Martin et al v. Augusta Richmond County Georgia, Commissioner et al
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 53 Motion for Attorney Fees; denying as moot 60 Motion for Default Judgment; denying as moot 60 Motion for Entry of Default; denying as moot 65 Motion for Leave to File; directing the Clerk to ent er judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and against Local Defendants in the amount of $21,856.00 in attorney's fees and $1064.04 in costs and expenses; dismissing with prejudice State Defendants; and closing this case. Signed by Judge J. Randal Hall on 11/28/2012. (thb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
GEORGIA, COMMISSION; DEKE S.
COPENHAVER, in his official
capacity as Mayor of Augusta*
Richmond County; RICHMOND
COUNTY, GEORGIA, BOARD OF
EDUCATION; ALEX HOWARD, in his
official capacity as President
of the Richmond County Board of *
Education; LYNN BAILEY, in her
official capacity as Executive
Director of the Richmond County *
Board of Elections; DAVID
RALSTON, in his official
capacity as Speaker of the
Georgia House of
Representatives; and TOMMIE
WILLIAMS, in his official
Capacity as President Pro
Tempore of the Georgia Senate,
KENNETH B. MARTIN; CHARLES N.
CODY J SR; BOBBY D. HARPER;
SANNIE L. SIAS; KENNETH L.
WILLIAMS; A.J. SAUNDERS; MELVIN
IVEY; GAIL HICKS; and JOE E.
This reapportionment case was initiated due to population
shifts in Richmond County, Georgia which were revealed by the
decennial 2010 census.
Plaintiffs filed suit pursuant to 42
§ 1983 and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment seeking declaratory, injunctive, and remedial relief
relating to the reapportionment of the districts for the
Augusta-Richmond County Commission ("County Commission") and the
Board of Education of Richmond County ("Board of Education").
(Doc. no. 1.)
A. Factual Background
Richmond County is one of 159 counties in Georgia. For the
purpose of electing members to the County Commission and the
Board of Education, Richmond County is divided into eight single
member districts (Districts 1-8) and two super districts
(Districts 9-10) . The two super districts each contain
approximately half of the county population. Both the County
Commission and the Board of Education consist of ten members,
eight of whom are elected from the eight single member
districts, and two of whom are elected from the two super
districts. The elections for both the County Commission and
Board of Education are non-partisan. Moreover, as the County
Commission is the governing body for Augusta and Richmond
County, and the Board of Education is the governing body for the
Richmond County public school system, their members are required
to be elected in conformity with the Fourteenth Amendment of the
United States Constitution.
The Richmond County districts were last redrawn in
conjunction with the 2000 census. The 2010 census, however,
revealed shifts and changes in the location, volume, and
composition of Richmond County's population making it apparent
that the 2000 districts were no longer equally drawn. As a
result of the population shift, an Ad Hoc Redistricting
Committee' passed, by unanimous vote, a redistricting plan (Plan
3R (Final)) that the Ad Hoc Committee believed was in compliance
with the "one person, one vote" standard
On February 27, 2012,
Wayne Howard, a member of the local Georgia House of
Representatives delegation, submitted Plan 3R (Final) to the
Georgia House as HB 923 (County Commission plan) and HB 924
(Board of Education Plan). The Georgia General Assembly (the
"General Assembly") has the authority, subject to the approval
of the Governor, to redraw the County Commission and Board of
Education districts, if necessary, after each decennial census.
The Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee was established by the local
legislative delegation, the County Commission, and the Board of Education to
consider and recommend a new redistricting plan for the County Commission and
Board of Education. The Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee consisted of four
members of the legislative delegation, four members of the County Commission,
and four members of the Board of Education. Lynn Bailey, the Executive
Director of the Richmond County Board of Elections, was a leading member of
the Support Staff of the Ad Hoc Redistricting Committee. The Ad Hoc
Redistricting Committee had no legislative authority.
The approved Plan 3R (Final) was submitted to the County Commission
and Board of Education as a recommendation only; the Ad Hoc Committee did not
submit it to the Georgia Legislature for adoption.
