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Maner v. Linkan, LLC

United States District Court, N.D. Alabama, Eastern Division

June 13, 2014

ASHLEY L. MANER, Plaintiff,
v.
LINKAN, LLC, d/b/a FUGI JAPANESE CUISINE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS, District Judge.

INTRODUCTION

The plaintiff (Ms. Maner) has submitted a Petition for Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs, doc. 37, which she has since supplemented, doc 46. Considered together, Ms. Maner requests a combined attorney's fee amount of $90, 187.50 and a combined costs amount of $2, 262.38 -for a total award of $92, 449.88. Doc. 46 at 5. The defendant (Linkan) has filed an opposition in which it argues that this request is excessive. Doc. 43. In accordance with the attached revisions - and for the following reasons - the court will grant Ms. Maner $37, 600 in attorney's fees and $958.31 in costs, for a total award of $38, 558.31.

STATEMENT OF THE CASE

Ms. Maner filed her Complaint on April 10, 2012. Doc. 1. In it, she alleged pregnancy discrimination and retaliation claims against Linkan under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2000e-17. Id. ¶¶ 7-28. Both claims related to one adverse employment action - Ms. Maner's termination on October 24, 2010. See id. The case went to trial on July 29, 2013. On August 1, the jury returned a verdict in Ms. Maner's favor on both claims. Doc. 29. On her pregnancy discrimination claim, the jury awarded her the following damages:

• $6, 000 in compensatory damages for net loss of wages;
• $25, 000 in compensatory damages for emotional pain and mental anguish; and
• $200, 000 in punitive damages.

Id. at 1-2. On her retaliation claim, the jury awarded her the following damages:

• $8, 000 in compensatory damages for net loss of wages;
• $25, 000 in compensatory damages for emotional pain and mental anguish; and
• $50, 000 in punitive damages.

Id. at 3-4. The court entered final judgment on August 7, 2013. Doc. 33. Relying on the caps mandated by 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3)(A), the court reduced Ms. Maner's total award to $56, 000. Id. at 3. The court also set September 6 of that year as the deadline for any attorney's fee request. Id.

Linkan filed two post-judgment motions: a Motion to Alter Judgment (doc. 34) on August 23, 2013, and a Motion to Add Defense of Res Judicata and/or Collateral Estoppel and to Dismiss (doc. 38) on September 12, 2013. The court denied both motions on November 21, 2013. Doc. 44. In the interim, on September 6, 2013, Ms. Maner filed her Petition for Award of Attorney's Fees and Costs. Doc. 37. Linkan filed its responsive opposition on October 23. Doc. 43. The court filed a Scheduling Order on November 21, 2013, allowing Ms. Maner to supplement her attorney's fee request to account for the time and expenses associated with litigating Linkan's post-judgment motions. Doc. 45. On December 5, 2013, Ms. Maner accordingly supplemented her request. Doc. 46. On February 21, 2014, the court entered a Show Cause Order requiring Ms. Maner to explain why her request should not be denied for failing to comply with certain verification procedures mandated by the court's Uniform Initial Order. Doc. 47. On February 28, 2014, Ms. Maner responded to the court's Order and corrected the referenced deficiencies. Doc. 48.

LEGAL FRAMEWORK

The most useful starting point for determining attorney's fees is that "the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Bivins v. Wrap It Up, Inc., 548 F.3d 1348, 1350 (11th Cir. 2008) (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). "The product of this formula is the lodestar, ' which is the guiding light of our fee-shifting jurisprudence.'" Kenny A. ex rel. Winn v. Perdue (Perdue), 532 F.3d 1209, 1219 (11th Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted), rev'd and remanded on other grounds, 559 U.S. 542 (2010). Excluded from the lodestar calculation are "hours that were not reasonably expended.'" Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 (quoting S. Rep. No. 94-1101, at 6 (1976)).

Following the lodestar determination, the court will then address whether the fee should be adjusted upward or downward. In this analysis, it may be guided by the twelve factors described in Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974), abrogated on other grounds by Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87 (1989).[1] "There is no precise rule or formula for making these determinations. The district court may attempt to identify specific hours that should be eliminated, or it may simply reduce the award to account for the [partial or] limited success." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436-37. However, "[t]he Supreme Court has instructed us that there is a strong presumption' that the lodestar figure, without any adjustment, is the reasonable fee award." Perdue, 532 F.3d at 1220 (quoting City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 562 (1992); Penn. v. Del. Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565 (1986)).

DISCUSSION

In accordance with the legal framework set forth above, the court first looks to the amount of hours reasonably expended and then turns to the reasonable hourly rate.[2] Following this lodestar determination, the court will then determine whether an upward or downward adjustment is necessary. Finally, the court determines the type and amount of costs to be awarded.

A. Prevailing Party Status

The Civil Rights Act provides, "In any action or proceeding under this subchapter, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the Commission or the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee (including expert fees) as part of the costs, and the Commission and the United States shall be liable for costs the same as a private person." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). So, whether Ms. Maner qualifies as a "prevailing party" is a threshold inquiry. Here, it is clear that she ...


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