the hours claimed. Rode, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183.
The party requesting fees bears the burden of proving that the request is reasonable. Rode v. Dellarciprete, 892 F.2d 1177, 1183 (3d Cir. 1990). In response, the party challenging the fee petition must make specific objections to the requested fee. Id. (citing Bell v. United Princeton Properties, Inc., 884 F.2d 713, 721 (3d Cir. 1989)). Turning first to the time claimed by Popiel, the Court finds that some reductions are in order. He designates 37.9 hours as expended "vs. Voorhees and State." Exhibit A, supra. A review of his billing records does not reveal how these hours were allocated. It is quite possible that of these 37.9 hours the issues dealt with by Popiel were common to both Voorhees and the State. Given that the State of New Jersey is not a party to plaintiffs' fee application, and in the absence of better documentation, the Court will split the 37.9-hour figure down the middle. Reduced by fifty percent, that figure comes to 18.95 hours.
For the time figure against Voorhees alone shown in Exhibit A, 147.9 hours, defendants claim that 28.3 of these hours researching federal standing should be excluded. Botcheos Br. at 4-5. They argue that this issue was moot and the research unnecessary. The Court will not reduce this figure as significantly as perhaps defendants would like. Federal standing was an issue in the motions filed by defendants. The Voorhees defendants filed a motion to dismiss plaintiffs' Amended Complaint on standing and mootness grounds on June 22, 1995, which the Court denied on March 29, 1996. As the result shows, plaintiffs' research could not have been as wholly frivolous as contended in defendants' briefs. That Popiel did his federal standing research earlier in this case is not as relevant as defendants contend. Botcheos Br. at 4-5. At some point, he would have had to do this research. He simply chose to do it sooner rather than later. The Court finds nothing inherently unreasonable about an attorney researching issues which may become issues later in a case. That is simply the mark of a thorough lawyer who is covering all possible angles. A reduction of twenty percent of the hours spent on federal standing is appropriate, however. As the D.C. Circuit observed, "billing judgment" is an important consideration. The hours spent on federal standing, subtracting twenty percent of the time, equals 22.64 hours.
Defendants claim that the 16.3 hours Popiel spent drafting the Complaint in this case should be reduced. Botcheos Br. at 5. They contend this constitutes twenty percent of his time and that it should not take someone with his twenty-two years of experience so long to draft a complaint. Defendants seem to forget that with twenty-six provisions, there was much in the Voorhees ordinance which needed to be addressed, and that the Project's resulting Complaint contained fifteen causes of action. The Complaint was not the kind of document, as defendants suggest, which could have been drafted by a paralegal, Botcheos Br. at 5, using boilerplate language gleaned from a word processing program. The claims in this case raised major civil rights issues at the state and federal levels. The Court finds that 16.3 hours spent on a complaint of this magnitude to be a reasonable figure.
Turning to Popiel's travel time figure of twenty-two hours, plaintiffs have not rebutted defendants' assertion that the parties' status conference on September 28, 1993 with the Magistrate Judge lasted no more than forty minutes. Botcheos Br. at 6. Yet looking at his billing records, he lists four hours of travel time and 4.6 hours for the status conference. The inclusion of both of these figures, the Court suspects, is a mistake, and it will retain Popiel's recorded travel time but reduce the 4.6 hours billed for the status conference to 40 minutes, or .67 hours.
Defendants finally make much ado about Mr. Popiel billing five hours of travel time on April 29, 1992 to and from Voorhees to confer with his clients when this communication "could have very easily been conducted over the phone." Botcheos Br. at 6. While a telephone call may have been simpler, the Court will not substitute its judgment for that of Mr. Popiel, who determined that there are certain unquantifiable benefits inherent in speaking directly to one's clients. Accordingly, the twenty-two hours of travel time listed by him will stand, alongside his working time against the Voorhees defendants, reduced to 157.26 hours.
Referring again to Exhibit A, supra, it is difficult for the Court to discern, from looking at DiMaria's billing records, how to allocate against the Voorhees defendants time expended under the category "vs. Voorhees and State." Thus, just as the Court did with Popiel, the Court will split this time down the middle as to DiMaria. Fifty percent of 44.6 hours equals 22.3 hours.
Defendants specifically object to DiMaria billing 35.6 hours to the drafting of a mere one point in a summary judgment brief on the FHA. Botcheos Br. at 7. Plaintiffs offer no rebuttal. While the FHA was undoubtedly a central issue in this case, four working days to write one point in a brief is not the most efficient use of a lawyer's time. It is excessive. If plaintiffs' counsel represented a paying client of modest means, some of this time would have to be reduced as a courtesy to the client. The Court will, however, only reduce the 35.6-hour figure by one-third because the FHA issue was so vital to the outcome of this case in plaintiffs' favor. The revised number of hours should thus be 23.85 hours spent on this aspect of the case, 11.75 hours off DiMaria's total of 148.4 hours thus far, plus the 22.3 hours allocated from the "vs. Voorhees and State" category.
