CHALOULT v. INTERSTATE BRANDS CORPORATION

296 F.Supp.2d 2 (2004) | Cited 3 times | D. Maine | January 6, 2004

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY FEES

Plaintiff Raymond Chaloult, Sr., having obtained a jury verdict for$1 in nominal damages in a trial against Defendant Interstate BrandsCorporation, now seeks his attorney's fee under the Maine Human RightsAct, 5 M.R.S.A. § 4614, in the amount of $67,471.25.1 For thereasons discussed below, the Court will grant Plaintiffs motion, but willreduce the amount requested in light of Plaintiff's failure to recover onhis claim for compensatory damages.2Page 2

Plaintiff alleged a same-sex hostile work environment in violation ofthe Maine Human Rights Act and sought compensatory and punitive damages.Plaintiff's punitive damages claim was dismissed at the summary judgmentstage, and the jury considered the questions of liability for sexualharassment and damages resulting from any such sexual harassment. Thejury concluded that Defendant was liable for sexual harassment but thatPlaintiff should recover no compensatory damages. The jury awardedPlaintiff nominal damages of $1.

The Maine Human Rights Act provides that "[i]n any civil action underthis Act, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party,other than the commission, reasonable attorneys' fees and costs." 5M.R.S.A. § 4614. Defendant does not dispute Plaintiff's status as theprevailing party in this case, but it urges the Court to deny Plaintiff'smotion for attorney fees because Plaintiff did not receive a compensatorydamages award. In the alternative, Defendant argues that the fee awardedto Plaintiff should be severely reduced, both because of the nominaldamages award and because the fee award sought by Plaintiff isunreasonable.

The Court recognizes that there are circumstances in which courts haveconcluded that a recovery of nominal damages should result in a completedenial of fees. See Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 115, 113 So. Ct. 566,575, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992). Here, however, the Court declines to denyPlaintiff's request for fees in its entirety. Plaintiff was successful inpersuading the jury that Defendant had unlawfully discriminated againsthim by maintaining a hostile work environment, and the Court views such averdict as representing a measure of success and serving a public goodthrough the potential of its future deterrent impact Accordingly, theCourt will not denyPage 3Plaintiff's motion for attorney fees on the basis of the nominaldamages award but, rather, will engage in the traditional lodestar methodfor making a fee award determination.

This Court has stated that [i]n making the lodestar calculation, a court considers the prevailing rates in the community for attorneys with similar experience and qualifications to those for whom fees have been requested, as well as whether fees have been requested for duplicative, unproductive, or excessive hours. In determining the reasonableness of Plaintiffs' submitted time, a court may reduce a fee award to exclude hours inadequately explained or detailed.Okot v. Conicelli, 180 F. Supp.2d 238, 242 (D. Me. 2002) (internalcitations and punctuation omitted). Plaintiff bears the burden ofestablishing the reasonableness of the rates and hours submitted in hismotion for fees. See id. The figure derived from the lodestar calculationmay be adjusted up or down to reflect Plaintiff's degree of success inthe litigation. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434, 103 S.Ct. 1933,1940, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983).

On the record before it, the Court is satisfied that the billing ratesubmitted by Plaintiff is the prevailing rate in the community forattorneys with similar experience and qualifications, and the Courtfurther concludes that the submitted time is reasonable and adequatelyexplained and detailed. However, the Court believes that it isappropriate to adjust the fee award to account for Plaintiff's failure toreceive an award of compensatory damages. In an exercise of itsdiscretion, the Court will reduce the fee award sought by Plaintiff by60%, resulting in a fee award in the amount of $26,988.50.Page 4

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that Plaintiffs Motion for Attorney Feesbe, and it is hereby, GRANTED in the amount of twenty-six thousand ninehundred eighty-eight dollars and fifty cents ($26,988.50). It is furtherORDERED that Plaintiff be awarded post-judgment interest on the attorneyfee award pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1961.3

1. Plaintiff originally sought attorney fees for 465.55 hours oflegal services at an hourly rate of $175 per hour. Plaintiff subsequentlyagreed that the billing records submitted to this Court included 80 hoursof erroneously billed time and, therefore, has reduced his billed time to385.55 hours. Accordingly, the Court understands Plaintiff to be seeking$67,471.25 in fees (385.55 multiplied by $175).

2. Plaintiffs motion encompasses his requests for both fees andcosts, but the Court will rule separately on the issue of costs.

3. The Court denies Plaintiffs request for pre-judgment interest onhis fee award.Page 1

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