Adams v. The City of Montgomery - Maintenance Department
OPINION AND ORDER directing that plaintiff Willie Adams's motion for attorney's fees (Doc. No. 120 ) is granted and that attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $ 20,406.20 are awarded to plaintiff Adams from defendant City of Montgomery. Signed by Honorable Judge Myron H. Thompson on 11/18/13. (scn, )
IN THE DISTRICT COURT OF THE UNITED STATES FOR THE
MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA, NORTHERN DIVISION
THE CITY OF MONTGOMERY,
CIVIL ACTION NO.
OPINION AND ORDER
Following discovery violations by defendant City of
Montgomery, this court ordered sanctions in the amount of
50 % of reasonable costs and attorney’s fees attributable
to the delay caused by the city’s conduct.
Adams v. City
of Montgomery, 282 F.R.D. 627, 636 (M.D. Ala. 2012).
Because the parties have been unable to agree on a
reasonable fee, this court must determine the appropriate
For the reasons given below, the court awards
plaintiff Willie Adams $ 20,406.20 in reasonable costs
and attorney’s fees.
STANDARD FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES
When awarding attorney’s fees, this court must first
calculate the “lodestar” fee: the product of the number
of hours reasonably expended to litigate the case and the
reasonable hourly rate for work performed by similarly
situated attorneys in the community.
Norman v. Housing
Authority of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292, 1299 (11th Cir.
After determining the lodestar, the court then
addresses whether the award should be adjusted upwards or
Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizens’
Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 565-66 (1986).
In conducting this inquiry, the court is guided by
the twelve factors set out in Johnson v. Georgia Highway
Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974).1 See
also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429-30 (1983)
1. In Bonner v. City of Prichard, 661 F.2d 1206,
1209 (11th Cir. 1981) (en banc), the Eleventh Circuit
adopted as binding precedent all of the decisions of the
former Fifth Circuit handed down prior to the close of
business on September 30, 1981.
(endorsing the Johnson factors).
These twelve factors
“(1) the time and labor required; (2)
the novelty and difficulty of the
questions; (3) the skill requisite to
perform the legal service properly; (4)
the preclusion of employment by the
attorney due to acceptance of the case;
(5) the customary fee; (6) whether the
fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time
limitations imposed by the client or the
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
Id. at 430 n.3.
The fee applicant bears the burden of “establishing
entitlement and documenting the appropriate hours and
Norman, 836 F.2d at 1303.
requires “specific and detailed evidence from which the
different claims, and the general subject matter of the
(11th Cir. 1999).
ACLU v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 427
A fee applicant must also exercise
“billing judgment” and exclude hours that are “excessive,
redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.”
Hensley, 461 U.S.
continuation of the original trial date and precipitated
a protracted dispute about whether certain documents were
privileged and properly withheld.
This court has already
Adams v. City of Montgomery, 282 F.R.D. 627
(M.D. Ala. 2012).2
In short, the court found that the
city had not provided Adams with a privilege log and had
improperly withheld certain documents (such as the signed
2. For a discussion of the merits, see Adams v. City
of Montgomery, 2012 WL 1414979 (M.D. Ala. Apr. 24, 2012),
and Adams v. City of Montgomery, 2012 WL 1952294 (M.D.
Ala. May 30, 2012).
witness statements).3 In light of the city’s conduct, the
court ordered that:
“The city will pay Adams's reasonable
costs and attorneys' fees related to
[Walter] Lilley's deposition because the
city failed to notify Adams about
Lilley's role in the internal-affairs
investigation. The city will also pay
half of Adams's reasonable costs and
attorneys' fees for the six motions
addressed in this opinion (Doc. Nos. 80,
81, 83, 88, 90 & 94) as well as for the
evidentiary hearing of May 16, 2012.
The court finds that these sanctions are
appropriate because of the city's
initial failure to disclose the [Samuel]
Alexander documents, the non-privileged
Lilley documents, and the privilege log.
These sanctions are further appropriate
given the city's inconsistent positions
on whether the Alexander and Lilley
documents were disclosed in September
2011 and whether these documents were
privileged. The court, however, awards
only 50 % of Adams's reasonable costs
and attorneys' fees because Adams's
attorneys should have been more diligent
in noticing these discovery problems in
the fall of 2011 and brought them to the
3. The court also found that some of the documents
withheld by the city were protected by the work-product
However, the city failed to comply with
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(5)’s requirement to
supply a privilege log when withholding documents based
on a purported privilege.
Adams, 282 F.R.D. at 636. Accordingly, the sole issue
before the court is the reasonableness of Adams’s fee
Adams’s attorneys request the following fee award:4
50% of Total
4. Wilkinson originally submitted a time sheet with
a typographical error: 2.3 hours for work related to the
May 7, 2012, hearing instead of 12.3 hours. Wilkinson
subsequently corrected the record during the Johnson
While the jury was deliberating during the first
trial, the court conducted a hearing on the attorney’s
The court’s discussion of reasonable hourly
informed by that hearing and evidence submitted on the
Reasonable Hourly Rates
“The rate of attorney’s fees is that of the place
where the case is filed.”
