Scott v. Clarke

CourtUnited States District Courts. 4th Circuit. United States District Court (Western District of Virginia)
Decision Date28 May 2020
Docket NumberCASE NO. 3:12-cv-00036
PartiesCYNTHIA B. SCOTT, et al., Plaintiffs, v. HAROLD W. CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

CYNTHIA B. SCOTT, et al., Plaintiffs,
HAROLD W. CLARKE, et al., Defendants.

CASE NO. 3:12-cv-00036


May 28, 2020



This matter is before the Court on the Report & Recommendation of U.S. Magistrate Judge Joel Hoppe pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B), proposing findings of fact and a recommended disposition of Plaintiffs' Petition for Award of Enforcement Phase Attorney's Fees and Costs. Dkt. 654 (hereinafter, "R&R"); Dkt. 582 ("Petition").

Originally, Plaintiffs sought an award of $1,879,627.93 in attorney's fees and $116,624.44 in costs. R&R at 6-8. Thereafter, Plaintiff made some "limited" cuts to Legal Aid Justice Center's ("LAJC") fee request, after which they sought $1,703,537 in attorney's fees—a reduction of just over nine percent from their original fee request. Dkt. 672 at 1 n.1; R&R at 7. Judge Hoppe recommended an overall award of $1,028,821.91 (which included $923,660.90 in attorney's fees and $105,161.01 in costs). R&R at 1, 47.

Plaintiffs have filed objections to three portions of the R&R, Dkt. 672; Defendants filed a response, Dkt. 676; and Plaintiffs have filed a reply in further support of their objections, Dkt. 684. Upon this Court's review of those materials and the underlying fee-request submissions, and this Court's de novo consideration of those portions of the R&R to which Plaintiffs have lodged an objection, this Court will overrule all objections to the R&R with the exception of Plaintiffs'

Page 2

second objection as to the recommended reduction of a private lawyer's requested attorney's fees on account of vague billing, and Plaintiffs' third objection related to travel hours—both objections which the Court will sustain in part. In all other respects, the Court will adopt the R&R. Plaintiffs' Petition for Award of Enforcement Phase Attorney's Fees and Costs will be granted in part, and Plaintiffs will be awarded $1,039,829.70 in attorney's fees and expenses.


The parties have not disputed the R&R's recapitulation of the background of this action, and so for purposes of its decision on the fee petition, the Court incorporates that background here. Dkt. 654 at 1-6. Briefly, this action is "an Eighth Amendment class action concerning the long-term failure to provide adequate medical care to inmates at the Fluvanna (Va.) Correctional Center for Women (FCCW)." Scott v. Clarke, 355 F. Supp. 3d 472, 477 (W.D. Va. 2019), amended by 391 F. Supp. 3d 610 (W.D. Va. 2019).

After years of litigation, the parties reached a settlement agreement that would provide for constitutionally adequate medical care at FCCW. Dkt. 221-1 ("Settlement Agreement"). Upon the parties' request, in February 2016, the Court approved the Settlement Agreement, and entered a final judgment order to that effect. Scott, 355 F. Supp. 3d at 477. The Settlement Agreement was meant to "insure that the quality and quantity of medical care to be provided by the Defendant to prisoners residing at FCCW ... shall meet or exceed constitutional requirements under the Eighth Amendment." Settlement Agreement § III(1). "The point of the Settlement Agreement was to implement specific practices and standards to remedy that constitutional shortcoming" in the "ongoing failure to provide constitutionally adequate medical care at FCCW." Scott, 355 F. Supp. 3d at 494 (emphasis omitted). In the Final Judgment Order granting approval of the Settlement

Page 3

Agreement, the Court granted in part Plaintiffs' fee petition, and awarded Plaintiffs $1,500,000 in attorney's fees and costs. Dkt. 262 at 2.1

The Settlement Agreement marked less of a conclusion of litigation than a new phase of hostilities. A year and a half later, Plaintiffs filed a motion to show cause why Defendants should not be held in contempt for failing to abide by the Settlement Agreement, including its standards on medical staffing, emergency care and life-saving equipment, and the conditions in FCCW's infirmary. Scott, 355 F. Supp. 3d at 479. The parties briefed the motion, and conducted discovery, "the volume and intensity" of which "rivaled the hardest-fought merits litigation." Id. Judge Hoppe held numerous hearings in discovery motions and other conferences, the parties filed Daubert motions, motions in limine, and trial briefs, and Defendants filed a summary judgment motion less than two weeks before the trial date. Id. A five-day bench trial commenced on June 11, 2018, and, at the close of Plaintiffs' evidence at trial, the Court granted the motion to show cause, concluding that a prima facie case had been made that Defendants had not carried out the Settlement in some respects. See id.

