Knop v. Johnson, File No. G84-651.

CourtUnited States District Courts. 6th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District Michigan)
Writing for the CourtFrank Kelley, Atty. Gen., Lansing, Mich., by Thomas C. Nelson and Brent Simmons, for defendants
Citation712 F. Supp. 571
Decision Date05 April 1989
Docket NumberFile No. G84-651.
PartiesGary KNOP, John Ford, William Lovett, II, Ramando Valeroso, Gus Jansson, Pat Sommerville, Vernard Cohen, T. Jon Spytma, Robert Shipp, Butch Davis, Ron Mixon, and Kerwin Cook, individually and on behalf of all other persons similarly situated, Plaintiffs, v. Perry M. JOHNSON, Robert Brown, Jr., Dale Foltz, John Jabe, Theodore Koehler, John Prelesnik, and Jack Bergman, Defendants.


National Prison Project of the American Civil Liberties Foundation, by Elizabeth Alexander, Adjoa Aiyetoro, Mark Lopez, Jenner & Block, Washington, D.C. by Bruce J. Ennis, Donald Verelli and Theresa Chmara, for plaintiffs.

Frank Kelley, Atty. Gen., Lansing, Mich., by Thomas C. Nelson and Brent Simmons, for defendants.


ENSLEN, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on plaintiffs' counsel's petition for attorneys fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. After nearly five years of litigation in a major prison conditions case, resulting in a judgment favorable to the plaintiff class, plaintiffs' counsel seek $2,043,960.38 in attorneys fees, expenses and costs. The facts and legal issues involved in this matter are adequately reported in this Court's published decisions, Knop v. Johnson, 667 F.Supp. 467 (W.D.Mich.1987); and Knop v. Johnson, 685 F.Supp. 636 (W.D.Mich.1988); and will not be repeated here.

Defendants have interposed a number of objections to plaintiffs' fee request. They contend that plaintiffs' counsel are entitled to $156,950.00 in attorneys' fees and $1,067.50 in costs and expenses. This calculation can most charitably be described as a gross underestimation. The trial alone in this matter lasted 35 days. Hearings on the remedial plans submitted by the parties lasted another four days. Plaintiffs were represented by four attorneys at trial and three at the remedial hearing. Assuming a trial or hearing day of 4.5 hours and compensation at an hourly rate even defendants admit is reasonable, $100 per hour, plaintiffs' counsel are entitled to $68,400 in fees for in-court time alone. This does not include their substantial travel time, or the hours they spent attending the many hearings on non-dispositive matters held in this case.

That having been said, however, the Court finds that a number of the defendants' objections have substantial merit. While I have concluded that the reductions advocated by defendants are too extreme, the fee petition must be reduced to account for plaintiffs' partial success on the race claim, excessive or duplicative hours and non-compensable costs and expenses. After conducting a two-day evidentiary hearing and reviewing each entry on each billing and expense record submitted by counsel, I find that attorneys fees in the amount of $1,299,563.04 and costs and expenses in the amount of $184,443.24 are appropriate. This results in a total award of $1,484,006.28.

Plaintiffs' counsel have submitted three separate applications for fees. This opinion treats each application separately. The Court's calculations of reasonable attorneys' fees for each application and the allowable expenses and costs may be found in the tables annexed to this Opinion.

I. Amended Petition for Attorneys Fees and Costs

Plaintiffs' counsel initially submitted their petition for attorneys fees on April 12, 1988. After discovering that computer errors had resulted in some duplicative entries on their billing records, plaintiffs' submitted an amended application for fees on November 28, 1988. This Opinion refers to the billing records attached to the amended application.

A. Reasonable Hours

Having won a judgment in their favor, plaintiffs are without doubt "prevailing parties" within the meaning of § 1988. Plaintiffs' counsel are thus entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees, expenses and costs for their efforts. In Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1939, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983), the Supreme Court held that the appropriate method for determining reasonable attorneys fees under § 1988 is to determine the number of hours "reasonably expended on the litigation," and to multiply that figure by a reasonable hourly rate.1 The ultimate fee award must reflect the degree to which plaintiffs succeeded on their claims for relief and deny compensation for hours that were not reasonably expended on the litigation. Id. at 434, 103 S.Ct. at 1939-40.

