Goff et al v. Chivers et al
RULING. For the reasons set forth in the attached Ruling, plaintiff Gibson's 73 MOTION for Award of Attorneys' Fees is GRANTED. Attorneys' fees are awarded in the amount of $11,037.50. Signed by Judge Sarah A. L. Merriam on 7/7/2017. (Kaczmarek, S.)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF CONNECTICUT
SHIRLEY R. GOFF and
GREGORY S. GIBSON
Civ. No. 3:15CV00722(SALM)
July 7, 2017
RULING ON MOTION FOR AWARD OF ATTORNEYS’ FEES [Doc. #73]
Pending before the Court is a motion by plaintiff Gregory
S. Gibson (“plaintiff”) for an award of attorneys’ fees,
pursuant to section 1988 of Title 42 of the United States Code.1
[Doc. #73]. In support of the motion, plaintiff’s counsel
submits two affidavits, seeking a total of $11,037.50 in fees.
See Doc. #73. Defendant Joshua Chivers (“defendant”) has filed
no opposition to the motion. For the reasons set forth below,
plaintiff’s Motion for Award of Attorneys’ Fees is GRANTED,
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §1988, “in actions brought to enforce
Section 1983, the court, in its discretion, may allow the
prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable
While plaintiff’s motion uses the plural “plaintiffs,” the
Court presumes that the application for an award of attorneys’
fees is on behalf of plaintiff Gibson, only, as plaintiff
Shirley R. Goff is not a “prevailing party” for the purposes of
section 1988. See 42 U.S.C. §1988(b).
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attorney’s fee as part of the costs.” Restivo v. Hessemann, 846
F.3d 547, 589 (2d Cir. 2017) (quotation marks and citation
For a plaintiff to be considered a “prevailing party,”
and thus eligible for an award of fees, he need not have
succeeded on the central issue in the case, and need not
have obtained the primary relief sought. It is
sufficient that the plaintiff succeeded on any
significant issue in the litigation, regardless of the
magnitude of the relief obtained, if he received actual
relief on the merits of his claim that materially alters
the legal relationship between the parties by modifying
the defendant’s behavior in a way that directly benefits
LeBlanc-Sternberg v. Fletcher, 143 F.3d 748, 757 (2d Cir. 1998)
(internal quotation marks and citations omitted).
“The district court retains discretion to determine what
constitutes a reasonable fee.” Millea v. Metro-N. R.R. Co., 658
F.3d 154, 166 (2d Cir. 2011) (quotation marks and citation
omitted). “However, this discretion is not unfettered,” and “the
district court must abide by the procedural requirements for
calculating those fees articulated by [the Second Circuit] and
the Supreme Court.” Id. Both the Second Circuit and the Supreme
Court of the United States have held “that the lodestar method
yields a fee that is presumptively sufficient to achieve the
objective of Section 1988(b).” Restivo, 846 F.3d at 589
(quotation marks and citations omitted); see also Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (“The most useful starting
point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the
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number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied
by a reasonable hourly rate.”). “The presumptively reasonable
fee boils down to what a reasonable, paying client would be
willing to pay, given that such a party wishes to spend the
minimum necessary to litigate the case effectively.” Simmons v.
N.Y. City Transit Auth., 575 F.3d 170, 174 (2d Cir. 2009)
(quotation marks and citation omitted).
The Court has already determined that “[p]laintiff Gibson
is a prevailing plaintiff for the purposes of 42 U.S.C. §1988,
and is therefore entitled to collect the reasonable attorney’s
fees and costs associated with the litigation of plaintiff
Gibson’s claim of false arrest.” Memorandum of Decision, Doc.
#70 at 45-6. Two attorneys appeared on this matter on
plaintiff’s behalf, and each has submitted an affidavit in
support of the application for an award of fees. The Court will
therefore address the question of the reasonableness of the fees
The Court turns first to Attorney Joseph M. Merly’s
application. Plaintiff Gibson seeks fees in the amount of
$7,087.50 for work performed by Attorney Merly, based on an
hourly rate of $350. “[A] reasonable fee is a fee that is
sufficient to induce a capable attorney to undertake the
representation of a meritorious civil rights case.” Perdue v.
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Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 552 (2010) (quotation marks
omitted). “[R]easonable fees under §1988 are to be calculated
according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant
community, regardless of whether plaintiff is represented by
private or nonprofit counsel.” Tsombanidis v. City of W. Haven,
Connecticut, 208 F. Supp. 2d 263, 272 (D. Conn. 2002), aff’d sub
nom. Tsombanidis v. W. Haven Fire Dep’t, 352 F.3d 565 (2d Cir.
2003). “Reasonable hourly rates are in line with those
prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of
reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.” Parris
v. Pappas, 844 F. Supp. 2d 262, 266 (D. Conn. 2012) (quotation
marks and citation omitted). To determine whether a fee is
reasonable, a court may take “judicial notice of the rates
awarded in prior cases and the court’s own familiarity with the
rates prevailing in the district.” Farbotko v. Clinton Cty. of
N.Y., 433 F.3d 204, 209 (2d Cir. 2005) (collecting cases).
