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Chandler v. Tennessee Department of Safety

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

August 26, 2014

MARY CHANDLER,
v.
TENNESSEE DEPARTMENT OF SAFETY, and DAVID MITCHELL, as Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Safety

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

JOHN S. BRYANT, Magistrate Judge.

Three motions remain pending in this case: plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees (Docket Entry No. 139), plaintiff's amended motion for attorneys' fees and expenses (Docket No. 142), and the supplement to the motion for attorneys' fees and expenses. (Docket Entry No. 164) These motions have been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for report and recommendation. (Docket Entry No. 150)

For the reasons stated below in this report, the undersigned Magistrate Judge recommends that plaintiff's amended motion for attorneys' fees and expenses along with the supplement to the motion for attorneys' fees and expenses amounting to $90, 969.50 be GRANTED.

Statement of the Case

Plaintiff was an employee of the Tennessee Department of Safety ("Defendant") for more than twenty-eight years. (Docket Entry No. 1-2 at 6-7) In August 2010, plaintiff was questioned by two highway patrol internal affairs officers about allegations of misconduct and subsequently signed a statement of resignation. Id. at 9. Plaintiff claimed that this resignation was coerced and that the defendant violated her procedural due process rights under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Id. at 14. Plaintiff also claimed that the defendant violated her substantive due process rights and that she was wrongfully terminated. Id. at 14-15. Plaintiff sought injunctive relief by her chancery court complaint (Docket Entry No. 1-2), and thereafter expressed her belief that she was entitled to compensatory damages (Docket Entry No. 31), but subsequently conceded that she was not entitled to compensatory damages based on the defendant's Eleventh Amendment immunity. (Docket Entry No. 151 at 7-8) The case went to trial, but Judge Nixon declared a mistrial and recused himself from the case on August 30, 2013. (Docket Entry No. 80) The case was reassigned to Judge Campbell and was set for a jury trial on January 21, 2014. (Docket Entry No. 122)

The jury found that plaintiff's resignation from employment with defendant was involuntary (Docket Entry No. 138) and plaintiff thereafter sought injunctive relief in order to be reinstated and obtain her due process rights. (Docket Entry No. 144) The Court granted the plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief in that the plaintiff was entitled to have her employment reinstated and be granted minimum due process in accordance with Tennessee law. (Docket Entry No. 159)

Contemporaneously with her pursuit of an order of reinstatement, plaintiff filed her motion for attorneys' fees (Docket Entry No. 139), amended motion for attorneys' fees and expenses (Docket No. 142), and supplement to motion for attorneys' fees and expenses. (Docket Entry No. 164) The defendant subsequently filed a response to the amended motion for attorneys' fees (Docket Entry No. 143) and a response to the supplement to the motion for attorneys' fees and expenses (Docket Entry No. 165)

Legal Analysis

A. Untimely Motion for Attorneys Fees

The plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees was timely. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2)(B) allows a district court to modify the 14-day time limit for filing fee motions. This Court has modified the time limit through LR 54.01(b)(1), which provides that "[u]nless otherwise provided by statute or order of the Court, a motion for an award of attorneys' fees and related nontaxable expenses shall be filed within thirty (30) days from the District Court's entry of final judgment in the case." The jury's verdict was entered on January 23, 2014. (Docket Entry No. 138) The plaintiff filed her motion for attorneys' fees on February 21, 2014. (Docket Entry No. 139) Thus, the plaintiff's request was filed timely within thirty days as is required by LR 54.01(b)(1), and defendant's argument based on timeliness - which fails to consider the Local Rule - is without merit.

B. Legal Standard for Attorneys' Fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988

Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs[.]" Cases that involve immunity doctrines and special defenses available only to public officials can preclude or severely limit the ability to obtain damages. City of Riverside v. Rivera , 477 U.S. 561, 577 (1986). In these cases, the United States Supreme Court has recognized that awarding counsel fees to prevailing plaintiffs is particularly important and necessary in order to adequately protect constitutional rights. Id. at 577-80.

Calculating attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. 1988 begins with determining the "lodestar amount, " which is the number of hours reasonably spent through the litigation process multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. Jordan v. City of Cleveland , 464 F.3d 584, 602 (6th Cir. 2006). After this amount has been determined, the court should reduce the amount based on any excessive, redundant or unnecessary hours and adjust it to reflect the result obtained. Id.

The party seeking attorneys' fees bears the burden of documenting her entitlement to the award. Reed v. Rhodes , 179 F.3d 453, 472 (6th Cir. 1999). The declaration of Greg Oakley and attachments thereto present a detailed accounting of the hours expended by lawyers and paralegals on this case for which attorneys' fees are sought. (Docket Entry No. 140) The declarations of Kenneth R. Jones, Jr. and Jeffrey A. Green suggest that the hourly rate of $290 per hour for Mr. Oakley's time would be reasonable.[1] The defendant has taken issue with the fact that the plaintiff's attorneys have not attached a negotiated client payment agreement and billed the plaintiff at a different rate than what they submitted to the Court. (Docket Entry No. 143 at 2-3) However, neither of these facts is determinative of the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees. Although the agreement between the client and attorney can be one of many factors considered ...


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