While the Georgia House of Representatives approved Plan 3R
(Final), the Senate approved a wholly separate plan. Thus, on
March 29, 2012, the General Assembly adjourned the 2012
legislative session without enacting Plan 3R (Final) or adopting
an alternative plan. The General Assembly was not scheduled to
reconvene until after the date that qualifying for the County
Commission and Board of Education member positions was scheduled
to begin, and a special session was not anticipated.
B. Procedural Background
Based upon these facts, on April 19, 2012, Plaintiffs filed
suit against: the County Commission; the Board of Education;
Deke S. Copenhaver, in his official capacity as Mayor of
Augusta-Richmond County; Alex Howard, in his official capacity
as President of the Richmond County Board of Education; and Lynn
Bailey, in her official capacity as Executive Director of the
Richmond County Board of Elections (collectively the 'Local
Defendants"). (Doc. no. 1.) In the Complaint, Plaintiffs
sought declaratory, injunctive, and remedial relief with respect
to the existing malapportioned districts. On May 8, 2012,
Plaintiffs filed an Amended Complaint adding Defendants David
Ralston, in his official capacity as Speaker of the Georgia
House of Representatives, and Tommie Williams, in his official
Capacity as President Pro Tempore of the Georgia Senate (the
"State Defendants"). (Doc. no. 20.) Because of the approaching
dates for qualifying and the need to protect the citizens and
elected officials of Richmond County, the Court entered an
expedited scheduling order setting this matter for a hearing on
May 16, 2012.
After conducting the hearing, the Court entered an Order
declaring the existing districts for the County Commission and
Board of Education unconstitutional because they violated the
'one person, one vote" principle. (Doc. no. 41.) The Court
enjoined further use of those unconstitutional districts and
enjoined the County Board of Elections from accepting
qualifications and conducting elections under the existing
malapportioned County Commission and Board of Education district
maps. (Id.) Due to the lack of constitutional districts, the
Court devised remedial relief. After creating preliminary maps
and allowing the parties the opportunity to comment on those
maps, the Court adopted final remedial maps in its June 19, 2012
Order. (Doc. no. 52.) These maps created constitutional
districts under which the 2012 County Commission and Board of
Education elections could proceed.
As instructed, the parties have now submitted briefs on the
issue of attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
Additionally, in the interim, Plaintiffs filed a motion for
default judgment against the State Defendants. (Doc. no. 60.)
Thereafter, the State Defendants tiled a motion for leave to
file a motion to dismiss. (Doc. no. 65.)
Plaintiffs argue that because they are the prevailing
parties in this matter, the Court, in its discretion, should
award them attorney's fees in the amount of $46,546.50 and costs
in the amount of $1,917.01, totaling $48,463.51. Defendants
disagree for numerous reasons.
A. Plaintiffs Are Prevailing Parties
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, the prevailing party in a
civil rights action is entitled to receive reasonable attorney's
fees and costs. In order to be a prevailing party for purposes
of attorney's fees and costs, a party must be awarded some of
its requested relief and have achieved an alteration in the
legal relationship of the parties. See ?ra. Disability Ass'n v.
Cbmielarz, 289 F.3d 1315, 1319 (11th Cir. 2002) . Plaintiffs
argue that they are the prevailing parties
because the Court granted each of the remedies requested in
their Amended Complaint: (1) a declaration that the districts
for the County Commission and Board of Education were
injunction prohibiting the Board of
Elections from holding elections based upon the unconstitutional
districts; and (3) the creation of a remedial redistricting plan
based upon the 2010 census results.
1. State Defendants' Arguments
With respect to the State Defendants, they assert that
Plaintiffs cannot be prevailing parties because the State
Defendants are entitled to absolute legislative immunity.
