the PLRA's limits on attorneys' fees apply, as stated in 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(1). CCA does not appear to dispute that the normal framework under § 1988 governs this determination, as limited by the PLRA.

a. Attorneys' Fees Under § 1988

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, the Court may, in its discretion, grant a reasonable attorneys' fee as part of the costs to the prevailing party. 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). The lodestar formula should be used to determine a reasonable figure for an award of attorneys' fees. A lodestar figure is calculated by “multiplying the hours spent on a case by a reasonable hourly rate of compensation for each attorney involved.” Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 563, 106 S.Ct. 3088, 92 L.Ed.2d 439 (1986). “A ‘strong presumption’ exists that the lodestar figure represents a ‘reasonable’ fee, and upward adjustments of the lodestar are proper only in ‘rare’ and ‘exceptional’ cases.” Jordan v. Multnomah County, 815 F.2d 1258, 1262 (9th Cir.1987) (quoting Delaware Valley, 478 U.S. at 565, 106 S.Ct. 3088 ).

A plaintiff is considered a prevailing party if it succeeds on any significant issue in litigation that gives some benefit that plaintiff sought in bringing the suit. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983). To satisfy this requirement, the suit must have produced a material alteration of the legal relationship between the parties. Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Virginia Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 604, 121 S.Ct. 1835, 149 L.Ed.2d 855 (2001). This alteration may be the result of an enforceable judgment or comparable relief through a consent decree. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111, 113 S.Ct. 566, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992).

Once the Court has determined that attorneys' fees are warranted in a given case, the Court must then assess whether the amount of fees requested is reasonable. “In setting a reasonable attorney's fee, the district court should make specific findings as to the rate and hours it has determined to be reasonable.” Gracie v. Gracie, 217 F.3d 1060, 1070 (9th Cir.2000) (quoting Frank Music Corp. v. Metro–Goldwyn Mayer Inc., 886 F.2d 1545, 1557 (9th Cir.1989) ). The first step the district court must take is to “determine the presumptive lodestar figure by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by the reasonable hourly rate.” Gracie, 217 F.3d at 1070 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). Next, the district court should, where appropriate, “adjust the ‘presumptively reasonable’ lodestar figure based upon the factors listed in Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 69–70 (9th Cir.1975), that have not been subsumed in the lodestar calculation.” Id. (internal citation and quotation marks omitted).

b. Limits Under the PLRA

The Prison Litigation Reform Act (“PLRA”) applies to all civil rights actions by prisoners. The PLRA limits the availability of attorneys' fees under § 1988 [i]n any action brought by a prisoner who is confined to any jail, prison, or other correctional facility.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(1). Under the PLRA, attorneys' fees can be awarded for post-judgment work in enforcing and monitoring the court's prior judgments. Webb v. Ada County, 285 F.3d 829, 835 (9th Cir.2002).

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(1), the Court may award fees to prisoners only to the extent that (1) the fees were “directly incurred in proving an actual violation of the plaintiff's rights,” § 1997e(d)(1)(A) ; and (2) the fees are either “proportionately related to the court ordered relief for the violation” or “directly and reasonably incurred in enforcing the relief ordered for the violation,” § 1997e(d)(1)(B). See Jimenez v. Franklin, 680 F.3d 1096, 1099 (9th Cir.2012). The PLRA also states that [n]o award of attorney's fees ... shall be based on an hourly rate greater than 150 percent of the hourly rate established under section 3006A of Title 18 for payment of court-appointed counsel.” 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(3).

III. Discussion
a. Prevailing Party

Plaintiffs are clearly the prevailing party for purposes of attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs moved to find CCA in contempt for failing to meet its staffing obligations under the Settlement Agreement. The Court found CCA in contempt and ordered relief: an extension of the Settlement Agreement for two years, appointment of an...

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