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Williams v. Shelby County School System

United States District Court, W.D. Tennessee, Western Division

June 14, 2019

KATORIA S. WILLIAMS and DEMETRI M. FAULKNER, Plaintiffs,
v.
SHELBY COUNTY SCHOOL SYSTEM, MEMPHIS CITY SCHOOL SYSTEM, and REGISTERED AGENT, MARJORIE N. DOUGLAS, Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION FOR ADDITIONAL ATTORNEY'S FEES

          THOMAS L. PARKER UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Defendant Marjorie N. Douglas (“Douglas”) moves for an award of additional attorney's fees and expenses incurred in preparing her initial Motion for Attorney's Fees and Expenses (ECF No. 110). (ECF No. 164.) Douglas seeks $ 3, 762.10 in additional fees. Plaintiffs have responded and argue that such fees are unjustified under the circumstances. (ECF No. 165.) In any event, the Court GRANTS IN PART AND DENIES IN PART the Motion for the reasons below.

         BACKGROUND

         A discussion of the facts underlying this litigation is unnecessary as those details have been thoroughly discussed in other orders. (See ECF Nos. 108 & 163.) That said, the Court will summarize its Order Granting In Part and Denying In Part the Motion for Attorney's Fees. (ECF No. 163.)

         Douglas moved for an award of attorney's fees and expenses after the Court granted her Motion to Dismiss. (See ECF No. 110.) Douglas argued that such an award was warranted under several statutes and this Court's inherent authority. (Id.) Ultimately, the Court sided in part with Douglas and awarded her fees and expenses totaling $47, 811.50.[1] (See ECF No. 163.) The fees were awarded under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 and Tennessee Code Annotated § 29-20-113(a).

         First, the Court determined that Valerie Vie and Lucinda Jones acted in a manner that fell objectively short of the duty owed by attorneys to the Court and, that in doing so, they abused the judicial process. (ECF No. 163 at PageID 1263-65.) These actions created a needless multiplication of the proceedings and an expansive litigation bill for Douglas. This Court found that this conduct was sanctionable under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. (Id. at PageID 1265.) So a sanction in the amount of $39, 842.92 was imposed against Ms. Vie and Ms. Jones under that statute. (Id. at PageID 1269.)

         Second, the Court awarded Douglas fees under a Tennessee fee shifting statute. (ECF No. 163 at PageID 1271-72.) This statute requires courts to award reasonable attorney's fees and expenses to a prevailing state employee sued in her individual capacity for actions arising out of her official capacity. Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-20-113. The Court held that this statute embodies a substantive policy of the State that does not interfere with a valid federal statute or court rule. (Id. at PageID 1271.) So the statute was applied to this case. The Court limited the award under this statute to the state-law claims brought against Douglas in her individual capacity. (Id.) This resulted in Plaintiffs being liable for $7, 968.58 in attorney's fees and expenses to Douglas. So the total amount awarded to Douglas was $47, 811.50. (ECF No. 164.)

         Following this award, Douglas moved for attorney's fees and expenses incurred in preparing and litigating her motion for the initial award.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         The phrase used to describe the recovery of attorney's fees incurred in preparing a motion for attorney's fees is “fees for fees.” The Sixth Circuit states that fees-for-fees awards should be given to compensate a party awarded fees under a fee-shifting statute. See Gonter v. Hunt Valve Co., Inc., 510 F.3d 610, 620 (6th Cir. 2007). Courts deciding motion for attorney's fees should only award fees “reasonably expended in the prosecution of the litigation.” Inwalle v. Reliance Med. Prods., Inc., 515 F.3d 531, 553 (6th Cir. 2008). A reasonable fee is determined by multiplying the number of hours reasonably spent preparing and litigating a motion for attorney's fees by a reasonable hourly rate. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983). This is called the “lodestar” method. Delaware Valley Citizens Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 564 (1986).

         ANALYSIS

         Douglas seeks $3, 762.10[2] in additional fees for time spent preparing and litigating her original motion for attorney's fees. (ECF No. 164-1 at PageID 1278.) This Court has already held that the hourly rate billed by Douglas' counsel is reasonable. (ECF No. 163 at PageID 1268.) So the Court need not address that issue. But the number of hours reasonably spent litigating the original motion for fees is unsettled.

         I. Number of Hours Reasonably Spent on the Motion for Attorney's Fees

         Douglas' attorneys submitted their billing records incurred litigating the original attorney's fees motion from November 7, 2018 to January 15, 2019. (ECF No. 164-2.) The bill states that Robert O. Binkley, Jr., counsel for Douglas, billed 3.6 hours during this time frame. (Id.) And Jennifer Ivy, also counsel for Douglas, billed 14.3 hours during this ...


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