United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
CHARLTON DEPRIEST, ET AL. PLAINTIFFS
WALNUT GROVE CORRECTIONAL AUTHORITY, ET AL. DEFENDANTS
CARLTON W. REEVES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiffs' motion for attorney's fees
and costs. For the reasons stated below, the motion is
GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
March 2012, the parties and this Court entered into a Consent
Decree regarding conditions at the Walnut Grove Correctional
Facility. Docket No. 75 at 5. The Decree's provisions,
among other things, required Defendants to protect the Eighth
Amendment rights of Walnut Grove inmates. See Docket
No. 75-3 at 4 (requiring that inmates be “provided with
reasonably safe living conditions and [be] protected from
violence”). These provisions were originally set to
expire in March 2017, but could be extended by this Court as
it saw fit. Id. at 15.
August 2014, following two riots at Walnut Grove, Plaintiffs
filed a Motion for Enforcement and Modification of the
Decree. Docket No. 106. That motion asked that this Court
hold an evidentiary hearing to determine what, if any, new
measures were necessary to enforce the Decree's Eighth
Amendment protections. Id. at 1 (requesting whatever
“additional remedial measures” were required to
“provide reasonably safe living conditions and freedom
from violence for the inmates at Walnut Grove”). In
March 2015, Defendants responded by filing a Motion to
Terminate Prospective Relief Granted by the Decree. Docket
No. 129. That motion asked this Court to terminate the
entirety of the Decree pursuant to the Prison Litigation
Reform Act (“PLRA”), alleging that there were
“no current and ongoing violations” of any inmate
rights at Walnut Grove. Id. at 2.
April 2015, this Court held the evidentiary hearing requested
by Plaintiffs. Two months later, the Court issued an Order
dispensing with both the Motion to Enforce and the Motion to
Terminate. Docket No. 169. The Order found, on the basis of
the evidence presented by Plaintiffs, that there were
“current and ongoing violations of the Eighth
Amendment” at Walnut Grove. Id. at 19. The
Order tailored the Decree's prospective relief to those
violations, eliminating some of the Decree's provisions
while maintaining others. Id. at 30-31. The Order
was effectuated by a Final Judgment. Docket No. 175. The
Final Judgment denied Defendants' Motion to Terminate,
and - pursuant to the Decree's terms -
“extend[ed]” the remaining provisions of the
Decree beyond their original expiration date. Id. at
promptly appealed the Order. Docket No. 172. Before the Fifth
Circuit could render an opinion, Walnut Grove was closed, and
the appeal was mooted. Docket No. 192. In September 2016, the
Fifth Circuit dismissed the case for lack of jurisdiction,
but held that this Court retained jurisdiction to rule on
Plaintiffs' motion for attorney's fees and costs,
Depriest v. Fisher, 669 Fed.Appx. 209 (5th Cir.
2016), which was filed shortly after the entry of the Order.
Docket No. 171.
January 2017, Plaintiffs filed a supplemental motion for
attorney's fees and costs. Docket No. 196. That motion
requested an award for work performed on the Motion to
Enforce, the Motion to Terminate, and all subsequent filings.
Id. at 4-5. Plaintiffs calculate this award to be
$587, 355.00. Docket No. 206.
claim it would “shock the conscience” to grant
Plaintiffs an attorney's fee award. Docket No. 198 at 1.
Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' fee request should be
“denied outright” because the Order left
Plaintiffs “in a worse, not better, position than they
were [previously] in.” Id. at 2. In the
alternative, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs are “not
entitled to anything close” to the award they request
because that award fails to be “reasonable.”
Docket No. 198 at 26.
civil rights actions, a “prevailing plaintiff should
ordinarily recover attorney's fees under [42 U.S.C.
§ 1988(b)] unless special circumstances would render
such an award unjust.” Kirchberg v. Feenstra,
708 F.2d 991, 998 (5th Cir. 1983). “We have interpreted
this to mean that absent special circumstances, a prevailing
plaintiff should be awarded section 1988 fees as a matter
of course.” Id. (citation omitted and
emphasis in original).
attain prevailing party status, “a plaintiff must (1)
obtain actual relief, such as an enforceable judgment or
consent decree; (2) that materially alters the legal
relationship between the parties; and (3) modifies the
defendant's behavior in a way that directly benefits the
plaintiff at the time of the judgment or settlement.”