1. Partial Success on the Merits

One of the defendants' major contentions is that the fee award must be reduced to reflect the limited degree of success plaintiffs obtained on the race discrimination claims. Plaintiffs began this litigation with a number of claims regarding racial discrimination against prisoners. These included: (1) discrimination in job assignment; (2) segregation of cafeteria serving lines; (3) discrimination in assignment to punitive segregation and protective custody; and (4) staff displays of racially motivated hostility toward black inmates. First Amended Complaint ¶ 55. Plaintiffs succeeded on only one of those claims—the claim that staff engaged in racially derogatory behavior, principally the use of racial slurs, against black inmates. Knop v. Johnson, 667 F.Supp. 467, 504-07 (W.D. Mich.1987). The defendants argue that the majority of time spent on plaintiffs' race claims involved the claims of discrimination in job assignment, punitive segregation and cafeteria serving lines. They argue that the fee request should be substantially reduced to reflect the hours spent on these unsuccessful claims.

In Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435, 103 S.Ct. at 1940, the Supreme Court held that a party's fee award must be reduced where the party prevailed on some, but not all of the claims presented. "In this situation two questions must be addressed. First, did the plaintiff fail to prevail on claims that were unrelated to the claims on which he succeeded? Second, did the plaintiff achieve a level of success that makes the hours reasonably expended a satisfactory basis for making a fee award?" Id. at 434, 103 S.Ct. at 1940. Claims are unrelated where they are "distinctly different claims for relief that are based on different facts and legal theories." Id. In such instances: "The congressional intent to limit awards to prevailing parties requires that these unrelated claims be treated as if they had been raised in separate lawsuits, and therefore no fee may be awarded for services on the unsuccessful claim." Id. at 435, 103 S.Ct. at 1940. See also Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 1006, 104 S.Ct. 3457, 3465, 82 L.Ed.2d 746 (1984) (court must evaluate the requested fee "in light of the relationship between particular claims for which work is done and the plaintiff's success").

Where the plaintiff's successful and unsuccessful claims are based on "a common core of facts" and "related legal theories," the lawsuit cannot be viewed as a series of discrete claims, and "the district court should focus on the significance of the overall relief obtained by the plaintiff in relation to the hours reasonably expended on the litigation." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435, 103 S.Ct. at 1940. In making these determinations, the court "may attempt to identify specific hours that should be eliminated, or it may simply reduce the award to account for the limited success." Id. at 436-37, 103 S.Ct. at 1941.

A number of cases have allowed compensation for hours spent on unsuccessful claims where the successful and unsuccessful claims involve a common core of facts and rely upon related legal theories. City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 571, 106 S.Ct. 2686, 2693, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986); Abshire v. Walls, 830 F.2d 1277, 1283 (4th Cir.1987); Davis v. City of Charleston, 827 F.2d 317, 323 (8th Cir.1987); Toussaint v. McCarthy, 826 F.2d 901, 905 (9th Cir.1987); Wolfel v. Bates, 749 F.2d 7, 9 (6th Cir. 1984); Vaughns v. Board of Education, 598 F.Supp. 1262, 1271-72 (D.Md.1984). Alternatively, claims may be considered related where they seek relief for essentially the same course of conduct. "Under this analysis, an unsuccessful claim will be unrelated to a successful claim when the relief sought on the unsuccessful claim is intended to remedy a course of conduct entirely distinct and separate from the course of conduct that gave rise to the injury on which the relief granted is premised." Mary Beth G. v. City of Chicago, 723 F.2d 1263, 1279 (7th Cir.1983).

As the Supreme Court recognized in Hensley and Smith, it is often difficult to determine which hours expended on a case contributed to the relief obtained and which did not. This is especially true where the plaintiffs raise a number of conceptually distinct but factually related claims. In such circumstances, it is appropriate to reduce the fee applicant's award by a flat amount, rather than attempting to determine which specific hours were spent on the unsuccessful claims. In Toussaint, for example, the court concluded that the plaintiffs' various claims were not easily categorized as "related" or "unrelated." Although the claims were based upon related facts and legal theories, the plaintiffs had achieved only limited success on appeal, and it was impossible to determine the exact number of hours spent on each claim. Thus, the court reduced the fee award by one-third, to account for plaintiffs' "very limited" success on appeal. Toussaint, 826 F.2d at 905.

Plaintiffs achieved only partial success on their race-related claims. They submit that they are entitled to full compensation for hours spent on these claims because the Court found their statistical evidence to be significant, because the results obtained are extremely significant to the plaintiff class, and because the Court's ruling on the racial slur issue will impact corrections officials not only in Michigan, but across the country. Defendants argue that because plaintiffs' billing records make it impossible to determine exactly how much...

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