Plaintiffs argue that legislative immunity does not apply in
this case : and even if it did, the State Defendants waived it by
failing to raise it prior to the Court entering relief on all of
a) No Explicit Waiver of Legislative Immunity
In Scott v. Taylor, 405 F.3d 1251, 1255 (11th Cir. 2005),
the Eleventh Circuit concluded that legislative immunity
provides absolute immunity to legislator defendants in official
capacity suits brought for prospective relief. The Eleventh
Circuit further stated that legislative immunity is a personal
defense and is effectively lost if the legislator defendants are
forced to proceed to trial. Id. at 1253 n.2 & 1254-55. In his
concurring opinion, Judge Jordan indicated that, as an
affirmative defense, legislative immunity can be waived or
forfeited, and unless raised, does not affect the power of a
federal court to adjudicate. Id. at 1258 (Jordan, J.,
The State Defendants contend that legislative immunity is a
defense that cannot be waived. In support of their contention,
they argue that Judge Jordan's concurrence in Scott is not
binding precedent, and they cite to several cases from other
circuits. None of these other cases directly address the issue
of whether legislative immunity can be waived. Furthermore, the
procedural history of Scott suggests that legislative immunity
is a defense that can be waived. In Scott, after the close of
discovery, the legislator defendants moved to amend their answer
to include the defense of legislative immunity. Scott, 405 F.3d
at 1253. This action suggests that the defense of legislative
immunity was an affirmative defense that could be waived if not
raised. Otherwise, there would have been no reason for the
legislator defendants to amend their answer if legislative
immunity cannot be waived.
However, in U.S.
Heistoski, 442 U.S. 447, 490-491
(1979), the Supreme Court held that waiver of legislative
immunity for federal legislators mcan be found only after
explicit and unequivocal renunciation of the protection." See
also Favors v. Cuomo, -- F.R.D. --, No. 11-cv-5632, 2012 WL
*16 (E.D.N.Y. Aug. 10, 2012) (finding waiver of
legislative immunity must be explicit); Miles-Un-Ltd., Inc. v.
New Shoreham, 917 F. Supp. 91, 100 (D.N.H. 1996) (same); 2BD
Assoc. Ltd. P'ship v.
Queen Anne's Cnty. Comm'rs, 896 F. Supp
528, 535 (D. Md. 1995) (same); cf. Brown v. Crawford Cnty., 960
F.2d 1002, 1010 n.13 (11th Cir. 1992) (deciding that although
the defendants failed to plead legislative immunity in their
answer, the motion to dismiss was treated as if it had been
filed at the appropriate time). Federal courts have extended
absolute legislative immunity to state legislators to the same
extent as to federal legislators. See Tenney v. Breedlove, 341
U.S. 367, 375-79 (1951) .
Thus, it follows that like federal
state legislators must also explicitly and
unequivocally waive the defense of legislative immunity.
In this case, Plaintiffs contend that the State Defendants
waived the defense of legislative immunity by failing to raise
the defense until after the Court granted all substantive relief
except for the award of attorney's fees. However, the
procedural posture of this case weighs against finding that the
State Defendants explicitly waived their defense of legislative
immunity. When this action was filed on April 19, 2012, the
State Defendants were not named as defendants. On May 8, 2012,
the Amended Complaint added the State Defendants. On May 16,
2012, one day after the State Defendants were served with the
Amended Complaint, the Court granted injunctive and declaratory
relief in this case. Thereafter, on June 19, 2012, the Court
granted all requested relief against Defendants, including the
State Defendants, except for attorney's fees. Thus, only two
months elapsed between the time of the filing of the original
Complaint and the Court's June 19, 2012 Order. Although the
State Defendants failed to raise the defense of legislative
immunity until July 20, 2012, the delay is made less egregious
by the expedited nature of this case.
Furthermore, legislative immunity is an issue of public
concern. The defense of legislative immunity touches upon
policies such as federalism, comity, and respect for the
independence of democratic institutions.
See Nat'l Ass'n of
Soc. Workers v. Harwood, 69 F.3d 622, 628 (1st Cir. 1995) .
of the primary purposes of legislative immunity is to prevent
courts from intruding into precincts that are constitutionally
reserved to the legislative branch. See Id. at 629 n.6.
