United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
H. Thompson UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
lawsuit brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff
Dion Mario Neal charged defendants, who were correctional
staff at Elmore Correctional Facility, with subjecting him to
excessive force and failing to protect him from that force in
violation of the Eighth Amendment and with invading his
privacy when strip-searching him in violation of the
Fourteenth Amendment. He also brought claims under state law
for assault and battery, negligence or wantonness in
connection with the use of force, and negligent supervision
or retention of the subordinate defendants involved in the
alleged use of force. The parties settled this case for $ 80,
000.00, and the court entered judgment, dismissing the case
with prejudice. Currently before the court is Neal's
motion for approval of attorneys' fees.
the court appointed attorney Joel T. Caldwell to represent
him, Neal and Caldwell entered a contingency-fee arrangement
such that Caldwell would be entitled to 40 % of any recovery.
Under the agreement, Caldwell's share of the $ 80, 000.00
recovery equates to $ 32, 000.00. As Caldwell worked 129
hours on the case, this equates to an hourly rate of $
248.06. For the reasons that follow, Caldwell's fee will
court determines reasonable attorneys' fees by
determining the “lodestar” figure, which is the
product of the number of hours reasonably expended to
prosecute the lawsuit and the reasonable hourly rate for work
performed by similarly situated attorneys in the community.
After determining the lodestar fee, the court then evaluates
whether any portion of this fee should be adjusted upwards or
downwards. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424,
433-34 (1983). In making the above calculations, the court
follows the 12 factors set out in Johnson v. Georgia
Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir.
These factors are (1) the time and labor required; (2) the
novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill
required to perform the legal services properly; (4) the
preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to
acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee in the
community; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7)
time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8)
the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the
experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10)
the “undesirability” of the case; (11) the nature
and length of the professional relationship with the client;
and (12) awards in similar cases.
Caldwell's extensive time spent drafting complaints,
conducting discovery, corresponding with Neal and defense
counsel, and other necessary activities to bring about the
settlement in this case, the court finds that the request for
fees for 129 hours is reasonable.
reasonable hourly rate is the prevailing market rate in the
relevant legal community for similar services by lawyers of
reasonably comparable skills, experience, and
reputation.” Norman v. Hous. Auth. of City of
Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1299 (11th Cir. 1988).
“In evaluating comparability of the market rates . . .,
the district court may wish to consider any of the
Johnson factors to the extent that ... they may
affect the weight to be given to the comparables being
offered the court.” Id. at 1299-1300. Here,
plaintiff's counsel has provided an affidavit from an
experienced Montgomery attorney who attests that a
contingency fee of 40 % is customary in a case such as this
one; moreover, the court is itself an expert on the
prevailing contingency rate in the community, and may consult
its own experience in determining a reasonable rate.
Id. at 1303.
into consideration the Johnson factors--including
the complexity and undesirability of this case and the
excellent results achieved by Caldwell, the affidavit
attesting that a 40 % contingent fee is customary, and the
court's knowledge of attorneys' fees in the
community--the court finds that the 40 % contingency fee fits
within the prevailing market rate for Montgomery attorneys
comparable to Caldwell. Because this is a contingency case,
the court has assessed the fee on that basis rather than an
hourly fee basis.
the court finds the contingency lodestar to be $ 32, 000.00.
Although there may be circumstances justifying an upward or
downward adjustment from the loadstar, no adjustments are
warranted in this case. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434.
The court concludes that $ 32, 000.00 is a reasonable fee for
Caldwell's prosecution of Neal's case.
it is ORDERED that plaintiff Dion Neal's motion for
approval of attorneys' fees (doc. no. 80) is granted, and
that Honorable Joel T. Caldwell's fee of $ 32, 000.00 is
Bonner v. City of Prichard, Alabama, 661 F.2d 1206,
1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en banc), the Eleventh Circuit Court
of Appeals adopted as binding precedent all of the decisions
of the former Fifth Circuit handed down prior to ...