Major v. Treen

Citation700 F. Supp. 1422
Decision Date16 September 1988
Docket NumberCiv. A. No. 82-1192.
CourtU.S. District Court — Eastern District of Louisiana
PartiesBarbara MAJOR, et al. v. David C. TREEN, etc., et al.



R. James Kellogg, William P. Quigley, New Orleans, La., Lani Guinier, New York City, Stanley Halpin, Steven Sheckman, Armand Derfner, Charleston, S.C., Larry T. Menefee, Birmingham, Ala., for plaintiffs.

William Guste, Jr., John D. Fricke, Robert A. Kutcher, New Orleans, La., Kenneth C. DeJean, David R. Poynter, Baton Rouge, La., Patricia Nalley Bowers, Kendall L. Vick, Eavelyn T. Brooks, New Orleans, La., for defendants.

ROBERT F. COLLINS, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court for determination of appropriate attorneys' fees in the above-captioned matter. For the following reasons, the Court will award attorneys' fees in the amount of $335,846.15 and costs in the amount of $28,288.16 to plaintiffs, Barbara Major, Michael Darnell, Bernadine St. Cyr, Brenda Quant, and Annie A. Smart.

This litigation arose as a class action suit instituted by five black plaintiffs, individually and on behalf of all of those similarly situated. Plaintiffs sought declaratory and injunctive relief pursuant to the Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments to the Constitution, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, § 2 of the Voting Rights Act, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1973, and 28 U.S.C. § 2201 and § 2202. The plaintiffs objected to the realignment of the State's congressional districts brought about as a result of Act 20 of the 1981 first extraordinary session of the Louisiana legislature. The basis of plaintiffs' claim for relief was that Act 20 in design and effect cancelled, minimized and diluted minority voting strength by dispersing the black majority of Orleans Parish into two congressional districts.

On October 18, 1983, judgment was entered by a three-judge panel composed of United States Circuit Judge Henry Politz and United States District Judges Fred J. Cassibry and Robert F. Collins. The Court found in plaintiffs' favor that Act 20 impermissibly resulted in dilution of minority voting strength. Act 20 was declared illegal and unenforceable, and the defendants were enjoined from taking any action to enforce its provision. The Court further found that the Louisiana legislature was to be given reasonable opportunity to confect a new plan for the election of members to the United States House of Representatives. On February 6, 1984, the Court was presented with a proposal remedy. It was then ordered that the plan be presented to the Attorney General of the United States for approval.

At the February 6, 1984 court hearing, it was decided that the three-judge panel would not be needed to determine the amount of attorney fees and costs to be awarded to plaintiffs. Counsel were ordered to attempt to resolve this matter amicably and to submit an affidavit as to time and expenses. However, the parties were unable to settle the matter, and plaintiffs made a motion for an award of attorneys' fees and expenses. This motion was subsequently referred to the United States Magistrate Alma Chasez for hearing and to make findings of fact and recommendations pursuant to Rule 53, Fed.R.Civ.P.

In her Report and Recommendation, Magistrate Chasez rejected the fee claim by the plaintiffs' attorneys as excessive and held that such an award would be inequitable and burdensome to the taxpayers of the State of Louisiana as well as an unwarranted windfall to counsel for the plaintiffs. Plaintiffs seek approximately $750,000.00 in legal fees for investing approximately 2600 hours of legal work in this litigation. Magistrate Chasez held that figure to be in stark contrast to the sum of approximately $80,000.00 which was paid to counsel for the defendants in both fees and cost reimbursement. Consequently, the Magistrate recommended that counsel for plaintiffs be awarded $135,969.40 in fees and $12,572.62 in costs for prosecution of the main action, and $39,618.00 in fees and $6,221.17 in costs in connection with the motion to assess attorneys' fees. Both plaintiffs and defendants have filed objections to the Report and Recommendation of Magistrate Chasez. The matter is presently before the Court for a determination of whether Magistrate Chasez was correct in her recommendations.

Generally, a determination by the magistrate of nondispositive motions that have been referred by a district judge will not be modified by the district court unless clearly erroneous or contrary to law. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Industrial Risk Insurers v. Creole Production Services, Inc., 568 F.Supp. 1323, (D.C.Alaska 1983), aff'd, 746 F.2d 526 (9th Cir.1983). However, a district judge is not limited to a clearly erroneous standard when reviewing a magistrate's recommendations on the issue of attorney fees. He may reject a magistrate's recommendation on the basis of a different determination of credibility. Louis v. Blackburn, 630 F.2d 1105 (5th Cir.1980). The Court is therefore not bound to follow the recommendation of Magistrate Chasez and may exercise its discretion in determining the attorneys' fees in the instant action. Yates v. Mobile County Personnel Board, 719 F.2d 1530 (11th Cir.1983).

Plaintiffs have objected to: (1) the 50% across-the-board reduction in the hours claimed by their attorneys; (2) the deduction of all hours billed by their attorneys in connection with the administrative proceeding under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act; (3) the disallowance of recovery of all fees for expert witnesses; (4) the hourly rates which the Magistrate recommended for each attorney; (5) the Magistrate's recommendation that attorneys who did not appear on the pleadings receive no compensation for work performed; (6) the findings of the Magistrate that there was nothing novel or difficult in the questions presented in the litigation, that the litigation required no exceptional legal skill on the part of plaintiffs' attorneys, that plaintiffs incurred no risk of not prevailing in this litigation and that civil rights litigation is not undesirable as being contrary to the facts in this litigation and the law; (7) the disallowance of certain litigation expenses; and (8) the fact that the Magistrate did not award fees and expenses which are adequate to attract competent counsel to represent other plaintiffs in civil rights litigation. Defendants maintain that plaintiffs are not entitled to attorneys' fees and costs and object to the Magistrate's Recommendation on that basis.

A. Attorneys' Fees are Appropriate

Defendants have flatly denied that plaintiffs are entitled to any fees because plaintiffs have won only a Pyrrhic victory which is not worthy of a fee award. Although the State concedes that plaintiffs did achieve a reapportionment of the metropolitan New Orleans congressional districts, they argue that this was a hollow victory because the black plaintiff class elected the same white representative that they had before. It is clear to the Court that this attitude of defendants is partially what has made the instant litigation balloon to its current proportions.

42 U.S.C. § 19881 provides:

In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of sections 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1981 of the Revised Statutes 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981-83, 1985, 1986 title IX of Public Law 92-318 ... or title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 ... the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.

Similarly, 42 U.S.C. § 1973l(e) states:

In any action or proceeding to enforce the voting guarantees of the fourteenth or fifteenth amendment, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.

Therefore, the threshhold question is: who is the prevailing party in this case? It is clear and undisputed that the plaintiff class prevailed. The fact that the first set of elections held under the new congressional plan did not produce a black congressperson is irrelevant. What is important is that plaintiffs' goal in creating the opportunity for the election of a black candidate was realized. Hennigan v. Ouachita Parish School Board, 749 F.2d 1148 (5th Cir.1985). As the Supreme Court has stated in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1939, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983), "A typical formulation is that `plaintiffs may be considered prevailing parties' for attorney's fees purposes if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing the suit." Id. 103 S.Ct. at 1939, quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-279 (1st Cir.1978). See also, Maher v. Gagne, 448 U.S. 122, 100 S.Ct. 2570, 65 L.Ed.2d 653 (1980); Brown v. Culpepper, 559 F.2d 274, reh. denied, 561 F.2d 1177 (5th Cir.1977).

Modern civil rights legislation reflects a heavy reliance on the salutary effect of the award of adequate attorney fees. Judge Sharp, of the Northern District of Indiana, urged this point quite clearly when he stated in Grooms v. Snyder, 474 F.Supp. 380 (N.D.Indiana 1979):

All of these Civil Rights laws depend heavily upon private enforcement and fee awards have proved an essential remedy. In many cases arising under our civil rights laws, the citizen who must sue to enforce the law has little or no money with which to hire a lawyer. If private citizens are to be able to assert their civil rights, and if those who violate the Nation's fundamental laws are not to proceed with impunity, then citizens must have the opportunity to recover what it costs them to vindicate those rights in court. 1976 U.S.Code Cong. & Adm. News 5910. If successful plaintiffs were routinely forced to bear their own attorney fees, few aggrieved parties would be in a position to advance the public interest by invoking the powers of the federal courts.


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  • Perrin v. Kitzhaber
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    ...F.Supp. at 1122 (the defendant's "good faith" argument did not demonstrate "strong showing" of special circumstances); Major v. Treen, 700 F.Supp. 1422, 1427 (E.D.La.1988) (the "defendants have not presented any `special circumstances' which would justify a denial of attorneys' fees in this......
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    • 26 Abril 1994 persons enrolled as counsel of record but include persons who assist such counsel, whether they be lawyers (see Major v. Treen, 700 F.Supp. 1422, 1430 [E.D.La.1988] ), paralegals ( Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 285, 109 S.Ct. 2463, 2470, 105 L.Ed.2d 229 [1989]; Crane v. Commissioner......
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    ...and presented them to the Court in their briefing. As a result, an across-the-board reduction is appropriate. See Major v. Treen, 700 F. Supp. 1422, 1429 (E.D. La. 1988) (explaining that "in no instance has anPage 30 across-the-board reduction of half of documented hours without explanation......

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