Moreover, despite the failure to raise this argument earlier,
the question of legislative immunity Is a pure legal question
that can be resolved on the record before the Court. See id. at
628. Based upon the foregoing, this Court cannot find that
Plaintiffs have explicitly waived the defense of legislative
immunity. Thus, the Court considers whether legislative
immunity applies to the State Defendants.
b) Legislative Immunity Applies
Absolute legislative immunity "extends only to actions
taken within the sphere of legitimate legislative activity."
Finch v. City of Vernon, 877 F.2d 1497, 1505 (11th Cir. 1989)
The Eleventh Circuit
recognized that "voting, debate and
reacting to public opinion are manifestly in furtherance of
legislative duties." DeSisto College, Inc. v. Line, 888 F.2d
755, 765 (11th Cir. 1989); see also Yeldell v. Cooper Green
Hosp., Inc., 956 F.2d 1056, 1062 (11th Cir. 1992)
(distinguishing legislators' conduct requiring legislative
immunity from actions that are not protected)
Here, Plaintiffs' claim against the State Defendants arises
solely from the State Defendants' failure to enact legislation
to redistrict the County Commission and Board of Education. The
passing of acts is the very essence of the legislative process,
and any attempt to punish a legislator for such actions would
manifestly tend "to control his conduct as a legislator."
Gravel v. U.S., 408 U.S. 606, 618 (1972); see also Eslinger v.
Thomas, 476 F.2d 225, 228 (4th Cir. 1973) .
failure to enact a redistricting plan was
quintessentially legislative, and the State Defendants are
entitled to legislative immunity for this action. See
Marylanders for Fair Representation, Inc.
F.R.D. 292, 299 (D. Md. 1992) (finding that Maryland
legislators' failure to enact an alternative redistricting plan
was a legislative activity and thus any inquiry into the
Maryland Legislature's failure to ratify an alternative plan was
entirely barred pursuant to the defense of legislative
Accordingly, the State Defendants are hereby
DISMISSED WITH PREJUDICE
from this action based upon the defense
of absolute legislative immunity.
2. Local Defendants' Arguments
With respect to the Local Defendants, they assert that
Plaintiffs cannot be prevailing parties because the Local
Defendants agreed to all requested relief. This argument,
however, cannot be sustained. As a result of Plaintiffs' Suit :
this Court declared the existing districts unconstitutional,
enjoined the Board of Elections from conducting qualifying under
the malapportioned districts, and provided a constitutional
This relief is precisely what the Plaintiffs
requested, and thus Plaintiffs are prevailing parties.
Koebig, 638 F.2d 838, 845 (5th Cir. 1981) .
Local Defendants admitted the unconstitutionality of the
existing districts and consented to the injunction does not
change this result. See Id. Accordingly, Plaintiffs are
prevailing parties with respect to the Local Defendants.
Alternatively, the Local Defendants argue that even if
Plaintiffs are prevailing parties, the "special circumstances"
of this case would render an award of attorney's fees "unjust."
See Bonner v. City of Prichard, Ala., 661 F.2d 1206, 1207 (11th Cir.
1981) (holding Fifth Circuit decisions made on or before September 30, 1981,
are binding precedent in Eleventh Circuit)
Although § 1988 does not require that the Court award attorney's
fees to the prevailing party in every case, the Court's
discretion is extremely limited. Mortham, 950 F. Supp at 1122.
The prevailing parties should ordinarily recover an attorney's
fee unless special circumstances would render such an award
unjust. Id. The burden of demonstrating special circumstances
falls squarely on the Defendants, who must make a "strong
showing" to justify denial of attorney's fees and costs to
prevailing plaintiffs. Martin v. Heckler, 773 F.2d 1145, 1150
(11th Cir. 1985); Riddell
Nat'l Democratic Party, 624 F.2d
539, 543 (5th Cir. 1980) . "Defendants' good faith, lack of
culpability, or prompt remedial action do not warrant a denial
of fees under the special circumstances preclusion."
