United States District Court, D. New Mexico
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND LITIGATION
EXPENSES AND GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART
PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR TAXABLE COSTS
M. Carson III United States Circuit Judge
matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for
Attorneys' Fees and Litigation Expenses (Doc. 230) and
Plaintiff's Motion for Taxable Costs (Doc. 225). Having
reviewed the arguments and the relevant law, the Court grants
in part and denies in part Plaintiff's Motion for
Attorneys' Fees and Litigation Expenses (Doc. 230) and
grants in part and denies in part Plaintiff's Motion for
Taxable Costs (Doc. 225).
Isaha Casias brought this civil rights lawsuit against the
State of New Mexico Department of Corrections
(“NMDC”) and two individual NMDC transport
officers, Taracina Morgan and Herman Gonzales. Plaintiff
alleged Eighth Amendment violations under 42 U.S.C. §
1983 and state law negligence claims against the individual
defendants for their actions during a prison transport.
Plaintiff claimed NMDC was vicariously liable for the actions
of its officers.
April 2019, the Court held a four-day jury trial on this
matter. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff,
awarding him $1, 000, 000 in compensatory damages against all
the defendants, jointly and severally, and $500, 000 in
punitive damages against each individual defendant. On April
12, 2019, the Court entered Judgment on the Jury Verdict
(“Judgment”) (Doc. 223). Plaintiff now seeks
attorneys' fees and litigation expenses under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1988(b) and taxable costs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §
1920, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure (“Rule”)
54(d), and District of New Mexico Local Rule of Civil
Procedure (“Local Rule”) 54.
42 U.S.C. § 1988, prevailing parties in civil rights
actions are entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees.
See 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). Neither party disputes
that Plaintiff is a prevailing party pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1988(b). Thus, the only question is whether
Plaintiff's fee request is “reasonable.” To
determine the reasonableness of a fee request, the Court must
calculate the “lodestar” amount. Robinson v.
City of Edmond, 160 F.3d 1275, 1281 (10th Cir. 1998).
The lodestar “is the product of the number of attorney
hours reasonably expended and a reasonable hourly
rate.” Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).
“Once an applicant for a fee has carried the burden of
showing that the claimed rate and number of hours are
reasonable, the resulting product is presumed to be a
reasonable fee as contemplated by Section 1988.”
Id. (quoting Cooper v. State of Utah, 894
F.2d 1169, 1171 (10th Cir. 1990)).
requests $340, 403.29 in attorneys' fees. Doc. 240 at 15.
In support of this request, Plaintiff attached billing
records showing that Matthew Coyte, Plaintiff's lead
attorney, billed a total of 381.5 hours at an hourly rate
of $350 per hour. Doc. 230, Ex. 1; Doc. 240, Ex. 7.
Additionally, Plaintiff requests reimbursement for 198.1
hours of time billed by Vanessa Jaramillo, a paralegal in
Coyte's office, at a rate of $135 per hour. Doc. 230, Ex.
1; Doc 240, Ex. 7. Plaintiff also provides billing records of
Coyte's co-counsel, Adam Baker. The records reflect that
Baker billed 353.4 hours at a rate of $300 per hour. Doc 230,
Ex. 2; Doc. 240, Ex. 8. Finally, Plaintiff submits the
records of his fee counsel, Philip Davis. Davis billed a
total of 38.2 hours at a rate of $425 per hour. Doc. 230, Ex.
