UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT DISTRICT OF NEW JERSEY
June 25, 2012
BRIAN ROBINSON, PLAINTIFF,
JANET JORDAN, DEFENDANT.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Presently pending before the Court is the motion of defendant, Janet Jordan, for the entry of judgment as a matter of law pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 50, or for a new trial pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 59; and Also pending before the Court is the motion of plaintiff,
Brian Robinson, for attorneys' fees and the reimbursement of expenses; and A jury trial having been held in this case on October 12, 2011 through October 21, 2011, where the jury found in favor of plaintiff, awarding him $100,000 in damages and $50,000 in punitive damages; and
Following that verdict, defendant having made an oral motion for a
judgment as a matter of law, which the Court denied (see Docket No.
Defendant having moved again for judgment in her favor*fn1
or, in the alternative, for a new trial*fn2 ;
The Court having heard oral argument on defendant's motion; and At the conclusion of oral argument, the Court having denied that motion for the reasons extensively expressed on the record*fn3 (see Docket No. 111); but
The Court having reserved decision on the specific issue of whether, in order to obtain an award of punitive damages in a civil action brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, plaintiff must prove that defendant is financially capable of paying the punitive damages award; and
The Court finding that defendant's ability to pay the punitive damage is not relevant to the viability of the jury's punitive damages award to plaintiff, see Bennis v. Gable, 823 F.2d 723, 734 n.14 (3d Cir. 1987) (citations omitted) (in the context of a claim brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, "We reject the defendants' contention that evidence of their financial status was a prerequisite to the imposition of punitive damages. Although the wealth of the defendant, together with the size of the compensatory damage award, may be relevant to the imposition of punitive damages, it can hardly be said that the defendants' financial status was an element of plaintiffs' cause of action to be proved before punitive damages could be awarded."); compare Cortez v. Trans Union, LLC, 617 F.3d 688, 718 n.37 (3d Cir. 2010) (citing Restatement (Second) of Torts § 908(2) (1979)) ("A jury can consider the relative wealth of a defendant in deciding what amount is sufficient to inflict the intended punishment."); and
Thus, the Court noting that defendant was permitted to introduce evidence regarding her financial status during trial in an effort to inform the jury about her ability to pay punitive damages, should the jury award them, but the Court also noting that defendant's failure to do so, or defendant's failure to persuade the jury as to her financial status, does not invalidate the punitive damages award; and
The Court further noting that it was not plaintiff's burden to prove defendant's financial status in order to be entitled to an award of punitive damages, see Bennis, 823 F.2d at 734 n.14; and
The Court also noting that the New Jersey Punitive Damages Act, if it were applicable to plaintiff's claims*fn4 , does not impose a burden on a plaintiff to prove the defendant's wealth in order for a jury to consider whether to award punitive damages to plaintiff,*fn5 see N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.12; and
The Court further noting that despite defendant's argument that the purpose of punitive damages would not be served in this case because defendant has retired and the harm cannot be repeated, deterrence of future conduct is only one of the purposes of punitive damages, see Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 161 (1992) ("The purpose of § 1983 is to deter state actors from using the badge of their authority to deprive individuals of their federally guaranteed rights and to provide relief to victims if such deterrence fails."); Carey v. Piphus, 435 U.S. 247, 257 n.11 (1978) ("This is not to say that exemplary or punitive damages might not be awarded in a proper case under § 1983 with the specific purpose of deterring or punishing violations of constitutional rights."); N.J.S.A. 2A:15-5.10 ("'Punitive damages' includes exemplary damages and means damages awarded against a party in a civil action because of aggravating circumstances in order to penalize and to provide additional deterrence against a defendant to discourage similar conduct in the future."); and
Therefore, the Court finding that the jury's award of punitive damages will not be altered; and
The Court further finding that plaintiff is entitled to an award of counsel fees and costs:
A prevailing party in a § 1983 action is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. A reasonable fee is one "adequate to attract competent counsel, but which does not produce windfalls to attorneys." PIRG v. Windall, 51 F.3d 1179, 1185 (3d Cir. 1995) (citation omitted). A reasonable hourly rate multiplied by a reasonable number of hours expended--the "lodestar"--is the presumptively reasonable fee. Loughner v. Univ. of Pittsburgh, 260 F.3d 173, 177 (3d Cir. 2001); Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983). A reasonable rate is the prevailing market rate in the relevant community. Loughner, 260 F.3d at 180.
Planned Parenthood of Cent. New Jersey v. Attorney General of State of New Jersey, 297 F.3d 253, 265 (3d Cir. 2002); and Defendant not disputing that a prevailing party in a § 1983 action is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees and costs, but defendant arguing that plaintiff's counsel fees, in the amount of $98,215.50, are excessive in relation to the verdict, and some are duplicative and irrelevant; and
The Court having reviewed plaintiff's counsel's fee affidavit, as well as defendant's challenges to plaintiff's submissions; and
The Court finding most of plaintiff's counsel's billing to be reasonable, in that (1) an associate attorney, with a billing rate of $275, performed the majority of the work; (2) the senior partner, with a billing rate of $400, (a) refrained from billing for most of his review of his associate's work, and (b) for the work he recorded his time, he performed those tasks efficiently; (3) no time was billed for secretary or paralegal time; (4) the case involved relatively complex issues requiring knowledge of constitutional law, the principles of qualified immunity, and the two-stage process of the special jury interrogatories; and (5) the three year old case proceeded through discovery, summary judgment, pretrial motions, jury selection, a seven-day trial, and several post-verdict motions; and
The Court rejecting the basis for most of defendant's challenges*fn6 , except for the following items, which shall be adjusted on plaintiff's counsel's bill, resulting in a reduction of (-$1705.75):
(1) the 9/9/11 entries containing the duplicate entries for letters and subpoenas for Tom Principato and Douglas Greenwood shall be stricken, and the remaining preparation of the subpoenas and the letters enclosed with subpoenas billed at the partner rate of $400 shall be reduced to the associate rate of $275, thus reducing the bill for these items from $2068.00 to $1130.25 (-$937.75) (see Pl.'s Motion for Fees, Ex. A, pages 14-15);
(2) the 9/9/11 entry "preparation of subpoena for testimony at trial on September 26, 2011" shall be stricken because of vagueness (-$132.00) (see Pl.'s Motion for Fees, Ex. A, page 15);
(3) the 9/28/11 and 10/5/11 entries regarding preparation of subpoenas and letters that appear to be duplicative or are otherwise vague shall be stricken (-$636.00) (see Pl.'s Motion for Fees, Ex. A, pages 17-18); and
Therefore, plaintiff shall be awarded counsel fees in the amount of $96,509.75 and costs in the amount of $2,322.70*fn7 ; and Consequently,
IT IS HEREBY on this 22nd day of June , 2012 ORDERED that defendant's motion for a new trial  is DENIED; and it is further
ORDERED that the judgment on the verdict stands; and it is further
ORDERED that plaintiff's motion for attorney fees and reimbursement of expenses  is GRANTED IN PART AND DENIED IN PART consistent with this Memorandum Opinion and Order.
At Camden, New Jersey
NOEL L. HILLMAN, U.S.D.J.