Dearmore v. City of Garland, 519 F.3d 517, 521 (5th
Cir. 2008) (quotation marks and citation omitted). If
plaintiffs have already obtained relief granting them
prevailing party status, that status will be extended to
certain efforts aimed at enforcing the prior relief.
Miller v. Carson, 628 F.2d 346, 348 (5th Cir. 1980).
Such efforts are those that are “related to the
enforcement” of the prior relief and have
“contributed to the vindication of rights.”
Id. Furthermore, a “plaintiff is entitled to
an attorney's fee for [a mooted] appeal” when they
are “a prevailing party” in the underlying
action. Murphy v. Fort Worth Indep. Sch. Dist., 334
F.3d 470, 470-71 (5th Cir. 2003) (citation and quotation
marks omitted); see also Depriest, 669 Fed.Appx. at
210 (“a determination of mootness neither precludes nor
is precluded by an award of attorneys' fees”)
parties are entitled to a reasonable attorney's fee,
which is typically calculated using the
“lodestar” method. See McClain v. Lufkin
Indus., Inc., 649 F.3d 374, 381-82 (5th Cir. 2011). This
method requires courts to multiply the hours a party
“reasonably expended” by the “reasonable
hourly rate for their services.” Id.
(citations omitted). The lodestar method “yields a fee
that is presumptively sufficient.” Perdue v. Kenny
A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 552 (2010) (citation
may adjust the lodestar using the twelve Johnson
factors, the “most critical” of which is the
“degree of success obtained.” Abner v. Kan.
City S. Ry. Co., 541 F.3d 372, 377 (5th Cir. 2008)
(citing Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, 488 F.2d
714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974)). An attorney's fee award
ruling should “explain how each of the Johnson
factors affects its award, ” but “need not be
meticulously detailed to survive appellate review.”
In re High Sulfur Content Gasoline Prod. Liab.
Litig., 517 F.3d 220, 228 (5th Cir. 2008).
PLRA imposes three additional limitations on fee awards in
prison reform litigation. First, all fees must have been
“directly and reasonably incurred in proving an actual
violation of the plaintiff's rights.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1997e(d)(1)(A). Second, the fees must be either
“proportionally related to the court ordered
relief” or “directly and reasonably incurred in
enforcing the relief ordered.” 42 U.S.C. §
1997e(d)(1)(B). Third, the fees cannot be predicated upon
hourly rates which exceed “150 percent of the hourly
rate established” by 18 U.S.C.A. § 3006A, known as
the Criminal Justice Act (“CJA”). 42 U.S.C.
disagree on what the “established” hourly rate is
under the CJA for the purposes of this third requirement.
Some courts use the maximum CJA rates approved by the
Judicial Conference, while others use the rates budgeted for
by Congress. See Batchelder v. Geary, No. C-71-02017
RMW, 2007 WL 2427989, at *4-5 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 22, 2007)
(collecting cases). In the absence of binding precedent, this
Court agrees with the majority of courts which have reached
this issue, and finds it appropriate to use the CJA rate
approved by the Judicial Conference. See, e.g., Hadix v.
Johnson, 398 F.3d 863, 866-68 (6th Cir. 2005), Webb
v. Ada Cty., 285 F.3d 829, 839 (9th Cir. 2002),
Williams v. Taylor, No. 4:08CV163-SA, 2012 WL
12965714, at *2 (N.D. Miss. Dec. 3, 2012); but see
Hernandez v. Kalinowski, 146 F.3d 196, 201 (3d Cir.
threshold question in this case is whether Plaintiffs have
attained prevailing party status. If this is the case, the
only remaining question regards the scope of the
attorney's fee award to which Plaintiffs are entitled.
Both questions are discussed below.
Prevailing Party Status
is no real dispute that the 2012 Decree granted Plaintiffs
prevailing party status. The Decree meets all three prongs of
the test outlined in Dearmore. 519 F.3d at 521.
First, the Decree constitutes “actual relief, ”
as it is a consent decree. Id. Second, as evidenced
by the extent of its terms, the Decree “materially
alter[ed]” the legal relationship between Plaintiffs
and Defendants. Id. Finally, as demonstrated by
those terms' implementation, the Decree “modifie[d]
the defendant's behavior” in a way that
“directly benefitted plaintiffs at the time of its
the parties dispute is whether this prevailing party status
extends to Plaintiffs' subsequent efforts to enforce the
Decree - namely, the work Plaintiffs expended on both the
Motion to Enforce and the Motion to Terminate. For prevailing
party status to extend to this work, that work must have (1)
been “related to the enforcement” of the