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Stockstill v. City of Picayune

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

December 11, 2017

JEREMY STOCKSTILL PLAINTIFF
v.
CITY OF PICAYUNE; BRYAN DAWSEY in his official capacity as Chief of Police for the City of Picayune Police Department; and CHAD PRESTRIDGE, individually and in his official capacity as Patrol Officer for the City of Picayune Police Department DEFENDANTS

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES AND EXPENSES

          LOUIS GUIROLA, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is the Motion for Attorney's Fees and Expenses [61] filed by the plaintiff Jeremy Stockstill. He seeks an award of $170, 927.50 in attorney's fees, and $6081.51 in expenses. The defendants - City of Picayune and Chad Prestridge (collectively referred to as “Picayune”) - have filed a response asking the Court to award $10, 000 in fees and expenses, at most. After reviewing the submissions of the parties, the record in this matter, and the applicable law, the Court finds that the Motion for Attorney's Fees and Expenses should be granted to the extent that $36, 521.25 in attorney's fees are awarded and $6081.51 in expenses are awarded.

         BACKGROUND

         In this lawsuit, Stockstill claimed that the defendants violated his constitutional rights to freedom of speech and due process when they stopped him from using voice amplification and handing out religious tracts at the Picayune Street Festival on March 28, 2015. In a Memorandum Opinion and Order entered on July 18, 2017, this Court dismissed Stockstill's claims against Officer Prestridge and Chief Dawsey in their official capacities with prejudice. (Mem. Op. & Order, ECF No. 57). The Court also dismissed portions of Stockstill's due process and freedom of speech claims. (Id.) In August 2017, the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement in which Picayune agreed to permit Stockstill to distribute literature within a specified area at the Festival, and Stockstill agreed to avoid distributing literature outside of the designated area. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. G at 1, ECF No. 7). Stockstill agreed to dismissal with prejudice of all claims filed in this lawsuit. (Id. at 2). The parties also agreed that:

Plaintiff's counsel may submit a request for attorney's fees and costs to the District Court, and Defendants may respond in opposition. The District Court shall determine what constitutes a reasonable amount of costs and fees. The parties do not dispute that Plaintiff's counsel is entitled to some amount of fees, but they do dispute what amount is reasonable and what efforts by Plaintiff's counsel are compensable. In his requests for fees and costs, Plaintiff's counsel agrees not to seek reimbursement for more than 10 hours in preparing his request for fees and costs. Defendants do not agree that Plaintiff's counsel is entitled to any fees or costs related to Plaintiff's counsel's request, but Defendants agree that Plaintiff's counsel shall request no more than 10 hours for preparing the request.

(Id. at 2). Stockstill filed the present Motion seeking $170, 927.50 in attorney's fees, and $6081.51 in expenses.

         DISCUSSION

         I. WHETHER STOCKSTILL IS ENTITLED TO ATTORNEY'S FEES PURSUANT TO 42 U.S.C. § 1988

         While Picayune does not dispute that Stockstill's attorney is entitled to an award of fees, it argues that the award of fee should be governed by state law. Stockstill counters that 42 U.S.C. § 1988 governs the award. Nevertheless, it is not necessary to reach a conclusion on this issue, as the method of calculating reasonable attorney's fees under Mississippi law and under federal law is essentially the same. Compare Combs v. City of Huntington, Tex., 829 F.3d 388, 391-92 (5th Cir. 2016) with Tupelo Redevelopment Agency v. Gray Corp., Inc., 972 So.2d 495, 520-523 (Miss. 2007). Both the Mississippi courts and the federal courts utilize a two-part analysis, first calculating the lodestar and then evaluating the reasonableness of the lodestar by considering several factors. See Id. The federal courts analyze the factors set forth in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974), and the Mississippi courts consider the factors set forth in McKee v. McKee, 418 So.2d 764, 767 (Miss. 1982), and Miss. R. Prof. Conduct 1.5(a). See Id. The only factor that is considered by the federal courts but not considered by the Mississippi courts “in some shape, form[, ] or fashion, is the undesirability of the case.” Id. at 521 (¶79). For the sake of simplicity, this Court will cite federal authority while analyzing the reasonableness of the fees sought by Stockstill.

         II. THE LODESTAR

         To calculate the lodestar, the court first multiplies the reasonable number of hours spent working on the case by the reasonable hourly rate for the attorney to determine the lodestar figure. Black v. SettlePou, P.C., 732 F.3d 492, 502 (5th Cir. 2013).

         A. REASONABLE HOURLY RATE

         In this litigation, Stockstill was represented by Nathan W. Kellum and M. Anthony Mangini of the Center for Religious Expression, a non-profit law firm located in Memphis, Tennessee. Mr. Kellum has testified that he has approximately twenty-nine years of experience. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. A, ECF No. 61-1). His practice focuses on civil rights litigation, including cases pertaining to free speech and religious liberty. (Id.) Mr. Kellum seeks approval of an hourly rate of $375 for his work representing Stockstill. (Id.) Mr. Mangini has testified that he has three years of experience, and the focus of his practice is freedom of speech and religious liberty litigation. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. B, ECF No. 61-2). He seeks an hourly rate of $175 per hour for his representation of Stockstill. (Id.)

         Stockstill has produced an affidavit signed by Scott Newton, an attorney who practices in Jackson, Mississippi, in the area of government investigations and litigation. (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. D, ECF No. 61-4). He has approximately twenty-six years of experience. (Id.) Mr. Newton testified that $375 per hour is a reasonable rate for an attorney with the skill and experience of Mr. Kellum. (Id.) ...


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