773 F.2d at 1150.
The Eleventh Circuit has recognized four
situations which might constitute special
justifying the denial of a fee award:
(1) where the plaintiff's action asserted essentially
a private tort claim for money damages; (2) where the
plaintiff was not instrumental in achieving the remedy
sought; (3) where [the plaintiff] challenged an
antiquated, rarely enforced statute, and (4) where the
plaintiff through a settlement or consent order agreed
to compromise his right to pursue subsequent fees.
Love v. Deal, 5 F.3d 1406, 1410 (11th dr. 1993).
As to special circumstances, the Local Defendants rely upon
the fact that, at the time Plaintiffs filed suit, the Local
Defendants were themselves preparing a similar lawsuit to
rectify the unconstitutional existing districts.
Defendants therefore argue that Plaintiffs' suit was not
necessary. In support of this argument, the Local Defendants
cite to Craig v. Gregg Cnty., Tex., 988 F.2d 18 (5th Cir. 1993).
The facts of Craig, however, are distinguishable.
In Craig, by the time the plaintiff filed suit in the local
district court, the county defendant had already presented a
voting scheme to the Department of Justice and filed suit in the
District of Columbia. Craig, 988 F.2d at 21. The Fifth Circuit
found that the plaintiff was a late arriver attempting to 'jump
the train as it leaves the station and
hop[ing] to seize
prevailing plaintiff status." Id. Thus, because a civil rights
plaintiff is not entitled to recover fees for demanding that a
defendant 'do something that [he] was going to do anyway[s],"
the Fifth Circuit found that the plaintiff was not entitled to
Here, however, Plaintiffs led the train Out of the station
and were not required to 'wait-and-see" whether the Local
Defendants would file suit to enjoin the existing districts and
ask for remedial relief. The initiation of this suit caused (1)
the existing districts to be enjoined and declared
unconstitutional and (2) remedial relief to be afforded.
Although the Local Defendants could have sought the same relief
and intended to do so does not mean that Plaintiffs' suit was
not instrumental in achieving the remedy sought. Accordingly,
the Local Defendants did not demonstrate special circumstances
justifying the denial of a fee award, and Plaintiffs, as
prevailing parties, are due reasonable attorney's fees and costs
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.
C. Amount of Attorney's Fees to Be Awarded
The next task before the Court is the determination of the
amount of attorney's fees to be awarded. This task is
accomplished by multiplying the number of hours reasonably
expended by a reasonable billing rate. Blum v. Stenson, 465
U.S. 886, 897 (1984); Norman v. Hous. Auth. of Montgomery, 836
F.2d 1292, 1299 (11th Cir. 1988) .
calculation is called the "lodestar."
The product of that
Pennsylvania v. Del.
Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 563
In Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714,
717-19 (5th Cir. 1974), the Fifth Circuit enumerated twelve
factors that may be considered in calculating a lodestar amount.
See also Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87, 91-92 (1989);
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 n.9 (1989). These
factors are: (1) the time and labor required, (2) the novelty
and difficulty of the legal 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 for similar work 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 results
obtained, (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the
attorney, (10) the undesirability of the case, (11) the nature
and length of the professional relationship with the client, and
(12) awards in similar cases. Williams v. Bd. of Coinm'rs of
McIntosh Cnty., 938 F. Supp. 852, 857 (S.D. Ga. 1996) (citing
Johnson, 488 F.2d at 717-19)
