Pierce v. Cnty. of Orange

Decision Date02 March 2012
Docket NumberNo. SACV 01–981 ABC (MLGx).,SACV 01–981 ABC (MLGx).
Citation905 F.Supp.2d 1017
PartiesFred PIERCE, et al., Plaintiffs, v. COUNTY OF ORANGE, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Central District of California


Barrett S. Litt, Litt Estuar & Kitson LLP, Los Angeles, CA, Bryan Barnet Miller, Norton & Melnik, Woodland Hills, CA, Richard Paul Herman, Law Office of Richard P. Herman, Newport Beach, CA, Christy Virginia Keeny, Dan Stormer, Lauren K. Teukolsky, Radhika Sainath, Hadsell Stormer Keeny Richardson & Renick LLP, Pasadena, CA, for Plaintiffs.

Christina M. Sprenger, David D. Lawrence, Lawrence Beach Allen & Choi PC, Wendy J. Phillips, Jack W. Golden, County of Orange, County Counsel, Santa Ana, CA, for Defendants.


AUDREY B. COLLINS, District Judge.

Pending before the Court are two motions for attorney's fees filed by Plaintiffs Fred Pierce, et al.: the first was filed on July 31, 2009 and supplemented on August 12, 2011 (Docket Nos. 665, 793); and the second was filed on August 12, 2011 (Docket No. 792). Defendants County of Orange, et al. (the County) opposed the current motions on September 29, 2011 and Plaintiffs replied on October 7, 2011. The Court found these matters appropriate for resolution without oral argument and vacated the hearing date. (Docket No. 807.) Also pending is Plaintiffs' request to tax costs, referred to the Court by the Court Clerk to resolve prevailing-party and degree of success issues. (Docket Nos. 783, 798.) The Court rules as follows.


This case began in 2001, when Plaintiffs, representing a class of pre-trial detainees in Orange County jails, filed a lawsuit against the County under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violations of their Fourteenth Amendment due process rights for the County's operation of the County jails in an unconstitutional manner, including depriving detainees of opportunities for exercise and restricting their ability to practice religion. The case also eventually encompassed allegations that the County was violating fourteen existing injunctions entered in Stewart v. Gates, 450 F.Supp. 583 (C.D.Cal.1978) (the Stewart injunctions), which set standards for pre-trial detention in Orange County jails. Plaintiffs also sought relief for the same injuries under, inter alia, the due process clause of the California Constitution. In addition, Plaintiffs pursued claims under § 1983 for the denial of equal treatment for disabled detainees and claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., and California law for non-compliant jail facilities and denial of access to programs and services available to non-disabled detainees.

After a six-day trial, the Court entered judgment in favor of the County on all of Plaintiffs' § 1983 claims and ordered that all fourteen Stewart injunctions be terminated pursuant to the Court's authority under the Prison Litigation Reform Act, 18 U.S.C. § 3626(b)(3) (“PLRA”). (Docket No. 574.) The Court also found no ADA or equal protection violations. Plaintiffs appealed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals issued a lengthy opinion, affirming in part, reversing in part, and remanding the case. See Pierce v. County of Orange, 526 F.3d 1190 (9th Cir.2008). The court affirmed the termination of twelve of fourteen Stewart injunctions and the related judgment finding no constitutional violations on those issues, but reversed the termination of two of them, which secured inmates housed in administrative segregation some minimal access to religious services and exercise. Pierce, 526 F.3d at 1196. The court also reversed the finding of no ADA violations, determining that the ADA was violated “because of physical barriers that deny disabled inmates access to certain facilities (bathrooms, showers, exercise and other common areas), and because of disparate programs and services offered to disabled versus non-disabled inmates.” Id. The court remanded the two Stewart injunctions with instructions to this Court to reinstate them and “enjoin violation under § 1983.” Id. at 1213. The court remanded the ADA claims for further proceedings, particularly so that this Court could make further findings on the appropriate relief to be granted. Id. at 1223. In the meantime, the Court of Appeals awarded interim fees to Plaintiffs of $143,472.60 for prevailing on appeal. (Keeny Const. Decl., Ex. H.)