The Court ruled that Defendants violated eight standards in the Settlement Agreement, and indeed, "FCCW's own officials had—by their own admission—actual knowledge that FCCW was not complying with parts of the Settlement Agreement." Id. at 495. The Court subsequently issued an injunction to tailor the relief to be provided in light of the Court's findings of fact and evidence before the Court. Dkt. 545. The Court modified the injunction following the parties' motions pursuant to Rule 59(e) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the Court issued a further

Page 4

Memorandum Opinion and Additional Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law in May 2019. Dkt. 573.

In June 2019, Plaintiffs filed their Petition for Award of "Enforcement Phase" Attorney's Fees and Costs. Dkt. 582. By the end of July 2019, the Petition was fully briefed, Dkt. 602, 603, 604, and Judge Hoppe held a hearing on the matter in early November 2019. Dkt. 624. Thereafter, Plaintiffs filed a supplemental brief in support of their request. Dkt. 637.

On March 12, 2020, Judge Hoppe issued a thorough 48-page Report & Recommendation on Plaintiffs' fee request, recommending that the Court award Plaintiffs in total $1,028,821.91 (including $923,660.90 in attorney's fees and $105,161.01 in costs). R&R at 1, 47. After the Court granted Plaintiffs an extension, Dkt. 663, Plaintiffs filed their Objections to the R&R on April 23, 2020, Dkt. 672. Defendants filed a response on May 7, 2020, Dkt. 676, and on May 14, 2020, Plaintiffs filed a reply in further support of their Objections to the R&R, Dkt. 684. No party has sought a hearing. This matter is fully briefed and ripe for review.

Applicable Law

Courts can award reasonable attorney's fees to prevailing parties in civil rights litigation. 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The fee applicant "bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 436 (1983); see also Prison Legal News v. Stolle, 129 F. Supp. 3d 390, 396 (E.D. Va. 2015) ("The fee applicant bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of the hours expended and the requested hourly rates."). Furthermore, the fee applicant "bears the burden to document the hours" that attorneys spent on the lawsuit and must provide "standardized time records which accurately reflect the work done by each attorney." Hudson v. Pittsylvania Cnty., Virginia, No. 4:11-cv-43,

Page 5

2015 WL 5690854, at *6 (W.D. Va. Sept. 28, 2015) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Fee awards should be "adequate to attract competent counsel, but ... not produce windfalls to attorneys." City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 580 (1986). There is a three-step process to calculating an award of attorney's fees. McAfee v. Boczar, 738 F.3d 81, 88 (4th Cir. 2013). First, the Court determines the lodestar figure "by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate." Spell v. McDaniel, 852 F.2d 762, 765 (4th Cir. 1988). The Court applies the factors in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974), in making that determination of reasonableness. McAfee, 738 F.3d at 88. Second, the Court "subtract[s] fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful ones." Id. Third, the Court should award "some percentage of the remaining amount, depending on the degree of success enjoyed by the plaintiff." Id.

A district court reviews de novo portions of a magistrate judge's R&R to which objections were made. Orpiano v. Johnson, 687 F.2d 44, 47 (4th Cir. 1982); 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1). That requires articulating a specific rationale such as would permit meaningful appellate review. Cruz v. Marshall, 673 F. App'x 296, 299 (4th Cir. 2016). However, for those portions of the R&R to which no objection has been made, a district court "must 'only satisfy itself that there is no clear error on the face of the record in order to accept the recommendation.'" Diamond v. Colonial Life & Accident Ins. Co., 416 F.3d 310, 315 (4th Cir. 2005) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 72 Advisory Committee's Note).

Page 6


At the outset, there are numerous issues that are not in dispute at this stage of the fees' request. There is no dispute (1) Plaintiffs were "the prevailing party" in the enforcement phase of litigation; (2) Plaintiffs may recover from Defendants reasonable attorney's fees and costs that were directly and reasonably incurred in enforcing injunctive relief to cure the ongoing failure to provide constitutionally adequate care to women at FCCW; (3) over the hourly rates that Judge Hoppe determined applied for each of Plaintiffs' counsel; (4) Plaintiffs were generally entitled to recover for work done starting in January 2017 forward; (5) Plaintiffs could not recover for work performed by LAJC's pro bono support staff; (6) that a five-percent reduction in LAJC attorney and paralegal hours for non-compensable clerical tasks was appropriate; (7) that a five percent reduction in the lodestar figure for time spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful claims was appropriate; and (8) over the award of costs and expenses recommended by Judge Hoppe. See...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT