United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR AN AWARD OF ATTORNEYS' FEES,
COSTS, AND EXPENSES
Fashing United States Magistrate Judge
MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
an Award of Attorneys' Fees, Costs, and Expenses, filed
December 19, 2018. Doc. 363. This matter also comes before
the Court on Plaintiff's Supplement to Motion for an
Award of Attorneys' Fees, Costs, and Expenses, filed on
December 20, 2018. Doc. 365. Defendants filed their response
in opposition to plaintiff's motion on February 20, 2019.
Doc. 371. Plaintiff filed her reply on March 6, 2019. Doc.
372. Plaintiff filed a supplement to her reply on March 7,
2019. Doc. 373. The Court held a hearing on the motion on May
30, 2019. Doc. 377. Having read the parties' briefing and
heard the argument of counsel, and for the reasons stated
below and at the hearing, the Court finds that the motion is
well taken in part and will GRANT it in part and DENY it in
Background Facts and Procedural Posture
case arises out of an incident that took place in the San
Miguel County Detention Center on May 12, 2013. Plaintiff
Estrella Tenorio alleged that detention officer defendants
Elfigo Sandoval, Joey Romero, and Matthew Borrego violated
her Fourth Amendment rights by unlawfully seizing her and
using excessive force against her. Ms. Tenorio further
alleged that this constitutional violation resulted from the
official policy or custom of the defendant Board of County
Commissioners of San Miguel County (the
“County”). In her First Amended Complaint, Ms.
Tenorio brought seven causes of action against defendants.
Doc. 128. The Court dismissed some of Ms. Tenorio's
claims, see Docs. 156, 250, 264, and Ms. Tenorio
settled her claims against defendants Health Care Partners
Foundation, Inc. (“HCP”), and Rita Torres before
trial. Doc. 229, 258.
case went to trial on civil rights and intentional tort
claims against individual officers Elfigo Sandoval, Joey
Romero, Matthew Borrego, and a municipal liability claim
against the County. See Doc. 347. The jury found in
favor of Ms. Tenorio on all claims that went to the
and awarded her a total of $150, 000.00 in compensatory and
punitive damages. Doc. 334. On September 30, 2018, this Court
entered a final judgment in favor of Ms. Tenorio. Doc. 346.
As the prevailing party, Ms. Tenorio seeks attorneys'
fees and costs from the County pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1988. Specifically, Ms. Tenorio requests a total of $600,
841.47 in attorneys' fees (see Docs. 363-4 at
180, 365, 365-1, 373-1 at 6),  a total of $20, 980.10 in costs
(see Docs. 363 at 23, 373 at 2, 373-1 at 7),
plus 7.875% in gross receipts taxes on both the attorneys'
fees and costs in the amount of $48, 968.45 (Doc. 373 at 2),
for a grand total of $670, 790.02 (Doc. 373 at 2).
1988 provides that, in certain civil rights actions,
including those brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983,
“the 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). In addition to attorney's fees, the
prevailing party in a civil rights action is normally
entitled to costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1920. Case v.
Unified Sch. Dist. No. 233, Johnson Cty., Kan., 157 F.3d
1243, 1249 (10th Cir. 1998). “A plaintiff who
succeed[ed] on any significant issue in litigation which
achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing
the suit is a prevailing party.” Id. (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted) (alteration in
original). “[A] prevailing plaintiff should ordinarily
recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances
would render such an award unjust.” Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983) (internal quotation
marks and citation omitted). Defendants do not dispute that
plaintiff was a prevailing party on the claims that went to
the jury, nor do defendants contend that an award of
attorneys' fees would be unjust. Rather, defendants
challenge the reasonableness of the requested award.
determine the reasonableness of a fee request, a court must
begin by calculating the so-called ‘lodestar
amount' of a fee, and a claimant is entitled to the
presumption that this lodestar amount reflects a
‘reasonable' fee.” Robinson v. City of
Edmond, 160 F.3d 1275, 1281 (10th Cir. 1998). “The
lodestar calculation is the product of the number of attorney
hours ‘reasonably expended' and a ‘reasonable
hourly rate.'” Id. Counsel for the party
claiming the fees has the burden of establishing entitlement
to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended
and hourly rates. Case, 157 F.3d at 1249-50. The
Court must examine the records to determine whether specific
tasks are properly chargeable and whether the hours expended
on each chargeable task are reasonable. Id. at 1250.
