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Banks v. Slay

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

October 7, 2016

MICHAEL J. BANKS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
FRANCIS G. SLAY, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          E. RICHARD WEBBER, SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Bill of Costs [ECF No. 82], Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees [ECF No. 83], Plaintiffs' Motion for Billing Records. [ECF No. 85], and Plaintiffs' Verified Joint Motion for Supplemental Award of Attorneys' Fees Pursuant to U.S.C. § 1988. [ECF No. 111].

         I. FACTUAL BACKGROUND

         This lawsuit originated when Plaintiffs Michael J. Banks and Antonia Rush-Banks (“Plaintiffs”) filed a complaint against Defendants Francis Slay, an ex-officio member of the Saint Louis Board of Police Commissioners, Richard Gray, Thomas Irwin, Bettye-Battle Turner, and Erwin Switzer; Francis Slay, in his official capacity as Mayor of Saint Louis; Tishaura Jones, Treasurer of the City of Saint Louis, and Darlene Green, Comptroller of the City of Saint Louis (collectively “Defendants”); seeking to enforce a default judgment entered by the Circuit Court of the City of St. Louis, for violations of Michael Williams, a former St. Louis City Police Officer. The Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment and entered a writ of mandamus ordering Darlene Greene, Comptroller of the City of Saint Louis, to issue payment to Plaintiffs in the amount of $1, 487, 553.49.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Plaintiffs have filed four motions before the Court: Plaintiffs' Motion for Bill of Costs [ECF No. 82], Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees [ECF No. 83], Plaintiffs' Motion for Billing Records. [ECF No. 85], and Plaintiffs' Verified Joint Motion for Supplemental Award of Attorneys' Fees Pursuant to U.S.C. § 1988. [ECF No. 111]. Defendants have not objected to the bill of costs, the request for costs in the motion for attorneys fees, and have provided the requested billing records in their opposition memorandum to Plaintiffs' motion for attorneys fees. The only remaining issues present before the Court is Plaintiffs' request for attorneys fees.

         Plaintiffs seek $245, 030.00 in attorneys' fees and $161.05 in costs. Plaintiffs' attorneys' fees were calculated using the lodestar method. Plaintiffs seek $450.00 per hour for attorney Robert Herman's 287 hours of work on this matter, $325.00 per hour for attorney Kenneth Romine's 64 hours of work on this matter, $250.00 per hour for attorney Edward Wells 364.7 hours of work on this matter, and $110.00 per hour for law clerk Ilana Friedman's 35.5 hours of work on this matter. [ECF No. 85]. Defendants in their opposition motion counter both Plaintiffs' attorneys' hourly rates and the time expended were excessive. They specifically argue Mr. Hermann should be awarded a $355 hourly rate, Ms. Friedman should be awarded a $93.00 hourly rate, and the Court should not award any more than 200 hours of attorney time. [ECF No. 104]. Defendants reply both Mr. Hermann and Ms. Friedman's proposed hourly rates are reasonable and well cited, Plaintiffs' counsel spent an appropriate amount of time on this case, cases cited by Defendants are not comparable, and Defendants identify only a few unreasonable time amounts. [ECF No. 110].

         Plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. There are two steps in determining whether attorneys' fees are reasonable: (1) first the number of hours attorneys expand must be reasonable; and (2) the rates charged by attorneys' must be reasonable. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). To determine a reasonable amount for attorney fees, a court multiplies the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 564 (1986). The product of this calculation is “presumed to be the reasonable fee to which counsel is entitled” when the attorney has shown the claimed rate and number of hours are reasonable. Id. The “novelty and complexity of the issues, the special skill and experience of counsel, the quality of representation, and the results obtained from the litigation” are reflected in this amount. Id. (internal quotations omitted).

         a. Hours Billed

         Plaintiffs, in their motion, argue this case involved complex questions of state and local law, to the extent possible they allocated more routine work to associate's and law clerks, and provided detailed billing records showing their billed hours were reasonable. [ECF Nos. 84, 84-1 - 84-8]. Defendants, in their opposition motion, argue, Plaintiffs' attorneys' billing is not individual and specific, the case was factually simple, the legal issues were not complex, and similar cases have been litigated for significantly fewer hours, and certain billing line items are unreasonable as excessive. [ECF No. 104 at 3-4]. Plaintiffs reply Defendants billing records in this case are incomplete and thus not probative to the amount of time Plaintiffs spent; the cases Plaintiffs hope to compare to the present case can be distinguished because of simpler appeals; and Defendants only specify four line items of excessive billing.

         Defendants cite two different civil rights litigation cases, where attorneys billed time was significantly lower, and allege these cases are comparable to the present case to show Plaintiffs' billing is unreasonable. Plaintiffs respond these cases can be distinguished because the issues on appeal were much simpler. In Snider v. City of Cape Girardeau, 752 F.3d 1149, 1160 (8th Cir. 2014), Anthony Rothert and Grant Doty, a partner and associate with five years of experienced charged $300 per hour and $225 per hour, respectively, in a case regarding flag desecration, where parties conducted discovery, had a bench trial, and the litigation lasted over two years. [ECF No. 104-1]. In Rohrbough v. Hall, No. 4:07CV00996 ERW, 2010 WL 4940954, at *4 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 30, 2010), where a total of 713 hours was billed in a case regarding police misconduct, the plaintiffs had two bench trials and Plaintiffs had to defend an appeal. [ECF No. 104-4]. Plaintiffs attempt to distinguish these cases, by arguing the issues on appeal were much simpler, and the Rohrbough plaintiffs were defending an appeal, not seeking to overturn the district court.

         The Court is persuaded by Defendants' memorandum regarding their request for reductions of attorneys fees. Fees for research and drafting by Mr. Robert Hermann are reduced by 20%. Fees for research and drafting by Mr. Edward Wells are reduced by 20%. Mr. Hermann will be allowed to bill for a total of 245 hours[1]. Mr. Wells will be allowed to bill for a total of 305.5 hours.[2]

         b. Plaintiffs' attorneys hourly rates

         Plaintiffs argue, in their motion for attorneys' fees, their rates are reasonable in comparison to the market of the metropolitan St. Louis area, ...


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