1. Hours Reasonably Expended
In determining the number of hours reasonably expended, the
Court must consider whether the work sought to be compensated
was "useful and of a type ordinarily necessary to secure the
final result obtained from the litigation." Del. Valley, 478
U.S. at 561 (citations omitted). Courts must exclude hours that
were excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Hensley,
461 U.S. at 434.
Plaintiffs provided records of the hours worked by Laughlin
McDonald, lead counsel, Jerry Wilson, McDonald's co-counsel, and
Nancy Abudu, who assisted both McDonald and Wilson. Plaintiffs
state that the attorneys worked the following hours:
After reviewing the attached affidavits and billing records
provided by Plaintiffs, the Court finds that the requested hours
should be compensated with respect to McDonald and Wilson with
some exceptions, 4 but not with respect to Abudu. Plaintiffs'
efforts in litigating this matter were sufficiently and
competently covered by their lead counsel, McDonald, and second
chair, Wilson. Their time logs enumerate considerable time
spent in preparing the pleadings, various briefs, and other
court filings. Furthermore, when comparing McDonald and
Wilson's time logs, there appears to be no duplication of
effort. McDonald primarily prepared the pleadings and briefs,
while Wilson spent most of his time reviewing and editing
On the other hand, a review of Abudu's time log reveals
that her entire efforts in this matter involved reviewing
Because there is no evidence that Plaintiffs could not have hired
competent local counsel, the Court will reduce McDonald and Wilson's hours
for the time spent traveling from Atlanta to Augusta. See Barlow v. Sun Life
and Health Ins. Co., No. 3:09-cv-1063, 2011 WL 3475298, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Aug.
9, 2011); McClelland v. HSBC Retail Servs., Inc., No. 2:08-cv-708, 2011 WL
32423, at *3_4 (MD. Fla. Jan. 5, 2011); Kearney v. Auto-Owners Ins. Co., 713
F. Supp. 2d 1369, 1379 (M.D. Fla. 2010) (deducting attorney travel time from
fee because defendant should not be required to pay for plaintiff's choice to
hire counsel from out of town)
The Court will also reduce Wilson's hours for clerical work. Work that
is clerical or secretarial in nature, such as gathering, copying, mailing,
and filing documents is not separately compensable as attorney's fees. See
Scelta v. Delicatessen Support Servs., Inc., 203 F. Supp. 2d 1328, 1334 (M.D.
Fla. 2002); Fulford v. NCO Fin. Sys., Inc., No. 6:07-cv-1196, 2008 WL
2952859, at *8 (M.D. Fla. July 30, 2008) (finding that revising the summons
and coordinating service are clerical tasks which are not compensable)
einails, pleadings, and Court Orders, as well as attending a
hearing that Wilson and McDonald both attended. None of Abudu's
records indicate that she revised or drafted any portion of any
filings. Because both McDonald and Wilson also reviewed all
these documents, billing by Abudu with respect to 'reviewing"
emails, drafts, and Court Orders does not reflect 'a distinct
contribution" and, therefore, Abudu did not carry her burden of
demonstrating that she was entitled to recover fees for these
hours. See ACLU v. Barnes, 168 F.3d 423, 432-33 (11th Cir.
1999) . Furthermore, there is nothing in Abudu's declaration or
time logs indicating why her presence was necessary at the
injunction hearing. As such, Abudu shall not be awarded any
fees for the time she submitted in this case.
2. Reasonable Hourly Rate
A reasonable rate is 'the prevailing market rate in the
relevant legal community for similar services by lawyers of
reasonably comparable skills, experience, and reputation."
Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299; see also Blum, 465 U.S. at 895-96. It
has been held that a voting rights attorney possesses skills
comparable to an attorney practicing in complex areas, such as
antitrust law or highly technical bankruptcy matters. Williams,
938 F. Supp. at 858. Moreover, the relevant legal community is
the district in which the Court sits, that being the Southern
District of Georgia. See Knight v. Alabama, 824 F. Supp. 1022,
1027 n.l (N.D. Ala. 1993) (citing Turner v. Secretary of Air
Force, 944 F.2d 804, 808 (11th Cir. 1991))
The party seeking an award of attorney's fees bears the
burden of establishing that the requested rate is reasonable.
Blum, 465 U.S. at 895-96 n.11; Norman, 836 F.2d at 1299. This
burden may be met by a showing of an attorney's hourly billing
rate on cases with similar complexity and skill. Knight, 824 F.
Supp. at 1028.