The final aspect of DiMaria's claimed hours which ought to be reduced is the 8.1 hours spent reviewing plaintiffs' own Complaint in this case. The document itself is under thirty pages and is not so long as to require a full working day just for general "review" without more specificity. The Court believes that a fifty-percent reduction to this amount is appropriate, a reduction to 4.05 hours. Defendants have made no significant objection to DiMaria's travel time. The Court thus sees no reason to engage in line-by-line scrutiny of these entries.
Most recently DiMaria, on behalf of the Project, submitted a letter dated November 6, 1997 requesting that the Court consider time she spent preparing the fee application that is the subject of the Court's opinion. She contends that she spent a minimum of eight hours preparing her brief and collecting certifications from other attorneys. While it clear that the Project no doubt spent time preparing its attorneys' fees application, DiMaria was not able to produce time sheets or other documentation for these hours. She advised that she has simply "lost track" of some of her files in the course of her recent move from one Project office to another. The Court appreciates attorney DiMaria's candor. Nevertheless, a district court is free to deduct hours when the fee petition inadequately documents the number of hours claimed. Rode, 892 F.2d at 1183. The Court will not guess as to what the appropriate number of hours should be in the absence of proper documentation.
As a final tally of DiMaria's hours, then, the Court concludes that 25.9 hours of travel time is an appropriate figure, as is 158.95 hours expended against the Voorhees defendants.
(b) The Reasonable Hourly Rate
As part of their fee application, plaintiffs request $ 100 per hour per attorney for travel time. Defendants do not contest this figure. Attorneys Popiel and DiMaria each request hourly fee rates of $ 250 and $ 175 respectively. If the Court deems these rates to be reasonable, they will be used in calculating the lodestar amounts to be awarded.
The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has held that the entire State of New Jersey constitutes a single "market" for purposes of determining a reasonable prevailing rate in the community. Public Interest Research Group of New Jersey v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1186-88 (3d Cir. 1995). Certifications from three private attorneys place Popiel's rate of $ 250 well within the range charged by civil rights plaintiff's counsel in the District of New Jersey. See Certifications of Elliot Baumgart, Esquire, Kevin Kiernan, Esquire, and Robert Westreich, Esquire, appended to Pls' Br. Popiel has been in practice for twenty-two years as of the date of plaintiffs' fee application and has specialized in litigating the rights of those with disabilities for twenty of those years. Pls' Br. at 12. The attorneys who supplied certifications in support of plaintiffs' fee application are themselves experienced civil rights attorneys who are familiar with the area of the law in which Popiel practices. Mr. Westreich, for example, places the rates of attorneys like Popiel in the range of $ 275 to $ 300 per hour, a figure higher than what Mr. Popiel requests.. Westreich Certification, Popiel A.F. at 2. Defendants object to Popiel's requested hourly rate, Botcheos Br. at 6, but offer no attorney certifications of their own to show that his requested hourly rate is unreasonable in the legal services market at issue. The Court will therefore accept $ 250 as a reasonable hourly rate for Popiel.
DiMaria has been practicing law since 1987 and has specialized in the rights of persons with disabilities since 1992. Pls' Br. at 13. She spent her first five years in private practice specializing in land use cases, including zoning applications and prerogative writ litigation in state courts seeking reversal of adverse board decisions. Id. This background was particularly useful in light of the nature of this litigation which invalidated a municipal zoning ordinance and its state enabling counterpart.
In support of plaintiffs' fee application, Mr. Westreich certifies that DiMaria functions at the level of a "junior partner or senior associate in a private firm." Certification of Robert Westreich, Esq., appended to DiMaria Aff., at 2. He recommends an hourly rate of $ 165 per hour. Id. Bruce Samuels, Esquire, an attorney with 13 years of experience in land use law, states that in his opinion, a range of $ 165 to $ 175 is reasonable for DiMaria's level of expertise. Certification of Bruce Samuels, Esq., appended to DiMaria Aff., at 2. Mr. Baumgart, in his certification, states that DiMaria's requested $ 175 per hour fee is reasonable. Certification of Elliot Baumgart, appended to Popiel Aff., at 6. Given the dearth of any rebuttal certifications from defendants, the Court will award DiMaria her requested hourly rate of $ 175 per hour.
With regard to plaintiffs' hourly rates, defendants argue that even though plaintiffs' attorneys are affiliated with a public-interest, non-profit law firm, they are unfairly attempting to use the rates of private counsel in their fee requests. Botcheos Br. at 6. Defendants err in assigning any relevance to the Project's public interest focus as a reason to justify lower hourly rates. The lodestar is based rather on the prevailing markets rates for attorneys in the relevant community. Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895, 79 L. Ed. 2d 891, 104 S. Ct. 1541 (1984). Reasonable fees are "to be calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community, regardless of whether plaintiff is represented by private or non-profit counsel." Id. Defendants wrongfully make the assumption that public-interest attorneys are only entitled to cut-rate hourly fees, an assumption the lodestar and this Court decline to make. Without offering their own certifications showing plaintiffs are entitled to more modest hourly rates, defendants have not met their burden of providing sufficient objections so as to put plaintiffs on notice.
Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that the basic lodestar counsel fees for plaintiffs' attorneys are as follows:
Popiel: 22 hours (travel) x $ 100 = $ 2,200
157.26 hours x $ 250 = $ 39,315