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Puente Arizona v. Penzone

United States District Court, D. Arizona

October 25, 2017

Puente Arizona, et al., Plaintiffs,
Paul Penzone, et al., Defendants.



         Plaintiffs have filed a motion for attorneys' fees and non-taxable expenses. Doc. 708. The motion is fully and extensively briefed, and no party has requested oral argument. The Court will grant the motion in part.

         A. Legal Standards.

         A party requesting an award of attorneys' fees and non-taxable expenses must show that it is (a) eligible for an award, (b) entitled to an award, and (c) requesting a reasonable amount of fees. See LRCiv 54.2(c). Under the general fee-shifting provision for federal civil rights cases, “the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). “[A] court's discretion to deny fees under § 1988 is very narrow and . . . fee awards should be the rule rather than the exception.” Herrington v. Cty. of Sonoma, 883 F.2d 739, 743 (9th Cir. 1989) (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiffs are prevailing parties in this case, but they contend that the hourly rates sought by Plaintiffs' attorneys are in some cases too high, the amount of time for which Plaintiffs seek compensation should be reduced, and the overall fee award should be reduced because Plaintiffs did not succeed on all of their claims. Plaintiffs provide a number of declarations in support of their fee request (Docs. 708-1 to 708-15), and Defendants provide an extensive and detailed declaration by attorney William Klain (Doc. 715-1).

         To determine the reasonableness of requested attorneys' fees, federal courts generally use the “lodestar” method. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983); United States v. $186, 416.00 in U.S. Currency, 642 F.3d 753, 755 (9th Cir. 2011). The Court must first determine the initial lodestar figure by taking a reasonable hourly rate and multiplying it by the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. In determining whether the hourly rate or hours expended are reasonable, the Court should consider the Kerr factors that have been subsumed within the initial lodestar calculation. See Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1975); Cunningham v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 879 F.2d 481, 487 (9th Cir. 1988). These factors are: “(1) the novelty and complexity of the issues, (2) the special skill and experience of counsel, (3) the quality of representation, and (4) the results obtained.” Jordan v. Multnomah Cty., 815 F.2d 1258, 1262 n.6 (9th Cir. 1987).

         B. Lodestar Calculation.

         1. Hourly Rates.

         Reasonable hourly rates are not determined by the rates actually charged in a case, but “by the rate prevailing in the community for similar work performed by attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputation.” Schwarz v. Sec'y of Health & Human Servs., 73 F.3d 895, 908 (9th Cir. 1995). The relevant community is generally the forum in which the district court sits, Prison Legal News v. Schwarzenegger, 608 F.3d 446, 454 (9th Cir. 2010), but “rates outside the forum may be used if local counsel was unavailable, either because they are unwilling or unable to perform because they lack the degree of experience, expertise, or specialization required to handle properly the case.” Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin., Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 979 (9th Cir. 2008) (quoting Barjon v. Dalton, 132 F.3d 496, 500 (9th Cir. 1997)).

         Plaintiffs seek to recover out-of-state hourly rates for three sets of attorneys in this case: the U.C. Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic (“UCI IRC”), the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (“NDLON”), and the law firm of Hadsell, Stormer & Renick LLP (“HSR”). Plaintiffs seek to recover existing hourly rates for three sets of Arizona lawyers: The ACLU Foundation of Arizona (“ACLU-AZ”), attorney Ray Ybarra Maldonado, and the law firm of Quarles & Brady LLP (“QB”). Doc. 708 at 6.

         Defendants argue that Plaintiffs should be limited to reasonable Arizona rates for all lawyers because they have not shown that it was necessary to use out-of-state counsel. Doc. 715 at 5-6. The Court does not agree. Plaintiffs have submitted persuasive evidence that there were insufficient local counsel with the willingness and requisite “degree of experience, expertise or specialization required to handle properly the case.” Camacho, 523 F.3d at 979 (citing Barjon, 132 F.3d at 500). Daniel Pochoda, who served as Legal Director of the ACLU-AZ for years and is familiar with the local legal market, attests that there is a limited pool of civil rights attorneys who can handle a case like this. Doc. 708-8 ¶¶ 3-5; see also Maldonado Decl., Doc. 708-9, ¶¶ 8-9 (judging that the only option was to look outside Arizona and noting that some attorneys outside of Arizona were unavailable to take the case); Garcia Decl., Doc. 95-2 ¶ 14 (explaining that Puente had been looking for pro bono counsel to bring a challenge since 2013). Mr. Pochoda's difficulty in recruiting local firms as the case entered the discovery phase supports the need to look outside the state. Doc. 708-8 ¶¶ 6-7. Mr. Klain notes that there are many lawyers in the Phoenix area who do civil rights work, but he did not attempt to locate lawyers or firms to take on this level of litigation against prominent county officials over an extended period of time. Doc. 715-1 ¶¶ 16-19.

         The Court will award the hourly rates sought by Plaintiffs' out-of-state counsel, with two exceptions.

         First, the Court will cap out-of-state attorneys' fees at $750 per hour. The Court concludes that this cap is reasonable given the fact that rates above this level represent premium billing in large legal markets - a rate of pay not warranted for counsel who did not take a leading role in this case. This will reduce fees for the HSR firm by $6, 300 (see Doc. 708-13 ¶ 19: $1, 100 x 18 - $750 x 18 = $6, 300).[1]

         Second, the Court will also reduce the hourly rate charged for U.C. Irvine law students from the requested $200 to $125. The Court views $125 per hour as more than reasonable for law students who have not yet graduated from law school or passed the bar exam. UCI IRC seeks to recover $56, 050 for law student time. Doc. 708-6 ¶¶ 17, 25. Reducing this amount by 37.5% (representing the ...

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