3; Doc 240, Ex. 10. Kristina Tice, a paralegal in Davis's
office, billed a total of 9.9 hours at a rate of $135 per
hour. Doc. 230, Ex. 3; Doc 240, Ex. 10. Plaintiff asks the
Court to apply the Albuquerque gross receipts tax rate for
Coyte, Davis, Jaramillo, and Tice. He asks the Court to apply
the Santa Fe gross receipt tax for Baker.
do not dispute the reasonableness of Coyte and Baker's
hourly rates. Further, Judge Yarbrough found the rates
requested for Plaintiff's merits counsel were reasonable
when awarding attorneys' fees for discovery violations
earlier in this litigation. See Doc. 92. The Court
concludes that a reasonable rate for Coyte's legal
services is $350 per hour and that a reasonable rate for
Baker's legal services is $300 per hour.
contest two specific time entries by Coyte as being
unreasonably long for the tasks described. Defendants also
contest a series of time entries for inadequate documentation
regarding the tasks performed.
first entry Defendants challenge is from October 18, 2016, in
which Coyte recorded 2.7 hours with the description:
“Review Defendant's [sic] Supplemental Initial
Disclosures; discuss with staff.” Doc. 230, Ex. 1 at
12. Defendants' Supplemental Initial Disclosures were
40-pages long. Defendants claim 2.7 hours is an unreasonable
amount of time for Coyte's review. Doc. 234 at 7.
Defendants further claim the entry is unclear as to why Coyte
needed to discuss the disclosures with staff. Id.
Defendants ask the Court to reduce Coyte's hours for this
task from 2.7 to 1.0 hour. Id.
explains in his supplemental affidavit (Doc. 240, Ex. 7 at
1-2), that the 2.7 hours related to the hours spent reviewing
the documentation and included a strategy meeting with the
litigation team. Id. According to the affidavit, the
late disclosure by Defendants included inflammatory
information regarding the health of additional inmates in the
van on the day of the incident, which made the additional
meeting necessary. Id. The Court agrees with
Plaintiff that 2.7 hours is a reasonable amount of time for
the described tasks. The Court will award Plaintiff the full
2.7 hours of contested time.
Defendants challenge an entry from September 3, 2017, in
which Coyte recorded 3.2 hours to “[r]ead the
deposition of Herman Gonzales and review deposition
exhibits.” Doc. 230, Ex. 1 at 14. Gonzales's
deposition, however, was 35 pages long and contained no
exhibits. Doc. 234 at 7. On that basis, Defendants ask the
Court to reduce Coyte's time to 1.0 hour for that entry.
Id. However, Coyte explains that his review of
depositions exhibits did not reference exhibits to
Gonzales's deposition, but exhibits from all the
depositions taken in this case. Doc. 240, Ex. 7 at 2. The
Court reads the billing entry to support Coyte's
explanation of the tasks performed and finds he expended his
time reasonably. Thus, the Court will award Plaintiff the
entire 3.2 hours of contested time.
Defendants challenge a series of Coyte's time entries for
lack of specificity. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461
U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (“Where the documentation of hours
is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award
accordingly.”). For example, on September 15, 2017,
Coyte billed 2.5 hours with the following description:
“Reviewed depositions and made notes.” Doc. 230,
Ex. 1 at 15. On September 18, 2017, Coyte billed 1.2 hours
with the following description: “Continue reading
depositions.” Id. On September 19, 2019, Coyte
billed 4.1 hours with the following description:
“Continue reading depositions, read Taracina
Morgan's statement. Telephonic statement and reviewed for
contradictions.” Id. Defendants contrast these
time entries with others in which Coyte provided more detail
about the tasks performed. See Doc. 234 at 7-8
(“[O]n 9/14/2017, Coyte had billed 5.5 hours to review
the depositions and exhibits of Taracina Morgan, Derek
Williams and to review DOC policies and procedures. Again on
9/21/2016, 3.4 hours was billed under the following time
entry: ‘Finished Taracina Morgan's depo. Started
witness depositions from family.' On 9/27/2017, Attorney
Coyte billed 1.6 hours as follows: ‘Continued with
reading remaining deposition. Derek Williams; discussed with
law clerk how to get evidence of DWI not reported into
evidence. Discussed Motion in Limine.'”).
