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Hodari v. State, Department of Corrections

Supreme Court of Alaska

October 27, 2017


         Appeal from the Superior Court of the State of Alaska, Third Judicial District, Anchorage, Charles W. Ray, Jr., Judge. Superior Court No. 3AN-14-09035 CI

          Appearances: Jon Buchholdt, Buchholdt Law Offices, Anchorage, for Appellant.

          John K. Bodick, Assistant Attorney General, Anchorage, and Jahna Lindemuth, Attorney General, Juneau, for Appellee.

          Before: Stowers, Chief Justice, Bolger, and Carney, Justices. [Winfree and Maassen, Justices, not participating.]


          CARNEY, JUSTICE.


         In May 2014 the Alaska Department of Corrections found Sababu Hodari, an inmate at Palmer Correctional Center, guilty of a disciplinary infraction. Hodari appealed the Department's decision to the superior court, arguing that the Department violated his right to due process by failing to follow prescribed procedure in the disciplinary hearing. While the appeal was pending the Department reversed its decision and removed the disciplinary records from Hodari's file. The superior court then found that Hodari had effectively prevailed on his appeal, and it allowed him to recover costs and fees from the Department. Hodari moved for an award of $4, 800 in attorney's and paralegal fees. The court awarded Hodari fees and costs but did not specify the amount of the award in its order, so the Department moved for clarification of the fee-award order. In its clarification order the court stated that because Hodari had not shown that the paralegal fees were for legal work "ordinarily performed by an attorney, " he was only entitled to $ 1, 800 in attorney's fees. Hodari appeals, arguing that the superior court abused its discretion in refusing to award him paralegal fees. We disagree, and we therefore affirm the superior court's fee award.


         At a Department of Corrections disciplinary hearing held in May 2014, Sababu Hodari was found guilty of planning an escape from Palmer Correctional Center. He filed an appeal in the superior court in August 2014, arguing that the Department had violated his right to due process by failing to provide him with a complete disciplinary report and by relying on evidence it did not disclose to him. While Hodari's appeal was pending the Department informed the court that it intended to conduct a new hearing on Hodari's disciplinary offense. The court therefore concluded that "Hodarihas effectively prevailed here, " and it ordered the Department to show cause why the court should not grant Hodari his requested relief along with costs and fees.

         In its response to the show cause order the Department asked the court to require Hodari to file a motion for costs and fees; it requested that the "statement of costs and fees should include a statement of the specific work performed, the date the specific work was performed, who performed the work, the credentials of the person who performed the work, and the hourly rate for the work." The superior court then issued an order dismissing the appeal, naming Hodari the prevailing party, and stating that Hodari "may seek costs and/or fees as may be allowed under the law."

         Hodari's counsel submitted a motion for award of attorney's fees in which he stated that he had spent six hours at $300 per hour on the appeal, and that his office expended an additional twenty hours of "non-attorney (paralegal) time" at $ 150 per hour on the appeal. He did not itemize his fees in any further detail. The Department questioned the accuracy of this hourly reporting, asserting that "[t]here is no way filing the form pleadings, reviewing this 17-page record, listening to a 5-minute hearing CD, and writing this one argument took six hours of attorney time and 20 hours of paralegal time." It asked the court to deny Hodari's motion for attorney's fees, or, if the court granted the motion, to require Hodari to submit "an itemized statement of the actual hours performed on this case which includes the work performed, the date of the work, who performed the work and the amount of time of the work performed on that date."

         The court granted Hodari's motion for attorney's fees without ordering him to submit an itemized fee request. It determined that Alaska Appellate Rule 508, which governed the fee award in this case, allowed it to grant full reasonable fees and costs to Hodari as a constitutional claimant under AS 09.60.010.[1] The court did not, however, specify the amount of fees the Department was required to pay Hodari; it stated only that "[t]he requested attorney['s] fees and costs are reasonable and would not impose a substantial and undue hardship on DOC."

         The Department moved to clarify the court's order, asking for clarification of three issues. First, it stated that neither Hodari's motion for attorney's fees nor the court's order specified the amount of fees to be paid.[2] Second, it noted that the affidavit attached to the motion for attorney's fees listed both attorney and paralegal fees, but the court had not specified whether the Department was required to pay the paralegal fees. And third, it observed that although the court's order mentioned costs, Hodari had not requested costs in his motion for attorney's fees. The Department therefore argued that "a more specific order is necessary for the Department to remit payment." Hodari filed a notice of partial non-opposition to the Department's request for clarification, stating that he was seeking $4, 800 in fees to be paid by May 19, 2016.

         In its order on the motion for clarification the court noted that AS 09.60.010, under which Hodari was entitled to reasonable attorney's fees, does not define the term "attorney's fees." The court therefore adopted the Alaska Civil Rule 82 definition of attorney's fees as "includ[ing] fees for legal work customarily performed by an attorney but . . . delegated to . . . [a] paralegal." It noted that Hodari had not itemized his fee request or indicated whether the twenty hours of paralegal work he was requesting included work "customarily performed by an attorney, " and it concluded that the Department's request for itemized details "was sufficient to raise the issue." Because Hodari had not identified which of the paralegal hours fell within the definition of attorney's fees, the court limited the fee award to "actual attorney time" and awarded Hodari $ 1, 800 in attorney's fees, the amount corresponding to the hours he had listed as attorney work.

         Following the court's order, Hodari filed a motion for reconsideration arguing that the Department had not questioned whether the paralegal work was work "customarily performed by an attorney, " but rather had asserted that the number of work hours claimed was unreasonable. Because he believed the Department had not raised the question whether the paralegal fees were to be included in the attorney's fees, he argued that it was error for the court to raise the question sua sponte. He argued that the court instead should have ordered him to submit a more specific, itemized list of the paralegal fees he was seeking so that "the court could examine the records for reasonableness." In support of his motion for reconsideration, Hodari submitted an affidavit itemizing his paralegal fees. The court denied the motion, concluding that Hodari did not present any argument "that could not have been addressed" "in briefing on the motion for attorney's fees." The court reiterated that the Department had asked Hodari to itemize his requested fees, but Hodari had failed to do so.

         Hodari now appeals, arguing that the court abused its discretion in ...

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