District Judge Surveys Law on Awarding Fees to Winning Civil Rights Plaintiff Really Prevailing Under State Pendent Claims.
Willis v. City of Fresno, Case No. 1:09-CV-01766-BAM (E.D. Cal., Doc. No. 316 7/17/14) is an interesting decision granting attorney’s fees and costs to counsel representing prevailing civil rights plaintiffs, although the plaintiffs got $1 on the federal civil rights claim and $302,044.80 (after an 80% comparative negligence deduction) on a related state pendent wrongful death claim. After the dust settled, plaintiffs wanted a $1.1 million fee lodestar (plus a 1.5 multiplier) as well as costs.
The district judge awarded $717,642.74 in fees and $106,852.20 in costs.
The interesting legal issue is whether the fee shifting civil rights entitlement was justified based on the related state pendent claim. The district court decided it was, based on Bridges v. Eastman Kodak Co., 102 F.3d 56, 59 (2d Cir. 1996), cert. den. sub nom., 520 U.S. 1274 (1997); Jama v. Esmor Correctional Services, Inc., 577 F.3d 169, 179-180 (3d Cir. 2009).) These cases found a recovery on the state pendent claim related to a civil rights claim supported fee recovery.
The district judge also gave some nice insight into lodestar hourly fees for Fresno practitioners. In the end, the court reduced the requested fees by 35% for efficiency/duplication/limited success factors, with the limited success being the salient one in the end.
HAT TIP—We thank Carter White at U.C. Davis, who has “tipped” us off before on fee matters, for alerting us to this decision.