Plaintiffs submit that McDonald should be compensated at
$450.00 per hour and that Jerry Wilson should be compensated at
$350.00 per hour. Each requested rate will be evaluated in
a) Laughlin McDonald
Voting Rights litigation is, in and of itself, an extremely
complex and intimidating area of the law. See Medders
Autauga Cnty. Bd. of Educ., 858 F. Supp. 1118, 1125 (M.D. Ala.
([E]ven the simplest one-person-one-vote case would be
formidable to an attorney unfamiliar with voting rights law.").
As a result, attorneys practicing in this area must possess much
skill and experience, two qualities which McDonald enjoys. (See
McDonald Aff. 1 10.)
McDonald requests a fee of $450.00 per hour. In support of
that rate, he puts forth a survey released by the Daily Report
indicating that attorneys in the Atlanta area billed at an
average of $484.00 per hour, with the highest partner billing
rate of $900.00. Plaintiffs contend that their attorneys should
be compensated at Atlanta billing rates rather than those
applicable to the Augusta Division of the Southern District of
Georgia. Plaintiffs rely upon Brooks v. Georgia State Board of
Elections, 997 F.2d 857, 869 (11th Cir. 1993), for the
proposition that Atlanta billing rates can be applied where
there is evidence that there are no local attorneys familiar
with voting rights actions.
The Court may award a non-local hourly rate if, and only
if, Plaintiffs demonstrate 'a lack of attorneys practicing in
[the Southern District] who are willing and able to handle
[their] claims." Barnes, 168 F.3d at 437 (citing Cullens v. Ga.
Dept. of Transp., 29 F.3d 1489, 1494 (11th Cir. 1994) (finding
that district court did not err by awarding Macon, Georgia rates
because 'plaintiffs did not meet their burden of showing a lack
of Macon lawyers willing or able to handle their individual
claims")) . Here, Plaintiffs have not put forth any evidence
that there are no local attorneys with the skills and
familiarity to have handled this case. Instead, Plaintiffs rely
on an affidavit that indicates that "[P]laintiffs were not aware
of any local attorneys in Augusta or Richmond County that had
special expertise in voting cases and would have represented
them on a pro bono basis." (Martin Aff. ¶ 2 (emphasis added).)
This evidence does not prove that there were
attorneys able to take this case on - rather, it merely proves
that Plaintiffs did not
know of any.
This evidence is
insufficient to support an Atlanta billing rate.
168 F.3d at 437.
A court 'is itself an expert on the question and may
consider its own knowledge and experience concerning reasonable
and proper fees and may form an independent judgment either with
or without the aid of witnesses as to value." Loranger v,
Stierheim, 10 F.3d 776 1 781 (11th Cir. 1994) . Although counsel
may command fees at a higher rate in Atlanta, the Court does not
believe that the Augusta legal market would bear such billing
for the services rendered in the present case. This Court has
previously approved $250.00 per hour as a reasonable billing
rate in the Augusta legal market. See Johnson v. YKK Am., Inc.,
No. 3:07-cv-048, doc. no. 171 (S.D. Ga. April 29, 2010); Ingram
Kellogg's Sales Co., No. 1:09-cv-021, doc. no. 39 (S.D. Ga.
Feb. 24, 2010); Salazar v. Milton Ruben Chevrolet, Inc., No.
1:06-cv-195, doc. no, 86 (S.D. Ga. Mar. 6, 2009). This billing
rate is in line with other fee awards in other similarly
complicated cases. See Fisher v. Trutech,
109, 2006 WL 3791977, at
-Inc., No. 5:04-cv-
*5 (M.D. Ga. Nov. 16, 2006) (finding
that based on the complicated and specialized nature of the
ERISA action, together with the attorney's over twenty years of
experience and prevailing rates in the Middle District of
Georgia, a billing rate of $200 was reasonable); see also Grable
v. Gregory J. Barro, PLC, No. 1:05-cv-3133, 2007 WL 879584, at
*5 (N.D. Ga. Mar. 20, 2007) (finding the relevant range of
billing rates to be $175-$380 per hour in other cases from the
Eleventh Circuit, including ERISA cases). Upon consideration of
the circumstances of this case, the relevant legal market, and
McDonald's considerable experience and expertise, McDonald's
billing rate will be set at $300.00 per hour.
