United States District Court, D. Nevada
M. NAVARRO, DISTRICT JUDGE
before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorney Fees
and Costs, (ECF No. 178). Defendants Clark County School
District (“CCSD”) and Shawn Paquette
(collectively, “Defendants”) filed a Response,
(ECF No. 188). Plaintiffs filed a Reply, (ECF No. 190).
pending before the Court is Plaintiffs' unopposed Motion
to Seal, (ECF No. 192), regarding the Exhibits appended to
the Reply in Support of the Motion for Attorney Fees and
Costs. For the reasons discused below, Plaintiffs' Motion
for Attorney Fees and Costs and Plaintiffs' Motion to
Seal are GRANTED.
case arises from Defendant James Doran (“Doran”),
a CCSD teacher, allegedly abusing Plaintiffs, nonverbal
students with Autism Spectrum Disorder. The parties reached a
settlement agreement while Defendants' Motion for Partial
Summary Judgment was pending. (See Min. Order, ECF
No. 161). The settlement provided $400, 000 to each Plaintiff
from CCSD and $10, 000 to each Plaintiff from Doran's
insurance carrier. (See Mins. of Settlement Conf.
¶¶ 2-3, ECF No. 161). The settlement designated
Plaintiffs as the prevailing parties and left the
determination of reasonable attorney fees and costs to the
Court. (Id. ¶ 4). The agreement capped the
recoverable fees and costs at $500, 000 and $425, 000,
respectively. (Id.). Plaintiffs now move for an
award of fees and costs equal to the maximum amount allowed
by the parties' settlement agreement. (See Mot.
Att'y Fees and Costs, ECF No. 178).
Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs
to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), a prevailing party
may seek an award of attorney fees and costs. Fed.R.Civ.P.
54(d). When a party seeks a fee award under a federal
fee-shifting statute, the court determines the award using
the “lodestar method.” Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). “The
‘lodestar' is calculated by multiplying the number
of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the
litigation by a reasonable hourly rate.” Ferland v.
Conrad Credit Corp., 244 F.3d 1145, 1149 n.4 (9th Cir.
2001) (internal citation omitted). “Although in most
cases, the lodestar figure is presumptively a reasonable fee
award, the district court may, if circumstances warrant,
adjust the lodestar to account for other factors which are
not subsumed within it.” Id.; see also
Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 70 (9th
Cir. 1975) (enumerating the “Kerr
factors” district courts may consider to adjust the
party seeking fees bears the burden to submit evidence
supporting the rates claimed and the hours worked.
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433; see also Carson v.
Billings Police Dep't, 470 F.3d 889, 891 (9th Cir.
2006). “The party opposing the fee application has a
burden of rebuttal that requires submission of evidence to
the district court challenging the accuracy and
reasonableness of the hours charged or the facts asserted by
the prevailing party in its submitted affidavits.”
Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1397-98 (9th
Cir. 1992). In reviewing a motion for attorney fees, the
court will rely on its own experience to determine whether
the amount requested is reasonable. See Hensley, 461
U.S. at 437; see also Ilick v. Miller, 68 F.Supp.2d
1169, 1176 (D. Nev. 1999).
prevailing party is presumptively “entitled to
reasonable costs.” LR 54-1(a); see also Fed.
R. Civ. P. 54(d)(1). The losing party may rebut this
presumption by “establishing] a reason to deny
costs.” Dawson v. City of Seattle, 435 F.3d
1054, 1070 (9th Cir. 2006).
Motion to Seal
motion to seal is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
26(c), which provides that, “[t]he court may, for good
cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from
annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or
expense . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). When evaluating
a motion to seal documents attached to a non-dispositive
motion, the court considers whether '"good
cause' exists to protect th[e] information from being
disclosed to the public by balancing the needs for discovery
against the need for confidentiality.” Pintos v.
Pac. Creditors Ass 'n, 605 F.3d 665, 678-79 (9th
Cir. 2010) (quoting Phillips ex rel. Estates of Byrd v.
Gen. Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206, 1213 (9th Cir. 2002)).
The court may grant a motion to seal in its discretion, but
it must provide its reasoning in deciding the motion.
Id. at 679.
Court concludes that Plaintiffs have requested fees for a
reasonable number of hours worked; however, the hourly rates
sought for some members of Plaintiffs' legal team are
unreasonable. Nevertheless, the Court's loadstar
calculation indicates that Plaintiffs should receive $500,
000 in attorney fees.
their Motion, Plaintiffs argue that they are entitled to an
attorney fee award as the prevailing parties because they
brought claims under the Americans with Disabilities Act
(“ADA”), the Rehabilitation Act, and 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, each of which contains a fee-shifting provision.