Defendants ask the Court for a reduction in hours billed
because “Coyte has not documented accurately what hours
were spent on which task.” Id. at 8.
imply that Plaintiff may be seeking double recovery for
certain deposition related tasks Coyte performed based on his
purportedly vague descriptions of the tasks performed. The
Court disagrees. Coyte's billing records are not sloppy
or imprecise. See Robinson, 160 F.3d at 1284-85.
Coyte's entries are sufficient for the Court to determine
the general activity he was performing and that the amount of
time spent was reasonable. Cf. Tenn. Gas Pipeline Co. v.
104 Acers of Land, More or Less, in Providence Cnty., State
of R.I., 32 F.3d 632, 634 (1st Cir. 1994) (holding that
district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that
time sheets were not sufficiently detailed when they
contained entries such as “‘Confer with
co-counsel,' ‘Confer with client,'
‘Review materials,' ‘Review documents,'
and ‘Legal Research' without any indication of the
subject matter involved”). The Court will award
Plaintiff this contested time.
Court finds that the hours Plaintiff requests with respect to
Coyte are reasonable. The Court awards Plaintiff $144,
040.09-the product of 381.5 hours at an hourly rate of $350
and adjusted for the 7.8750% gross receipts
object to Baker's billing entries between December 13,
2016 and December 29, 2016. These entries relate to
Baker's 29.3 hours spent preparing Plaintiff's
Response to Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Response”) (Doc. 70). Doc. 230, Ex. 2 at 13.
Defendants posit that “charging almost 30 hours to
respond to Defendants' Motion for Partial Summary
Judgment is excessive and unreasonable.” Doc. 234 at 9.
Court disagrees. Plaintiff's Response was 25 pages, but
it contained over 80 pages of exhibits, including affidavits
from Plaintiff and Dr. William Foote (Plaintiff's expert
witness). Doc. 70. These affidavits required Baker
to spend time conferring with Plaintiff and Dr. Foote in
addition to researching and drafting the Response.
See Doc. 240, Ex. 8 at 1-3. The Court finds that the
time Baker spent preparing Plaintiff's Response is
Court concludes that the hours Plaintiff requests with
respect to Baker are reasonable. Accordingly, the Court
awards Plaintiff $114, 965.44-the product of 353.4 hours at
an hourly rate of $300 and adjusted for the 8.4375% gross
dispute Plaintiff's requested rate of $135 per hour for
Jaramillo's services. According to Defendants, a $135
rate does not reflect the prevailing market rate for a
paralegal in the relevant community. See Blum v.
Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984). Defendants urge the
Court to adopt a rate of $55 per hour for paralegal services.
See Gutwein v. Taos Cty. Det. Ctr., 2016 WL 9774935,
at *2 (D.N.M. Nov. 16, 2016) (finding a rate of $55 per hour
reasonable for a paralegal in New Mexico in 2016).
Court disagrees and finds Plaintiff's requested rate of
$135 per hour for Jaramillo's paralegal services
reasonable. Plaintiff provided Coyte's affidavit
attesting to Jaramillo's skill and sixteen years of
experience as a paralegal in New Mexico. Doc. 230, Ex. 1 at
6-7. Further, Plaintiff's requested rate is not at the
high or low end of paralegal rates in Albuquerque that this
Court found reasonable in 2018. See O Centro Espirita
Beneficente Uniao Do Vegetal in U.S. v. Duke
(“O Centro”), 343 F.Supp.3d 1050, 1088
(D.N.M. 2018) (learning from plaintiff's counsel that the
Modrall Sperling firm billed its paralegals at hourly rates
between $160.00 and $185.00 per hour, the Peifer, Hanson, and
Mullins, P.A. firm billed its paralegals at hourly rates
between $115.00 and $135.00 per hour, and the Rodey Law Firm
billed its paralegals at hourly rates between $105.00 and
$125.00 per hour). Finally, Plaintiff provided the 2015
National Utilization and Compensation Survey Report of the
National Association of Legal Assistants (NALA), Table 3.4,
at p. 3 (Doc. 240, Ex 6), which lists the average hourly rate
charged in 2014 for paralegal/legal ...