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Sharpe Holdings, Inc. v. United States Department of Health

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

June 17, 2015

SHARPE HOLDINGS, INC., et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

DAVID D. NOCE, Magistrate Judge.

This action is before the court on the motion of plaintiffs Sharpe Holdings, Inc., Ozark National Life Insurance Company, N.I.S. Financial Services, Inc., CNS Corporation, Charles N. Sharpe, Judi Diane Schaefer, and Rita Joanne Wilson for attorneys' fees and expenses under 42 U.S.C § 1988. (Doc. 110.)

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Sharpe Holdings, Inc., Charles N. Sharpe, Judi Schaefer, and Rita Joanne Wilson commenced this action on December 20, 2012, against the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, the Department of the Treasury, Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner, the Department of Labor, and Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis. Plaintiffs claimed the Affordable Care Act's[1] contraception mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA); the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution; plaintiffs' freedom of speech and association guaranteed by the First Amendment; and the Administrative Procedures Act, 5 U.S.C. § 706(2). Plaintiffs sought a declaration from the court that the ACA's contraception mandate and its enforcement violate the First Amendment, the Fifth Amendment, RFRA, and the APA. Plaintiffs also sought an order prohibiting the enforcement of the mandate against them. Plaintiffs also requested attorneys' and experts' fees. (Doc. 1.)

Plaintiffs moved for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction on December 20, 2012. (Doc. 2.) After oral argument the court issued a temporary restraining order on December 31, 2012. (Doc. 17)

Plaintiffs amended their complaint to add plaintiffs Ozark National Life Insurance Company, CNS Corporation, and N.I.S. Financial Services, Inc., as well as, substitute defendants.[2] (Doc. 52.) A preliminary injunction was issued on June 28, 2013. (Doc. 56.) All proceedings were stayed, pending a resolution of several other cases before the United States Supreme Court. (Doc. 53.)

Plaintiffs amended their complaint again to add CNS International Ministries and Heartland Christian College, both non-profit organizations, as plaintiffs on December 4, 2013. (Doc. 61.) The temporary restraining order and the preliminary injunction were extended to include these plaintiffs on December 30, 2013. (Doc. 84.)

Defendants filed an interlocutory appeal of the temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding only plaintiffs CNS International Ministries and Heartland Christian College. (Doc. 85.)

Plaintiffs Sharpe Holdings, Ozark National Life Insurance, N.I.S. Financial Services, CNS Corporation, and Charles N. Sharpe[3] filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion for a permanent injunction on October 1, 2014. (Docs. 95, 96.) The court granted the summary judgment motion and issued a permanent injunction on February 13, 2015. (Doc. 102.)

Plaintiffs' counsel requests attorneys' fees in the amount of $211, 735.00 and expenses in the amount of $350.00 under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). Defendants object to the amount of plaintiffs' attorney fee request, arguing that the amount of hours claimed worked is excessive when compared to similarly situated cases. (Doc. 116.) Defendants argue that the work of Professor Carl Esbeck is duplicitous in its entirety, and therefore, should not be reimbursed at all. (Id.) Finally, defendants argue plaintiffs' fees-on-fees amount is excessive. (Id.)

II. PLAINTIFFS' ATTORNEYS' FEES AND EXPENSES

Lodestar Amount

Plaintiffs request attorneys' fees in the amount of $211, 735.00 and expenses in the amount of $350.00. Regarding violations of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, 42 U.SC. § 2000bb et seq., "[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...." 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b).

"The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). The calculation of these factors results in the "lodestar" amount. See e.g., Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 551 (2010). "[The court does] not automatically accept the lawyer's rate as reasonable; we look also to the ordinary fee for similar work in the community." Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Cmty. v. City of Prior ...


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