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Griffin v. City of Portland

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Portland Division

March 11, 2014

KELLYMARIE GRIFFIN, an individual, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF PORTLAND, a municipal corporation, and THERESA LAREAU, an individual, Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

MICHAEL W. MOSMAN, District Judge.

Plaintiff KellyMarie Griffin brought this suit against her employer, Defendant City of Portland ("the City"), alleging violation of Title VII, Oregon anti-discrimination law, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"). I granted summary judgment [65] for the City on six of Ms. Griffin's eight claims against it. I denied summary judgment [70, 129] on Ms. Griffin's claims for violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and Oregon law, Or. Rev. Stat. § 659A.030(1)(b), under a hostile work environment theory ("the hostile work environment claims"). These two claims against the City were tried to a jury beginning on November 5, 2013. The jury returned a verdict [150] for Ms. Griffin, awarding $14, 080 in non-economic damages. (Verdict Form [150] at 2.) Ms. Griffin now seeks attorney fees pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2) under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b).

Also tried to the jury was Ms. Griffin's claim for the tort of wrongful use of civil proceedings against Defendant Theresa Lareau. The jury returned a verdict for Ms. Griffin against Ms. Lareau, awarding economic damages in the amount of $5, 300. (Verdict Form [150] at 4.) There is no right to fee shifting for this claim, and Ms. Griffin seeks no fees from Defendant Lareau.

Ms. Griffin also seeks to recover her costs from both Defendants. (Mot. Fees & Costs [156].)

For the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs [156] is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

DISCUSSION

I. The Lodestar Standard for Recovery of Attorney Fees

The baseline method for determining a reasonable fee under federal fee shifting statutes such as the one relevant here, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, is to determine the hours reasonably worked and multiply that by a reasonable hourly rate. See Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 563 (1986); Ferland v. Conrad Credit Corp., 244 F.3d 1145, 1149 n.4 (9th Cir. 2001). District of Oregon Local Rule 54-3 provides that the hourly rate is determined using the most recent Oregon State Bar Economic Survey (the "Economic Survey").

A. Reasonableness of the Hourly Rates

Ms. Griffin was represented by two attorneys in this litigation: Daniel Snyder and Cynthia Gaddis. Plaintiff urges the court to compensate Mr. Snyder at an hourly rate of $350. Mr. Snyder graduated from the University of Notre Dame School of Law and has been practicing in the civil rights and employment fields for approximately thirty five years. (Decl. Snyder [158] ¶¶ 3-7.) Defendants do not object to his hourly rate. (Def.'s Resp. [166] at 6.) As the hourly rate is within the range provided by the Economic Survey for attorneys of Mr. Snyder's experience, I find this hourly rate reasonable, and have calculated Mr. Snyder's time with reference to the rate of $350 per hour.

Plaintiff requests that Ms. Gaddis's time be billed at the hourly rate of $185. Ms. Gaddis has been practicing law "for almost two years" and is a graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School. For an attorney with less than three years of experience in private practice, the Economic Survey reports an average hourly rate of $182 per hour, a median rate of $175 per hour, and a 75th percentile rate of $198 per hour. Defendant City urges the court to reduce Ms. Gaddis's hourly rate to $175/hour, or the median for an attorney of her experience, arguing that she has no special expertise or experience that justifies a higher than average hourly rate for her work. Plaintiff opposes the reduction, arguing that Ms. Gaddis has experience opposing summary judgment motions in employment discrimination cases, as she has practiced primarily in this area of law for the past year. (Pl.'s Reply [172] at 2-3; Supp. Decl. Gaddis [174] ¶ 5.)

I agree with Ms. Griffin. A slightly higher than average hourly rate is reasonable in this case, as Ms. Gaddis has demonstrated some expertise in preparing plaintiffs' opposition to summary judgment in employment discrimination cases such as this one. Ms. Gaddis attests that she has prepared four opposition memoranda on motions for summary judgment in employment claims in the last year, and that she succeeded in defending at least some claims against summary judgment in three of these four cases. (Supp. Decl. Gaddis [174] ¶ 5.) She attests that employment claims constitute approximately 90% of her current practice. Id. Thus, I find that a rate slightly higher than the average rate for attorney of her experience is appropriate. I have calculated Ms. Gaddis's time with reference to the rate of $185/hour.

B. Hours Reasonably Expended

Plaintiff Ms. Griffin initially sought compensation for 214.5 hours of Mr. Snyder's time and 168.7 hours of Ms. Gaddis's time. (Pl.'s Mem. [157] at 3-4.) Plaintiff subsequently conceded that certain time entries initially included in this calculation documented tasks related exclusively to her wrongful use of civil proceedings claim against Ms. Lareau or were otherwise included in error, and consequently eliminated certain tasks from her requested fees. (Pl.'s Reply. [172] at 2 n.1.) As a result, she now seeks a total of 211.6 hours of Mr. Snyder's time and 167.7 hours of Ms. Gaddis's time. When multiplied by the hourly rates discussed above, the result is $105, 084.50 in attorney fees sought by Ms. Griffin.

The court is responsible for determining the reasonableness of a plaintiff's fee petition. See Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1400-01 (9th Cir. 1992). It is the fee claimant's burden to demonstrate that the number of hours spent was reasonably necessary to the litigation and that counsel made "a good faith effort to exclude from [the] fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-34 (1983); see also Frank Music Corp. v. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., 886 F.2d 1545, 1557 (9th Cir. 1989). The burden is on the fee claimant to submit documentation supporting the hours worked on the matter. See Hensley, 461 U.S. 433.

The Ninth Circuit has set out a specific inquiry for a district court's determination of whether attorney fees incurred in pursuit of claims on which the Plaintiff was not successful may be included in a fee award. First, the court must determine "whether the claims upon which the plaintiff failed to prevail were related to the plaintiff's successful claims." Odima v. Westin Tucson Hotel, 53 F.3d 1484, 1499 (9th Cir. 1995) (internal quotation omitted). Whether the claims are related turns on whether the claims "involve a common core of facts or will be based on related legal theories." Id. (internal quotation omitted). "[T]he test is whether relief sought on the unsuccessful claim is intended to remedy a course of conduct entirely distinct and separate from the course of conduct that gave rise to the injury upon which the relief granted is premised." Id. (internal quotation omitted).

In Odima, the Ninth Circuit found that state tort claims were "related to" the plaintiff's successful Title VII and § 1981 claims because they "arose from a common core of facts-[the plaintiff's] employment relationship with [defendant] Westin." Id. This reasoning is directly applicable here, as each of Ms. Griffin's employment discrimination claims arose from the same common core of facts. I find that Ms. Griffin's unsuccessful employment discrimination claims are related to her hostile work environment claims, claims on which she ...


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