(Memorandum in Support of Mot. for Fees and Costs
(“Mot. for Fees”) 9:1-11, Ex. 1 to Mot. for
Att'y Fees and Costs, ECF No. 178). Plaintiffs staffed
the case with five attorneys and four paralegals. They allege
that based on the experience, skill, and reputation of
attorneys Peter Alfert (“Alfert”), Todd Boley
(“Boley”), Marianne Lanuti
(“Lanuti”), Ian Hansen (“Hansen”),
and Justin Young (“Young”) the attorneys should
receive hourly rates of $700, $700, $450, $425, and $400,
respectively. (Id. 11:26-16:14). Plaintiffs also
allege that the Court should award an hourly rate of $250 for
their paralegals. (Id. 16:15-25). Based on the
detailed records submitted to the Court, Plaintiffs allege
that the lodestar figure equals $687, 601.93, after deducting
travel expenses and reducing the number of hours billed by 5%
to offset any duplicative efforts or billing errors.
(Id. 11:20-25, 16:26-23, 20:22-21:4).
argue that Plaintiffs should be awarded no more than $175,
000 in attorney fees. (See Resp. to Mot. for Fees
(“Resp.”) 31:4-9, ECF No. 188). Defendants
contend that the Court should award less than requested
because Plaintiffs' attorneys are not entitled to
California rates, they won a modest award relative to the
damages sought, engaged in block billing, overstaffed the
case, requested unreasonably high rates, billed time to
develop a playbook for use in later cases, executed
duplicative work, and manufactured unnecessary discovery
disputes that took longer to resolve than necessary.
(Id. 5:20-7:4). The Court now turns to the lodestar
Plaintiffs' Attorneys' Reasonable Hourly
calculating the loadstar, the Court must determine the
reasonable hourly rate for the prevailing party's
attorneys and paralegals. Gonzales v. City of
Maywood, 729 F.3d 1196, 1205 (9th Cir. 2013). Generally,
a reasonable hourly rate is the prevailing market rate
“in the community for similar services by lawyers of
reasonably comparable skill, experience, and
reputation.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886,
895-96 n.11 (1984). The relevant community is generally
“the forum in which the district court sits.”
Prison Legal News v. Schwarzenegger, 608 F.3d 446,
454 (9th Cir. 2010) (quoting Camacho v. Bridgeport Fin.,
Inc., 523 F.3d 973, 979 (9th Cir. 2008)). However, the
relevant prevailing market rate may be that of another forum
“if local counsel was unavailable, either because they
are unwilling or unable to perform because they lack the
degree of experience, expertise, or specialization required
to handle properly the case.” Gates v.
Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1405 (9th Cir. 1992).
Attorneys Alfert and Boley
allege that Alfert and Boley are entitled to the prevailing
market rate for counsel of comparable skill, experience, and
reputation in the Bay Area of California, which is $700 per
hour. (Mot. for Fees 13:1-7; 13:23-15:2). They allege-with a
supporting affidavit from a Las Vegas civil rights
litigator-that no local counsel has the skill required to
handle civil rights cases involving nonverbal special needs
children who have been abused by their teachers.
(Id. 13:8-15) (see also Lichtenstein Decl.,
ECF No. 180).
Even if attorneys in the forum had the skills to take such
cases, Plaintiffs argue that the substantial expense involved
in litigating these cases limits the number of attorneys
willing to take the work. (See Alfert Decl. ¶
16, ECF 179); (see also Lanuti Decl. ¶¶
10-12). Meanwhile, Alfert and Boley have over 80 years of
combined experience in complex civil rights and torts
litigation, and their practices have recently focused on
cases involving abuse of children with special needs.
(Id. 13:2-7; 13:23-15:2). They have represented over
50 families in such cases. (Id. 13:1-7).
argue that Alfert and Boley are not entitled to Bay Area
rates because many local attorneys have represented students
in cases alleging abuse. (Resp. 20:9-14). Defendants also
contend that Alfert and Boley have not demonstrated the
skills they have that differentiate them from local counsel,
and their experience with these abuse cases is limited
because they only began representing special needs children
in 2012. (Id. 20:16-21:2). Accordingly, Defendants
argue that the Court should ...