United States District Court, D. Alaska
ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR REASONABLE ATTORNEYS' FEES & EXPENSES THROUGH OCTOBER 24, 2014
TIMOTHY M. BURGESS, District Judge.
Plaintiffs brought this action against Defendants for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983, claiming that Alaska's laws prohibiting same-sex marriage and the recognition of same-sex marriages lawfully entered in other states violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution. On October 12, 2014, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, declaring the laws unconstitutional. Plaintiffs, by and through their attorneys, move under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 for an award of $257, 938.40 in attorneys' fees and expenses incurred from the start of litigation through October 24, 2014. Defendants claim that the sum sought by Plaintiffs is excessive and unreasonable. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs' motion at Docket 46 is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
This case proceeded quickly. Plaintiffs filed their complaint on May 12, 2014. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment in August and September; the Court heard oral arguments on the dispositive motions on October 10, 2014. Two days later, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs. Defendants immediately moved for a stay of the Court's order pending appeal; the Court denied the motion on October 14, 2014 and entered a judgment for Plaintiffs, declaring that the challenged Alaska laws violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution and permanently enjoining their enforcement. Defendants appealed and sought a stay of the Court's judgment from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Ninth Circuit granted the stay to afford Defendants the opportunity to seek a stay from the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court denied the stay on October 17, 2014.
On October 28, 2014, Plaintiffs filed the present motion for attorneys' fees and costs in the sum of $257, 938.40, which includes 788 hours of work from four attorneys and legal support staff. Defendants contest the sum calculated by Plaintiffs on the grounds that: (1) the case did not present a novel claim and was decided on motions for summary judgment; (2) the time records provided by Plaintiffs contain significant errors; (3) the asserted hourly billing rates are excessive; and (4) the claimed number of hours is excessive. Defendants do not contest the $458.40 in costs.
III. LEGAL STANDARD
42 U.S.C. § 1988 provides that "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." Absent statutory restrictions, the prevailing party recovers the attorney's fee "unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." To fulfill the purpose of § 1988, a "reasonable" fee award is one that will encourage competent attorneys to take on meritorious civil rights claims "in order to ensure that federal rights are adequately enforced" without yielding a windfall to either party.
The Court typically employs the "lodestar" method to determine a fee award, which is calculated by multiplying "the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate." The prevailing party bears the burden of presenting "satisfactory evidence" of the prevailing market rate and detailed time records documenting the number of hours expended on litigation. When reviewing the time records, the Court must decide whether the hours are adequately documented and whether any hours should be excluded for being "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." When the lodestar figure is properly calculated and supported by satisfactory evidence, the sum is presumed to represent a reasonable fee under § 1988.
Nonetheless, the Court may adjust the loadstar figure upward or downward based on factors set forth in Kerr v. Extras Guild, Inc., including: (1) the time and labor required to litigate the case, (2) the complexity of the case, (3) the skill required for the attorney(s) to provide effective legal counsel on the issue, (4) whether the attorney(s) turned down other employment opportunities due to accepting the case, (5) time limitations imposed by the court or client, (6) the results obtained, (7) the experience, ability, and reputation of the attorney(s) involved in the case, (8) the undesirability of the case, and (9) awards in similar cases. Some of these factors may be subsumed by being "taken into account in either the reasonable hours component or the reasonable rate component of the lodestar calculation."
Plaintiffs seek fees for four attorneys and the supportive staff who contributed to the case: Allison Mendel, $425 per hour for 89.5 hours; Caitlin Shortell, $395 per hour for 180.5 hours; Heather Gardner, $395 per hour for 230.2 hours; Laurence Blakely, $200 per hour for 112 hours; and paralegal staff, $125 per hour for 110.6 hours. Plaintiffs also seek a $400 filing fee and a $58.40 PACER fee for an additional $458.40 in costs and other expenses.
A. Complexity and Novelty of the Issue
Defendants first argue that the attorneys' fees sought are unreasonable because, "although this case involved complex constitutional analysis, it hardly presented a novel claim." Since numerous courts across the country have been engaged in similar litigation, Defendants assert that Plaintiffs had a "clear roadmap" for pursuing their claim. Indeed, the claim is not entirely novel: in the last decade, state laws restricting or prohibiting same-sex couples' access to legal marriage and marriage recognition have been the focus of debates in state and federal courtrooms across the nation.
During the complaint and briefing stages of this case, the legal landscape regarding the constitutionality of state bans on same-sex marriage was changing day to day and the parties were required to monitor and keep informed of these changes and adjust their arguments accordingly. But Plaintiffs were not without guidance in this forum: the issue had been or was being litigated in numerous federal courts across the nation, including in cases from six of the eight other states in this Circuit. The Tenth and Fourth Circuits had already issued decisions on the matter in favor of the Plaintiffs' position and the district court decisions from Idaho, Hawaii, and ...