“The prevailing party must make a good-faith effort to
exclude from a fee request, hours that are excessive,
redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Jane L. v.
Bangerter, 61 F.3d 1505, 1510 (10th Cir. 1995) (internal
quotation marks and citation omitted). Moreover, the hourly
rates requested by counsel must reflect the prevailing market
rates in the community. Id. Finally, certain factors
may cause the court to adjust a fee upward or downward,
“including the important factor of the ‘results
obtained.'” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434.
motion, plaintiff requests attorney's fees in the amount
of $575, 845.97. Doc. 363-4 at 180. Plaintiff's
supplemental motion requests an additional $13, 582.50 for
“time and costs related to time spent on research,
preparation, drafting and finalizing the motion for
attorneys' fees.” Doc. 365 at 2. Plaintiff's
supplement to her reply requests fees in the amount of $11,
413.00 for “time spent working on items since the
filing of the Motion.” Docs. 373 at 1, 373-1 at 6.
Defendants do not contest the hourly rates claimed by
plaintiff's counsel. Doc. 371 at 6. Instead, defendants
contend that plaintiff's request for fees for the number
of hours worked are excessive and should be reduced by 40%.
Id. The Court agrees with defendants that
plaintiff's attorneys' fees should be reduced, but
not to the extent requested by defendants.
Court will reduce plaintiffs requested fees for several
reasons. First, the limited success obtained by plaintiff
warrants a reduction in attorney's fees. See Barber
v. T.D. Williamson, Inc., 254 F.3d 1223, 1230-31 (10th
Cir. 2001) (analyzing the difference between the relief a
plaintiff sought and the relief a plaintiff recovered in
determining the reasonableness of attorney's fees). In
this case, there was a substantial difference between the
amount sought and the amount of the judgment. As defendants
point out. plaintiff recovered less than 4% of what she
sought at trial, and 13% of her lowest settlement demand
prior to trial. Doc. 371 at 7.
only a portion of the claims asserted by plaintiff in her
amended complaint merited presentation to the jury. Plaintiff
asserted seven claims in her amended complaint. Doc. 128. Of
those seven claims, only her Fourth Amendment claims, and her
intentional tort claims against the three individual
detention officers went to the jury. Plaintiff's claims
against defendants HCP and Rita Torres were settled (Doc.
229), and plaintiff's other claims were dismissed.
See Docs. 250, 264. Attorney time and fees that were
expended on claims solely related to defendants HCP and Rita
Torres should not be assessed against the County. Moreover,
although many of plaintiff's claims were intertwined,
plaintiff was not the prevailing party with regard to the
claims that were dismissed by the Court. Nevertheless,
plaintiff's Fourth Amendment case served a public purpose
by affirming an important right and encouraging attorneys to
represent civil rights litigants, and the fee award reflects
this. See Barber, 254 F.3d at 1231 (viewing the
public purpose served by a civil rights plaintiff in broad
terms and recognizing that courts have concluded “that
a public goal is accomplished if the plaintiff's victory
encourages attorneys to represent civil rights litigants and
affirms an important right, and/or provokes a change in the
may, in its discretion, reduce the lodestar amount of
attorney's fees if it determines the number of hours
claimed are duplicative, unproductive, excessive, or
otherwise unnecessary. Case, 157 F.3d at 1250.
Because identifying hours reasonably expended by reviewing
each billing entry would be practically impossible in this
case-plaintiff's counsel submitted 180 pages of billing
records (Doc. 363-4)-the court will make a general reduction
of the hours claimed. “[A] general reduction of hours
claimed in order to achieve what the court determines to be a
reasonable number is not an erroneous method, so long as
there is sufficient reason for its use.” Case,
157 F.3d at 1250.
that at least a portion of the attorney's fees claimed
may be excessive or duplicative, plaintiff has reduced her
requested award from the lodestar amount by 10%. For the
reasons stated above and at the hearing, the Court will
further reduce the total amount of hours requested by ...