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POSTON v. FOX

January 12, 1984

TERRY D. POSTON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
BEECH N. FOX, et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BROTMAN

 This is a motion for attorney's fees and costs brought by plaintiffs' attorney, Robert P. Beakley, Esquire, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The lawsuit was initiated by prisoners in the Cape May County Jail and it was asserted against the Warden Beech N. Fox and other prison officials. Plaintiffs were challenging the constitutionality of their conditions of confinement. 28 U.S.C. §§ 2201 and 2202; 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Beakley was appointed counsel on behalf of plaintiffs on October 16, 1980, by the Honorable John F. Gerry. Beakley represented plaintiffs throughout the litigation and was instrumental in the settlement process which culminated in a consent decree read into the record on December 6, 1982, and filed January 20, 1983.

 Plaintiffs now come before this court pursuant to the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act of 1976. 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The statute reads in pertinent part:

 
In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of section . . . 1983 . . . of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 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.

  The calculation of attorney's fees in the Third Circuit is governed by the standards set forth in Lindy Bros. Builders, Inc. v. American Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp., 487 F.2d 161 (3rd Cir. 1973) (Lindy I); Lindy Bros. Builders, Inc. v. American Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp., 540 F.2d 102 (3rd Cir. 1976) (Lindy II) and their progeny. See also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 103 S. Ct. 1933, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1983); Walker v. Robbins Hose Co. No. 1, Inc., 622 F.2d 692 (3rd Cir. 1980); Prandini v. National Tea Co., 557 F.2d 1015 (3rd Cir. 1977) (Prandini I); Prandini v. National Tea Co., 585 F.2d 47 (3rd Cir. 1978) (Prandini II). According to the analysis employed in those cases, "a fee applicant bears the burden of establishing entitlement to an award and documenting the appropriate hours expended and the hourly rates." Hensley, supra at 1941.

 A court must first calculate the lodestar, a figure initially determined by multiplying the hours of service by the hourly rate. The court may then adjust that number by accounting for various contingency factors such as the difficulty of the case or the quality of counsel's legal performance. See Lindy II, supra; Hughes v. Repko, 578 F.2d 483 (3rd Cir. 1978).

 In determining a fee award, the court must consider the relationship between the extent of success and the amount of the fee award. Hensley, supra at 1942. The Supreme Court continued in Hensley, "A reduced fee award is appropriate if the relief, however significant, is limited in comparison to the scope of the litigation as a whole." Id. at 1943. Moreover, a court is permitted to make an adjustment in the fee award if it concludes that the relief obtained was either "exceptional or limited in nature." Id. at 1941.

 When assessing a fee application pursuant to § 1988, a court may still exercise a significant amount of discretion. Id. The court in Lindy II specifically held that "discretion is abused only where no reasonable man would take the view adopted by the trial court." Lindy II, supra at 115 (quoting Delno v. Market St. Ry., 124 F.2d 965, 967 (9th Cir. 1942)). Such discretion must be articulated and fully supported by the record.

 I. Prevailing Party

 Plaintiffs' attorney contends that his client was a "prevailing party" as defined in § 1988, and therefore he is entitled to attorney's fees for time spent litigating the case. The Supreme Court recently noted that

 
[a] typical formulation is that "plaintiffs may be considered 'prevailing parties' for attorney's fees purposes if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit." [citation omitted].

 Hensley, supra at 1939. A plaintiff may be considered a "prevailing party" even after settling the case. Maher v. Gagne, 448 U.S. 122, 129, 65 L. Ed. 2d 653, 100 S. Ct. 2570 (1980); see also S. Rep. No. 94-1011, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. reprinted in 1976 U.S. Code Cong. & Ad. News 5908, 5912.

 In the instant case, the court concludes that plaintiffs were the prevailing party. The amended complaint, filed April 29, 1981, alleged that the conditions of the Cape May County Jail ("Jail") violated the constitutionally mandated minimum standards in seventeen (17) areas. These areas included, inter alia, the physical conditions of the Jail, admission and in-processing of inmates, health care, discipline, grievance procedures, food and diet, recreation, educational programs, visitation, clothing provided and preferential treatment of inmates. By a stipulation of settlement, filed January 20, 1983, defendants agreed to

 
take all necessary action in order to obtain compliance with the Manual of Standards for New Jersey Adult County Correctional Facilities established by the New Jersey Commissioner of the Department of Corrections pursuant to New Jersey Administrative Procedures Act.

 Since the Jail will have to change some practices and enforce some of their procedures currently "on the books" but to which they have not adhered, the plaintiffs have achieved some of the benefit sought in bringing this suit. As noted above, the court finds that the plaintiffs were the prevailing party and are entitled to attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

 II. Lodestar Calculation

 A. Hours Reasonably Expended

 Having found that an award of counsel fees is appropriate, the court now turns to the proper amount of those fees. In calculating the number of hours appropriate for the lodestar, the court's first inquiry is "how many hours were spent in what manner by which attorneys." Ursic v. Bethlehem Mines, 719 F.2d 670, at 676 (3rd Cir., 1983) [emphasis in original]. Beakley submitted computer print-outs and time sheets to this court that he asserts shows he and his firm worked on the case for a total of 934 hours, 5 minutes. Affidavits of Beakley, filed 4/19/83; 6/3/83; 11/28/83 and 1/5/84. *fn1"

 The defendants argue that the documentation presented by the plaintiffs is insufficient and that plaintiffs should

 
refine the time and activity records to show separately in itemized fashion each activity or work performed, an explanation of same and the time being charged.

 Defendants' Brief at 16.

 The court finds no merit in defendants' contention. The records, especially the computer print-outs, provide sufficient documentation of the hours worked and the activities performed during those hours. Recognizing the difficulties in the case and the length of time involved, the court ...


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