Attorney Merly attended the University of Bridgeport School
of Law. See Doc. #73 at 3. He was admitted to the Connecticut
bar in 1992, and has been practicing law ever since. See id. He
has been associated with Attorney John R. Williams since July
2004. See id. He has tried approximately ninety cases to verdict
in the District of Connecticut; at least fifty of which involved
allegations of “police misconduct.” Id. Attorney Merly states
that he has personal knowledge of the hourly rates charged by
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attorneys in this District with comparable experience in this
field; these rates, he affirms, vary from $250 to $450 an hour.
See id. at 4.
Absent objection, the Court determines that the hourly rate
of $350 for Attorney Merly is reasonable, in light of his
experience; the nature of the work performed; the rates awarded
in prior cases; and the rates charged by attorneys in this
District with commensurate experience. See, e.g., Donato v.
Laird, No. 3:14CV00091(JAM), 2017 WL 2616921, at *1 (D. Conn.
June 16, 2017) (finding an hourly rate of $350 for Attorney
Merly to be reasonable); Crawford v. City of New London, No.
3:11CV1371(JBA), 2015 WL 1125491, at *3 (D. Conn. Mar. 12, 2015)
(awarding fees at the rate of $410 an hour for two attorneys
with over thirty years’ experience each in civil rights
litigation); Watrous v. Borner, 995 F. Supp. 2d 84, 89 (D. Conn.
2014) (stating that even an attorney “who is not a longstanding
expert in civil rights litigation could reasonably bill” $350
The Court next turns to Attorney John R. Williams’ fee
application. Plaintiff Gibson seeks fees for Attorney Williams’
work in the amount of $3,950.00, based on a $500 hourly rate.
See Doc. #73 at 6. Attorney Williams has been practicing law for
more than 49 years, and has “tried countless Section 1983 cases
to verdict.” Id. He asserts that he lectures throughout the
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country on Section 1983 litigation and has written several law
review articles on the topic. See id.
Absent objection, the Court finds the rate of $500 per hour
charged by Attorney Williams to be reasonable, in light of his
extensive experience and expertise in the area of section 1983
civil rights law. Moreover, other courts in this District have
found that Attorney Williams’ hourly rate of $500 is reasonable.
See Rinaldi, 2017 WL 2616921 at *2 (finding Attorney Williams’
hourly rate of $500 reasonable, over objection); Muhammed v.
Martoccio, No. 3:06CV1137(WWE), 2010 WL 3718560, at *4 (D. Conn.
Sept. 13, 2010) (finding Attorney Williams’ hourly rate of $500
reasonable, absent objection); but see Vereen v. Siegler, No.
3:07CV1898(HBF), 2011 WL 2457534, at *3 (D. Conn. June 16, 2011)
(reducing Attorney Williams’ billing rate to $400 per hour in
Having determined the reasonableness of the rates
requested, the Court next turns to the reasonableness of the
hours billed in connection with this litigation. “[T]he fee
applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an
award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly
rates.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437. A plaintiff’s motion for
attorney’s fees must be “accompanied by contemporaneous time
records indicating, for each attorney, the date, the hours
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expended, and the nature of the work done.” Marion S. Mishkin
Law Office v. Lopalo, 767 F.3d 144, 148 (2d Cir. 2014)
(quotation marks and citation omitted). “The district court ...
should exclude from [its] fee calculation hours that were not
reasonably expended.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 (quotation marks
and citation omitted). “In dealing with items that
are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary, the district
court has discretion simply to deduct a reasonable percentage of
the number of hours claimed as a practical means of trimming fat
from a fee application.” Hines v. City of Albany, 613 F. App’x
52, 54–55 (2d Cir. 2015) (quotation marks and citation omitted).
Attorney Merly seeks $7,087.50 in fees, representing 20.25
hours of time billed. Attorney Merly billed only for hours spent
on trial preparation, trial, and post-trial briefing, from June
21, 2016, through February 27, 2017. Upon careful review, the
Court finds that the hours billed by Attorney Merly are
reasonable, particularly in light of the fact that this case was
litigated through trial and the Court requested post-trial
briefing. Indeed, in addition to preparing the Proposed Findings
of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Attorney Merly prepared two
direct examinations and two cross-examinations, and submitted a
post-trial brief. Moreover, the Court notes that Attorney Merly
did not bill for every minute he expended on this case, as there
is no entry for time spent on a telephonic status conference in
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which Attorney Merly participated on November 4, 2016.
Accordingly, the Court awards plaintiff Gibson $7,087.50 in fees
for the work performed by Attorney Merly.
Attorney Williams seeks $3,950.00 in fees, representing 7.9
hours of time. See id. at 7. Attorney Williams has only billed
for time spent on the matter from May 13, 2015, through August
28, 2016. The time entries are not excessive; the most time
Attorney Williams spent on any one task was three hours, and the
great majority of the entries reflect less than an hour of time.
Accordingly, the Court finds time claimed by Attorney Williams
is reasonable, and awards plaintiff Gibson $3,950.00 in fees for
the work performed by Attorney Williams.
Accordingly, for the reasons set forth above, and absent
objection from defendant, plaintiff’s Motion for Award of
Attorneys’ Fees [Doc. #73] is GRANTED. Attorneys’ fees are
awarded in the amount of $11,037.50.
SO ORDERED at New Haven, Connecticut, this 7th day of July,
HON. SARAH A. L. MERRIAM
UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE
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