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Sturkin v. Patrick

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

May 10, 2019

DONNA STURKIN PLAINTIFF
v.
VICKY PATRICK DEFENDANT

          ORDER

          CARLTON W. REEVES UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court is the plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees and costs. Docket No. 113. The matter is fully briefed and ready for adjudication.

         I. Factual and Procedural History

         Donna Sturkin filed this lawsuit alleging that her former Drug Court parole officer, Vicky Patrick, violated Sturkin's constitutional rights. Sturkin said that during the period of supervision, she “was subjected to regular and repeated harassment, coercion, punishment, and false reporting by Defendant Patrick.” For example, Sturkin claimed that Patrick went to Sturkin's places of employment and demanded that Sturkin look the other way while Patrick stole goods or otherwise defrauded Sturkin's employers. Sturkin also claimed that Patrick falsely told the Drug Court's presiding judge that Sturkin had tested positive for alcohol consumption, which caused Sturkin to be imprisoned.

         At trial, a jury found in Sturkin's favor and awarded her $350, 000 in compensatory damages. The present motion followed.[1]

         Sturkin argues that as the prevailing party, she is entitled to $69, 962.25 in attorney's fees and $636.49 in costs. This sum reflects a $275 hourly rate for attorney S. Craig Panter, a $175 hourly rate for attorney Ronald E. Stutzman, Jr., and lesser hourly rates for paralegals. Patrick opposes the motion in part: she contends that opposing counsel's hourly rates should be lowered to $200 for Panter and $150 for Stutzman.[2]

         II. Applicable Law

         “As always, the Court uses the lodestar method to calculate an award of fees.” Lighthouse Rescue Mission, Inc. v. City of Hattiesburg, Miss., No. 2:12-CV-184-KS-MTP, 2014 WL 4402229, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Sept. 5, 2014) (citation omitted). The lodestar is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by the reasonable hourly billing rate. Id.; see Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). “[T]he lodestar method yields a fee that is presumptively sufficient.” Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 552 (2010) (citations omitted).

         The Court may then adjust the lodestar to account for factors that bear on the propriety of a fee award-the so-called Johnson factors. Shipes v. Trinity Indus., 987 F.2d 311, 320 & n.6 (5th Cir. 1993) (citing Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974)). The “most critical” factor is “the degree of success obtained.” Abner v. Kan. City S. Ry. Co., 541 F.3d 372, 377 (5th Cir. 2008).

         “The party seeking reimbursement of attorneys' fees has the burden of establishing the number of attorney hours expended, and can meet that burden only by presenting evidence that is adequate for the court to determine what hours should be included in the reimbursement.” La. Power & Light Co. v. Kellstrom, 50 F.3d 319, 324 (5th Cir. 1995) (quotation marks, citation, brackets, and ellipses omitted). The amount sought and the hours expended must be reasonable. Id. at 325. “The court should exclude all time that is excessive, duplicative, or inadequately documented.” Jimenez v. Wood Cnty., Tex., 621 F.3d 372, 379-80 (5th Cir. 2010).

         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); see Blanchard v. Bergeron, 893 F.2d 87, 89 (5th Cir. 1990) (“we will not require the trial court's findings to be so excruciatingly explicit in this area of minutiae that decisions on fee awards consume more judicial paper than did the cases from which they arose”). As the Supreme Court has explained, “trial courts need not, and indeed should not, become green-eyeshade accountants. The essential goal in shifting fees (to either party) is to do rough justice, not to achieve auditing perfection.” Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 838 (2011).

         III. Discussion

         A. Hourly Rates

         Reimbursable hourly rates in this State vary. See Brown v. Miss. Dep't of Health, No. 3:11-CV-146-CWR-FKB, 2013 WL 12128785, at *3 (S.D.Miss. Mar. 5, 2013) (collecting cases). Several federal judges in Mississippi have awarded $400 an hour and beyond for experienced attorneys handling complex litigation. See Jones v. Singing River Health Sys., ...


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