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Garcia v. City of Farmington

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 28, 2016



         On August 22, 2016, Plaintiff Juanita Garcia filed a Motion for Costs and Application for Attorney's Fees and Expenses (ECF No. 173). The Court, having considered the motion, briefs, evidence, applicable law, and otherwise being fully advised, concludes that the motion should be granted in part and denied in part. The Court will enter an award of attorney's fees, expenses, and costs, but will reduce the requested amount, as described herein.


         On May 9, 2013, Plaintiff filed a First Amended Complaint with six causes of action. First Am. Compl., ECF No. 35. On March 13, 2015, the Court granted Defendant summary judgment on Plaintiff's retaliation claims (Counts III and IV) and prima facie tort (Count V). Mem. Op. and Order, ECF No. 88. The Court held a five-day bench trial on February 22-26, 2016, on Plaintiff's three remaining claims. After trial, the Court entered Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, in which the Court found for Plaintiff and against Defendant on Ms. Garcia's hostile work environment claim (Count II) and awarded her $20, 000.00 in compensatory damages. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law 33-39, ECF No. 169. The Court also concluded, “Ms. Garcia is entitled to her reasonable attorney's fees and costs on her Title VII hostile work environment claim. See 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k).” Id. at 39. The Court, however, found for Defendant and against Plaintiff on Ms. Garcia's claims for failure to promote (Count I), breach of the settlement agreement (Count VI). Id. 29-33, 39-41.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Attorney's Fees

         The court may award a prevailing party in a Title VII proceeding “a reasonable attorney's fee (including expert fees) as part of the costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). Determining a reasonable award of attorney's fees is a two-step process: first, the court must determine whether an applicant is a prevailing party entitled to reimbursement of her fees; and second, the court must determine what fee is reasonable. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983).[1] “[A] plaintiff ‘prevails' ‘when actual relief on the merits of his claim materially alters the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the defendant's behavior in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff.'” Browder v. City of Moab, 427 F.3d 717, 722 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 109 (1992)). This Court already determined that Plaintiff prevailed on her hostile work environment claim and is entitled to a reasonable fee award.

         In order to arrive at a reasonable fee, courts generally use the “lodestar amount, ” which is the “product of the number of attorney hours ‘reasonably expended' and a ‘reasonable hourly rate.'” Robinson v. City of Edmond, 160 F.3d 1275, 1281 (10th Cir. 1998) (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433). The fee applicant has the burden of showing entitlement to the award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates. Case v. Unified Sch. Dist. No. 233, 157 F.3d 1243, 1249 (10th Cir. 1998). The district court may reduce the award where the documentation of hours is inadequate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. Records must reveal all hours for which the attorney seeks compensation and how the attorney allotted those hours to specific tasks. Robinson, 160 F.3d at 1281. A court may reduce the lodestar calculation where the prevailing part achieved only partial success. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435-37. “The district court may attempt to identify specific hours that should be eliminated, or it may simply reduce the award to account for the limited success.” Id. at 436-37.

         1. Hours Reasonably Expended by Plaintiff's Counsel

         Defendant contends that Plaintiff did not differentiate in her attorney's fees request which hours counsel spent on the successful hostile work environment claim, as opposed to the unsuccessful claims. Defendant urges the Court to deny Plaintiff fees entirely. Despite that the Attorney Time Records and Expenses are not as detailed regarding certain line items as desired by the Court, in general they are sufficient, when considered with the other evidence, to determine that a significant portion of counsel's time was reasonably expended in litigation of the hostile work environment claim.

         Nevertheless, the Court finds that a percentage reduction of hours is fair and reasonable in this case in light of Plaintiff's failure to prevail on the failure to promote and breach of settlement agreement claims, claims this Court found to be without merit. Much of the evidentiary support for the unsuccessful claims was distinct from the hostile work environment claim, making them largely unrelated. Plaintiffs' billing records, however, are not so detailed to enable the Court to carve out with specificity work that was only pertinent to the failure-to-promote and breach of contract claims. The Court thus will use its discretion to use a percentage reduction to account for Plaintiff's limited success on the merits. See Browder, 427 F.3d at 723 (explaining that court should only award prevailing plaintiff attorney's fees for time spent prosecuting successful claim and those related to it).

         Plaintiff only met with success with one out of five initial claims, and the result was not one of complete vindication for Plaintiff. Nevertheless, the thrust of this case was the hostile work environment claim and that claim was the more significant issue in the case. For example, in Plaintiff's Revised Proposed Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (ECF No. 165), approximately 2/3 of document relates to the hostile work environment claim, while 1/3 relates to the unsuccessful claims. The majority of witnesses had testimony to offer on the hostile work environment claim. The Court finds that this general pattern bore out at trial and litigation as a whole. Moreover, reviewing the time records, a sizeable portion of counsel's time was devoted generally to litigation as a whole. Accordingly, the Court finds that Plaintiff should recover 67% of the total attorney's and paralegal fees to account for her significant, yet limited success on the merits.

         Because the Court's deduction will account for Mr. Mozes's own reduction, the Court finds that reasonable hours for Mr. Mozes expended in litigating the hostile work environment claim amounted to 378.82 hours (565.4 hours x 0.67). This result is a reasonable, commensurate fee in light of the relative success obtained.

         2. Reasonable Hourly Rate

         A court should establish an hourly rate award based on what the evidence shows the market commands for lawyers of comparable skill and experience practicing in the area of civil rights or analogous litigation. See Case, 157 F.3d at 1255-56. Mr. Mozes seeks $325 per hour, although he acknowledges that his standard hour fee rate is $300, but he has considered raising that rate. Aff. of Michael Mozes ¶ 17, ECF No. 173-3. Mr. Mozes has been a practicing attorney for over 20 years with considerable experience in civil rights work. See Id. ¶¶ 5-9. He has attached the Affidavit of Charles Archuleta, an experienced civil rights attorney in the New Mexico legal community, who avers that a $325 hourly rate is a fair and reasonable fee for the services rendered by attorneys like Mr. Mozes in Albuquerque. See Aff. of Charles Archuleta, ¶¶ 1-4, 9, ECF No. 173-6. The Court finds, based on the evidence, that an hourly rate of $300, the amount Mr. Mozes has been charging his clients, is reasonable for an attorney with similar experience and skill in this market area. See Case, 157 F.3d at 1257 (explaining reasons why plaintiff's counsel in civil rights may be paid more than counsel representing governmental entity); Calderon v. Herrera et al., No. Civ. 2011-0482 WJ/GBW, at 2 (D.N.M. June 20, 2012) (awarding $300 hourly rate for experienced attorney); Anchondo v. Anderson, Crenshaw, & Associates, LLC, No. Civ. 08-0202 RB/WPL, at 3 (D.N.M. Oct. 19, 2010) (same).

         3. Total Attorney's Fees

         The Court finds that the amount for attorney's fees is $133, 646.00 (378.82 hours x $300). Using the 7.3125 current GRT for Albuquerque, as Mr. Mozes has done without objection, the tax amounts to $9, 772.86. The total attorney's fee award is thus $143, 418.86 for Mr. Mozes's work on the hostile work environment claim.

         B. Paralegal Fees

         The Court will likewise adjust downward the paralegal hours, awarding 67% of the requested hours (164 hours x 0.67 = 109.88 hours). See Aff. of Norma L. Mozes, ECF No. 173-5. The Court finds that the requested $85 hourly fee for Norma Mozes's paralegal work is reasonable in the local market area. See id.; Aff. of Michael Mozes ΒΆ 19, ECF No. 173-3. Consequently, the Court ...

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