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Arend v. Paez

United States District Court, D. Colorado

July 1, 2019

VALERIE AREND, Plaintiff,
v.
HECTOR PAEZ, in his personal capacity, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES

          Daniel D. Domenico United States District Judge

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 172), filed December 14, 2018.[1] On January 10, 2019, Defendant filed a response in opposition to the motion, and on January 31, 2019, Plaintiff filed her reply. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This civil rights case arose out of a May 16, 2010, incident involving a former Denver Police Officer, Hector Paez, who kidnapped and sexually assaulted Plaintiff Valerie Arend (“Plaintiff”). Following lengthy and contentious criminal proceedings in the state court, Paez was ultimately convicted of sexual assault-in custody of law and second-degree kidnapping of Plaintiff. Paez appealed his conviction, which was affirmed by the Colorado Court of Appeals.

         On May 14, 2012, Plaintiff initiated this lawsuit against Hector Paez (“Defendant”) asserting a claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful seizure, excessive force, and cruel and unusual punishment. On February 20, 2014, Judge Daniel denied without prejudice Plaintiff's initial motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability and administratively closed this case pending a resolution of the Defendant's appeal of his underlying state court criminal conviction. (Doc. 80.) On September 27, 2017, Plaintiff filed a motion to reopen this case, attaching both the Colorado Court of Appeals's December 31, 2015 opinion affirming the Denver District Court's judgment of conviction and the Colorado Supreme Court's denial of Defendant's Petition for Writ of Certiorari. On September 27, 2017, Judge Daniel granted Plaintiff's motion and reopened this case for good cause shown. After the case was reinstated, on October 26, 2017, Plaintiff filed a renewed motion for partial summary judgment on the issue of liability. On June 20, 2018, Judge Daniel issued a written order granting summary judgment in favor of Plaintiff and against the Defendant as to liability on her Section 1983 claim. (Doc. 104.) Thus, on October 29-30, 2018, Plaintiff's sole remaining claim for damages was tried to a jury. The jury awarded Plaintiff $167, 250.00 in actual damages and $100, 000.00 in punitive damages. On November 1, 2018, final judgment was entered for Plaintiff. (Doc. 164.)

         II. ATTORNEYS' FEES

         Plaintiff seeks an award of attorneys' fees in the amount of $84, 114.16, reflecting 358.4 hours expended by three attorneys at rates ranging from $225 to $250 per hour. Two of the attorneys also bill a total of 25.6 hours for travel time at $120 per hour plus mileage.

         Title 42 U.S.C. § 1988 provides that in federal civil rights actions, including suits like the instant case brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, “the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.” To obtain attorney's fees under § 1988, “a claimant must prove two elements: (1) that the claimant was the prevailing party in the proceeding; and (2) that the claimant's fee request is reasonable.” Robinson v. City of Edmond, 160 F.3d 1275, 1280 (10th Cir. 1998) (internal quotations and citations omitted). “The fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and hourly rates.” Case v. Unified Sch. Dist. No. 233, Johnson County, Kansas, 157 F.3d 1243, 1249 (10th Cir. 1998) (internal citations omitted); see also Mares v. Credit Bureau of Raton, 801 F.2d 1197, 1210 (10th Cir. 1986) (internal citations omitted) (holding that it is “counsel's burden to prove and establish the reasonableness of each dollar, each hour, above zero”).

         A. Prevailing Party

         A plaintiff may be considered a prevailing party for attorneys' fees purposes if he or she “succeed[s] on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the part[y] sought in bringing suit.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (internal citations omitted). Here, the Court found liability in favor of the Plaintiff on her 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim, and the jury awarded both actual damages and punitive damages, and Defendant does not contest Plaintiff's status as a prevailing party. The dispute is as to the reasonableness of the amount of requested fees.

         B. Reasonableness of the Fee Request

         “The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Id. “This calculation provides an objective basis on which to make an initial estimate of the value of a lawyer's services.” Id. In other words, “[t]o determine the reasonableness of a fee request, a court must begin by calculating the so-called lodestar amount of a fee, and a claimant is entitled to the presumption that this lodestar amount reflects a reasonable fee.” Robinson, 160 F.3d at 1281 (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         In determining the reasonableness of the hours expended, a court considers several factors, including: (1) whether the amount of time spent on a particular task appears reasonable in light of the complexity of the case, the strategies pursued, and the responses necessitated by an opponent's maneuvering; (2) whether the amount of time spent is reasonable in relation to counsel's experience; and (3) whether the billing entries are sufficiently detailed, showing how much time was allotted to specific tasks. See Ramos v. Lamm, 713 F.2d 546, 553-54 (10th Cir. 1983).

         “The party seeking an award of fees should submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. ‚ÄúCounsel for the party claiming the fees has the burden of proving hours to the district court by submitting meticulous, contemporaneous time records that reveal, for each lawyer for whom fees are sought, all hours for which ...


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