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Brooks v. Invista

November 21, 2007

ERICA T. BROOKS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
INVISTA (KOCH INDUSTRIES), DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Chief Judge Curtis L. Collier

MEMORANDUM

I. FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

Plaintiff Erica Brooks ("Plaintiff") initiated this action on November 22, 2005, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000(e)-2000(e)-17 (Court File No. 1). Invista Industries ("Defendant") moved for summary judgment on December 1, 2006 (Court File No. 10). Plaintiff responded to Defendant's motion on January 4, 2007 and submitted a brief on January 9, 2007 (Court File Nos. 14, 20). The Court granted Defendant's motion for summary judgment on February 7, 2007, but reserved ruling on attorney's fees and Plaintiff's remaining Title VII retaliation claim (Court File No. 29). Defendant moved for reconsideration or leave to file summary judgment in regard to Plaintiff's retaliation claim on February 12, 2007 (Court File No. 33). Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on February 19, 2007 (Court File No. 37). This Court granted the motion of Defendant, dismissed the remaining retaliation claim, awarded Defendant attorney's fees in defending Plaintiff's Title VII claims, denied Defendant attorney's fees in defending Plaintiff's Tennessee Public Protection Act ("TPPA") retaliation claim, and referred the determination of the amount of attorney's fees to the magistrate judge for a report and recommendation ("R & R") (Court File No. 41).

Defendant filed a bill of costs and supporting affidavit (Court File Nos. 46, 47). Plaintiff filed objections to the bill of costs (Court File Nos. 56, 59). Defendant responded to Plaintiff's objections (Court File No 61). The magistrate judge issued her R & R on June 15, 2007 (Court File No. 63). Plaintiff promptly filed objections to that report (Court File No. 64). Defendant has filed a response to Plaintiff's objections (Court File No. 65). As all objections and responses have now been filed this matter is now ripe for decision.

For the following reasons, the Court will DENY IN PART Plaintiff's objections and ACCEPT IN PART the magistrate judge's Report and Recommendation.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

This Court conducts a de novo review of the portions of the R & R to which objections are made, and may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings and recommendations. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b). The Court's standard of review is the same as the magistrate judge's, but a party's general objections are not sufficient to challenge a magistrate judge's findings. Howard v. Sec'y of Health and Human Serv., 932 F.2d 505, 509 (6th Cir. 1991). "A district judge should not have to guess what arguments an objecting party depends on when reviewing a magistrates report." Id. A district court should only review for clear error where a party makes perfunctory arguments to engage the district court in rehashing the same arguments set forth in the original petition. Edwards v. Fischer, 414 F.Supp.2d 342, 346-47 (S.D.N.Y. 2006) (internal citations omitted). A party's failure to object is accepted as agreement with the conclusions of the magistrate judge. See Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 149-50 (1985).

The Supreme Court has established the basis of a fee award is the proven number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate, commonly called the "lodestar." Hensley v. Eckerhart , 461 U.S. 424 (1983); Geier v. Sundquist, 372 F.3d 784 (6th Cir. 2004); Adcock-Ladd v. Secretary of the Treasurery, 227 F.3d 343, 349 (6th Cir. 2000); Reed v. Rhodes, 179 F.3d 453, 471 (6th Cir. 1999). The reasonableness of the hours expended and the attorney's hourly rate must be considered on a case-by-case basis. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429. Counsel is expected to exercise "billing judgment" in seeking an award of fees. Id. at 434.

The fee applicant bears the burden of proving a reasonable fee. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433; Reed, 179 F.3d at 472. The applicant should document the fees requested, and, where they have not, the district court may reduce the award accordingly. Reed, 179 F.3d at 472. "The primary concern in an attorney fee case is that the fee awarded be reasonable, that is, one that is adequately compensatory to attract competent counsel yet which avoids producing a windfall for attorneys." Geier, 372 F.3d 791 (quoting Reed, 179 F.3d at 471).

The district court must consider the prevailing market rate in the relevant community for the same type of work at issue to determine the appropriate hourly rate. Adcock-Ladd, 227 F.3d at 350; Reed, 179 F.3d at 473. The "relevant community" for fee purposes is the legal community within the court's territorial jurisdiction or venue. Adcock-Ladd, 227 F.3d at 350; Hudson v. Reno, 130 F.3d 1193, 1208 (6th Cir. 1997). The "prevailing market rate" is the rate which lawyers of comparable skill and experience can reasonably expect to command within the relevant community. Id. That rate may not, however, exceed the amount necessary to cause competent legal counsel to perform the work required. Coulter v. Tennessee, 805 F.2d 146, 148 (6th Cir. 1986); see also Adcock-Ladd, 227 F.3d at 349. "Such fees are different from the prices charged well-to-do clients by the most noted lawyers and renowned law firms in a region. Under these statutes a renowned lawyer who customarily receives $250 an hour in a field in which competent and experienced lawyers in the region normally receive $85 an hour should be compensated at the lower rate." Coulter, 804 F.2d at 149; see also Reed, 179 F.3d at 472 (same); Hudson, 130 F.3d at 1208 (same)

The Supreme Court has held reasonable attorney's fees provided by statute include compensation for the work of paralegals and law clerks, and they should be compensated at the rates at which their services are billed to clients. Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274 (1989).

Hours which are "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary," are not reasonably expended. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 430 434. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit has held that "the district court must not only articulate findings of fact and conclusions of law regarding the inclusion of hours amounting to the fee awarded, but those regarding the exclusion of hours as well." Glass v. Sec'y of Health & Human Services, 822 F.2d 19, 22 (6th Cir. 1987).

While the lodestar method is the appropriate starting place for determining attorney's fees, the inquiry does not end there. Other considerations may lead the district court to adjust the fee. For example, the court may consider the degree of success obtained. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 114 (1992) (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436); Cramblit v. Fiske, 33 F.3d 633, 635 (6th Cir. 1994). Likewise, a plaintiff's ability to pay and financial resources may be taken into account under certain circumstances. Where the fee applicant is a defendant as opposed to a plaintiff, as is the case here, the court may consider the plaintiff's ability to pay in determining the proper amount of the attorney's fees award. Wolfe v. Perry, 412 F.3d 707, 724 (6th Cir. 2005) ("a non-prevailing plaintiff's ability to pay may be used as a factor to determine the size of the ...


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