b) Jerry Wilson
As with McDonald, the Johnson factors considering the
undesirability and complexity of the case are relevant, as is
the skill of Wilson. Wilson indicates that he has served as
counsel or co-counsel in voting rights cases in nineteen Georgia
counties and cities. (Wilson Aff. ¶ 4,) Furthermore, Wilson
testified as an expert witness in thirty federal voting rights
cases from 1982 until 1998 concerning demographic analysis and
political redistricting. (Id. ¶ 3.)
A review of Wilson's billing records, however, indicates
that much of his time was spent completing tasks commensurate to
that of an associate. Specifically, Wilson's records indicate
that his main duties included reviewing and editing drafts of
pleadings. For this reason, the Court uses its own experience
and judgment in determining Wilson's rate. Based upon the work
that Wilson performed, as well as his skill and experience, the
Court determines that a rate of $250.00 per hour is appropriate.
Based on the above, the Court finds the lodestar in this
case to be:
McDonald $300.00/hour at 58.27 hours
$250.00/hour at 17.5 hours
Thus, the total lodestar in this case is $2l.856.00.
Costs and Expenses
The expenses incurred in voting rights litigation are
intertwined with an award of reasonable attorney's fees.
Williams, 938 F. Supp. at 860. The Eleventh Circuit has spoken
that, in order to further the purpose of civil rights
"[r] easonable attorneys' fees . . . must include
reasonable expenses . . . as equally vital components of the
cost of litigation." Dowdell v. City of Apopka, 698 F.2d 1181,
1190 (11th Cir. 1983) . As such, all reasonable expenses
incurred during litigation, with the exception of routine office
overhead, are recoverable as litigation expenses. Id. at 1192.
Because it has already been established that Plaintiffs are
entitled to attorney's fees, it is clear that Plaintiffs are
At this point it is usually necessary to determine whether the
lodestar should be enhanced or diminished. Williams, 938 F. Supp. at 859
n.9. Neither party has asked for such an adjustment, and the Court has found
that no adjustment is necessary. Id. (citing Del. Valley, 478 U.S. at 56566 (noting the strong presumption that the lodestar amount represents the
reasonable fee award and, thus, the lodestar should only be adjusted in rare
and exceptional circumstances))
also entitled to reimbursement for their expenses, provided that
such expenses are reasonable.
Plaintiffs will be reimbursed for expenses incurred by
their attorneys in traveling to represent them in this Court, as
well as costs such as filing fees and process server fees. See
id. Expenses for meals, while reasonable in amount, will be
excluded as expenses which would be incurred regardless of the
legal representation. Burke ex rel. Burke v. Keenum, No. 2:88cv-067, 1989 WL 14681, at
*9 (S.D. Ga. Feb. 21, 1989)
Accordingly, the Court finds Plaintiffs' costs and expenses to
Thus, Plaintiffs' total costs and expenses in this case are
Based upon the forgoing, Plaintiffs' motion for attorney's
fees (doc. no. 53) is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
Because Ms. 2udu's work was found to be duplicative of Wilson and
McDonald's work, her admission fees to the Southern District of Georgia will
Clerk is DIRECTED to enter judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and
against the Local Defendants for $21,856.00 in attorney's fees
and $1064.04 in costs and expenses. To the extent that this
expense award includes Plaintiffs' compensable costs pursuant to
20 U.S.C. § 1920, Plaintiffs should not file a Bill of Costs.
It is further ORDERED that the State Defendants are
Finally, Plaintiff's Motion for Default
Judgment (doc. no. 60) and the State Defendants' Motion for
Leave to File (doc. no. 65) are DENIED AS MOOT.
The Clerk is
DIRECTED to terminate all deadlines and CLOSE this case.
at Augusta, Georgia, this
NRAE J. RAAL HALL
ITATES DISTRICT JUDGE
TT1ERN DISTRICT OF GEORGIA
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