Cullens v. Georgia Dep’t of
Transp., 29 F.3d 1489, 1494 (11th Cir. 1994).
determination of attorney’s fees must also be guided by
Mizell, 511 F. Supp. 2d 1158, 1163 (M.D. Ala. 2007)
At the Johnson hearing, Cynthia Foreman Wilkinson
testified that she has been practicing law since 1989 and
has worked in the labor and employment field for around
Alicia K. Haynes stated that she has been an
attorney for 25 years and has worked exclusively in labor
and employment law for the past two decades.
Wilkinson and Haynes testified that the other’s hourly
associate’s (Karen Cleveland) and their paralegal’s rates
opinions in similar cases from across Alabama showing fee
awards in the range of their hourly rates.
experience in the field of employment law, her hourly
charging rates more appropriate for Birmingham. Perhaps
because it is a much smaller city, Montgomery’s legal
rates are lower than Birmingham’s.
To take one example:
$ 300.00 to $ 375.00 applicable for attorneys with over
20 years of experience. It also has found the applicable
$ 200.00 to $ 250.00, and the applicable range for an
attorney one to two years of experience at $ 160.00 to
Alfa Corp. v. Alfa Mortgage, Inc., 560 F.
Supp. 2d 1166, 1180 (M.D. Ala. 2008) (Watkins, J.); see
also Gaylor v. Comala Credit Union, 2012 WL 1987183, *3
(M.D. Ala. June 1, 2012) (Thompson, J.) (using the same
fee structure); Simpleville Music, 511 F. Supp. 2d at
As such, the court will reduce Haynes’s hourly rate
to $ 375.
The court further finds that a $ 215 hourly
unreasonable and reduces her hourly rate to $ 185.
court concludes that Wilkinson’s hourly rate of $ 375 and
the paralegal rate of $ 125 are reasonable.
The city makes several objections to Adams’s fee
The city claims that Adams’s counsel are not
entitled to fees for a hearing conducted on May 7, 2012,
enumerated in the sanctions order, the May 7 hearing
addressed two of the six motions for which the court
awarded costs and reasonable attorney’s fees.
purpose of the May 7 hearing was to sort out the rapidly
continuation of the trial was necessary.
As such, the
court finds that the May 7 hearing falls within its
addressed in that opinion.
The city similarly believes that fees requested for
a response to the deposition of city investigator Walter
Lilley, Jr., are outside the court’s order.
encompassed “reasonable costs and attorneys' fees related
Haynes’s 1.5 hours for drafting a
response to the city’s deposition-related objection falls
within that language.
The city also alleges duplicate billing for work on
the same motions.
To be sure, Adams’s counsel spent a
considerable amount of time on the discovery dispute.
did this court.
The city’s shifting legal and factual
positions necessitated a thorough investigation of the
The court finds no evidence of duplicate billing
given its own experience with this complicated discovery
Finally, the city asserts Adams’s counsel billed too
much time for the May 16, 2012, hearing.
Haynes billed 5.5 and 6 hours respectively. Court records
indicate the hearing lasted for one hour and 20 minutes.
After factoring in preparation time and the three-to-four
hour round-trip drive between Birmingham and Montgomery,
the court finds that Wilkinson’s and Haynes’s requests for
the May 16 hearing are reasonable.
The Johnson Factors
After adjusting for local hourly rates, the lodestar
figure is calculated as follows:5
50% of Total
Adams’s attorneys have submitted oral and written
evidence related to the Johnson factors.
The court finds
that Wilkinson’s and Haynes’s skill and reputation, the
awards in other civil rights cases, and the contingent fee
arrangement point toward an increase in the lodestar
5. The court also corrected the figure for costs due
to a rounding error in Adams’s attorneys’ submission.
Adams’s counsel requested a mileage rate of $ 0.555 for
180 miles, which is $ 99.90, not $ 100.
However, the court concludes that Adams’s counsel’s
violations precludes an increase in the lodestar figure.6
Under the Johnson factors, the “results obtained” were
less impressive because of Adams’s attorneys’ delay.
this dispute had been resolved earlier, the continuation
of the trial would have been unnecessary.
artificially increased other Johnson factors–-“the time
and labor required,” “the novelty and difficulty of the
[discovery] questions,” “the preclusion of employment by
the attorney due to acceptance of the case,” and the “time
limitations imposed ... by the circumstances”–-that would
6. As the court detailed in its sanctions opinion,
“Adams’s attorneys should have recognized the city’s
discovery violations prior to May 2012.”
F.R.D. at 635. Specifically, Adams’s counsel should have
noticed irregularities in the Bates Stamped documents
that had been disclosed and uncovered the city’s failure
to turn over of the Alexander documents.
counsel, however, are not at fault for their failure to
uncover the so-called Lilley documents given the city’s
failure to provide a privilege log or mention Lilley’s
normally mitigate in favor of an increase in the lodestar
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 430 n.3.
In other words,
the discovery dispute would have required far less time
and energy if it had been sorted out months before trial.7
Accordingly, it is ORDERED that plaintiff Willie
Adams’s motion for attorney’s fees (Doc. No. 120) is
granted and that attorney’s fees and costs in the amount
defendant City of Montgomery.
DONE, this the 18th day of November, 2013.
/s/ Myron H. Thompson
UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
7. Similar considerations factored into the court’s
sanctions decision to award only 50 % of reasonable
attorneys fees and costs.
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