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Lee v. Borders

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

September 26, 2014

ANGELA MARIE LEE, By and Through Next Friend, RENEE B. LEE, Plaintiffs,
v.
ALBERT LEE BORDERS, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

TERRY I. ADELMAN, Magistrate Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Consolidated Motion for Attorney's Fees. (Docket No. 147), requesting attorneys' fees in the amount of $325, 678.70 which Plaintiffs incurred from December 17, 2011 through February 29, 2012. Defendant has filed opposition thereto. The parties consented to the jurisdiction of the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c).

I. Background

Plaintiff originally filed suit against Defendants Albert Lee Borders, St. Charles Habilitation Center, and the Missouri Department of Mental Health in the Circuit Court of St. Charles County in a three-count petition. On December 3, 2009, Defendants St. Charles Habilitation Center and Missouri Department of Mental Health removed the case to federal court on the basis that Counts II and III are brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for alleged deprivation of Plaintiff's right under the Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments. On November 19, 2010, the undersigned granted Defendants St. Charles Habilitation Center and Missouri Department of Mental Health's Motion to Dismiss.

On April 12, 2012 after a two-day trial, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff Angela Marie Lee on each of her claims against Defendant Borders and awarded a total of $1, 000, 000.00 in compensatory damages and $3, 000, 000.00 in punitive damages. On September 23, 2013, Defendant Borders filed a Notice of Appeal. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals issued an Opinion dated August 25, 2014 affirming the compensatory damages award and the punitive damages award. Angela Marie Lee v. Albert Lee Borders, No.13-3128 (8th Cir. Aug. 25, 2014).

Plaintiff is the prevailing party in this action and has moved for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

II. Discussion

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), in an action under § 1983, "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party... a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs...." A prevailing party in a civil rights action should ordinarily recover such attorneys' fees unless special circumstances rendered an award unjust. Hensley v. Eckerhart , 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). To determine the amount of reasonable attorneys' fees, courts employ the "lodestar" method and multiply the number of hours reasonably expended with a reasonable hourly rate. Id. at 433. In making this determination, courts consider twelve factors:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the "undesirability" of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

Hensley v. Eckerhart , 461 U.S. 424, 430 n.3 (1983). "A request for attorney's fees should not result in a second major litigation." Id. at 437. It is preferable that the litigants settle on the amount of a fee. Where settlement is not possible, the party seeking fees bears the burden of establishing and documenting the time reasonably expended on the case and reasonable hourly rates. Id. at 433 & 437.

The same federal law that prohibits deprivation of constitutional rights by state actors provides for an award of attorneys' fees to prevailing plaintiffs. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The Eighth Circuit has articulated the important public policy underlying the fee-shifting provisions implicated by successful § 1983 litigation:

Congress intended that "[i]n computing the fee, counsel for prevailing parties should be paid, as is traditional for attorneys compensated by a fee-paying client, for all time reasonably expended on a matter.'" S.Rep. No. 1011, 94th Cong. 2d Sess, 5 (1976), reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5908, 5913. The primary purpose of this formulation is to promote diffuse private enforcement of civil rights law by allowing the citizenry to monitor rights violations at their source, while imposing the costs of rights violations on the violators. See id. A plaintiff bringing a civil rights action "does so not for himself alone but also as a private attorney general, ' vindicating a policy that Congress considered of the highest priority. If successful plaintiffs were routinely forced to bear their own attorney's fees, few aggrieved parties would be in a position to advance the public interest...." Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc. , 390 U.S. 400, 402 (1968).
In order for such a policy to be effective, Congress felt it appropriate to shift the true full cost of enforcement to the guilty parties to eliminate any obstacle to enforcement. "It is intended that the amount of fees awarded under [§ 1988] be governed by the same standards which prevail in other types of equally ...

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