On August 26, 2008, this Court entered a permanent injunction consistent with the Court of Appeals' ruling on the constitutional claims. (Docket No. 621.) The Court then held a bench trial on the ADA claims over several days between February and June 2010 and issued lengthy findings of fact and conclusions of law identifyingwide-spread violations of the ADA in the County's jail facilities and detailing the specific injunctive relief needed to address those violations. (Docket No. 752.) After the parties conducted further negotiations and discussed various issues with the Court, the Court entered a final judgment and permanent injunction in the form of an extensive, detailed “Amended Final Plan” on June 28, 2011, which included oversight by a Court-appointed monitor. (Docket Nos. 779, 780.)

After remand and after the injunction on the constitutional claims was entered, but before further proceedings were held regarding the ADA claims, Plaintiffs moved for an award of attorney's fees pursuant to § 1988 and California Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 for work done on the Stewart orders. (Docket No. 684.) The Court declined to award fees at that time, but ruled on several legal issues related to the motion, namely that Plaintiffs were the prevailing parties under § 1988 and section 1021.5, but that some reduction may be necessary to reflect Plaintiffs' limited success on those issues, and that the PLRA capped the hourly rates for fees expended in litigating constitutional claims. The Court declined to decide what reduction was appropriate for Plaintiffs' limited success and what portion of the fees expended to that point was attributable to the constitutional claims (which are capped by the PLRA) and what portion was attributable to the ADA claims (which are not capped).

Plaintiffs have renewed their prior motion for attorney's fees for prevailing on the constitutional claims and have separately moved for attorney's fees expended on the ADA claims both pre- and post-appeal.


The pending fees motions implicate the interaction among several statutes providing for attorney's fees. When a civil rights plaintiff prevails on claims brought pursuant to § 1983, § 1988 provides for an award of attorney's fees. 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) ([T]he court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs[.]). California Code of Civil Procedure section 1021.5 provides for attorney's fees if a plaintiff achieves a “significant benefit” from enforcing an “important right affecting the public interest.” Cal.Code Civ. P. § 1021.5. This is a prison reform case, however, so the assessment of attorney's fees is affected by the PLRA, which was passed in 1996 and changed the application of § 1988 to § 1983 claims brought by prisoners. See42 U.S.C. 1997e(d); Martin v. Hadix, 527 U.S. 343, 349–50, 119 S.Ct. 1998, 144 L.Ed.2d 347 (1999). The PLRA limitations apply to plaintiffs seeking to enforce judgments based upon constitutional violations. See Webb v. Ada County, 285 F.3d 829, 834 (9th Cir.2002) ([I]t is apparent that Congress intended that a plaintiff is entitled to fees incurred in enforcing a judgment entered upon proof that the plaintiff's constitutional rights had been violated.”). As relevant here, the PLRA caps hourly rates for attorneys representing prisoner-plaintiffs. Martin, 527 U.S. at 349–50, 119 S.Ct. 1998. The Court previously ruled that this cap applies in this case to all fees expended on Plaintiffs' constitutional claims, even though Plaintiffs sought fees under both § 1988 and section 1021.5.

The ADA also provides that the Court may award “a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs,” to the “prevailing party,” 42 U.S.C. § 12205, and “a prevailing plaintiff under a statute so worded ‘should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstanceswould render such an award unjust.’ Barrios v. Cal. Interscholastic Fed'n, 277 F.3d 1128, 1134 (9th Cir.2002) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983)). The PLRA limitations on hourly rates do not apply to claims brought by prisoners under the ADA. See Armstrong v. Davis, 318 F.3d 965, 974 (9th Cir.2003).

Once a party is considered “prevailing,” the Court must determine the reasonable amount of fees by calculating the “lodestar,” that is, multiplying the number of hours reasonably spent by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933. “The fee applicant bears the burden of documenting the appropriate hours expended in the litigation and must submit evidence in support of those hours worked.” Gates v. Gomez, 60 F.3d 525, 534 (9th Cir.1995) (quotation marks and citations omitted). Once that burden is carried, [t]he party opposing the fee application has a burden of rebuttal that requires submission of evidence to the district court challenging the accuracy and reasonableness of the hours charged or the facts asserted by the prevailing party in its submitted affidavits.” Id. at 534–35.

After the “lodestar” is calculated, the Court may reduce the fee based upon the ‘results obtained.’ Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434, 103 S.Ct. 1933. In doing so, the Court must ask two questions: (1) “did the plaintiff fail to prevail on claims that were unrelated to the claims on which he succeeded?”; and (2) “did the plaintiff achieve a level of success that makes the hours reasonably expended a satisfactory basis for...

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