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Aclf of Delaware v. Department of Correction State

United States District Court, D. Delaware

September 17, 2014

ACLF OF DELAWARE, Plaintiff,
v.
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTION STATE OF DELAWARE, Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

SHERRY R. FALLON, Magistrate Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

Presently before the court in this prisoner civil rights action is the motion for attorney's fees and expenses, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, of plaintiff American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Delaware ("ACLF"). (D.I. 149) Defendant Department of Corrections ("DOC") opposes ACLF's motion. (D.I. 155) ACLF seeks an award of $93, 769 in attorney's fees and costs for the motion to compel (D.I. 151 at 10), and $31, 500 for the motion for fees (D.I. 157 at 10), for a total request of $125, 269. The court has jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1331. For the following reasons, I recommend that the court grant the motion and award ACLF $125, 269 in attorney's fees and costs.

II. BACKGROUND

Michelle Bloothoofd, a former inmate at the Baylor Women's Correctional Institution ("BWCI"), initiated the instant prisoner civil rights action on March 17, 2009, alleging that a former correctional officer forcibly sexually assaulted her on October 12, 2008 while she was an inmate at BWCI. (D.I. 2) On August 18, 2011, the parties mediated the dispute and entered into an Order and Agreement (the "Order") to settle the case. (D.I. 123) The stated goal of the Order was to require DOC to establish policies regarding the prevention of sexual abuse within one year of the Order's execution, and the Order authorized ACLF to monitor DOC's compliance and seek enforcement of the Order. ( Id. ) The court entered the Order on September 19, 2011. ( Id. )

DOC failed to achieve compliance with the Order within the one-year timeframe. (D.I. 144; D.I. 147) The parties exchanged communications to discuss plans for compliance through December 2012, and agreed upon several extensions of time. (Oct. 2013 Flash Drive at Ex. 57) However, DOC failed to respond to subsequent communications from ACLF in January and February 2013. ( Id. at Exs. 58-60) As a result, ACLF filed a motion to compel enforcement of the Order on February 27, 2013, citing over forty instances of alleged non-compliance with the Order. (D.I. 124; D.I. 137)

At the time the Report and Recommendation was issued, only seventeen instances of alleged non-compliance were still in dispute. (D.I. 144) On October 23, 2013, the undersigned Magistrate Judge issued a Report and Recommendation, recommending that the court rule in ACLF's favor with respect to eleven of the seventeen remaining requirements. ( Id. ) After considering DOC's objections to the Report and Recommendation, the court adopted-in-part and overruled-in-part the undersigned Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation. (D.I. 147; D.I. 148) Specifically, the court overruled the Report and Recommendation on two requirements, finding that DOC had achieved substantial compliance on those two issues.[1] ( Id. at ¶¶ 4-8) All other findings were either upheld or resolved between the issuance of the Report and Recommendation and the issuance of the Memorandum Order. The court set a new compliance deadline of February 11, 2014 for the outstanding requirements. (D.I. 148 at ¶ 3)

III. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Pursuant to the "American Rule, " litigants are generally responsible for their own attorney's fees. Truesdell v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 290 F.3d 159, 163 (3d Cir. 2002) (citing Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc'y, 421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975)). However, Congress has provided an exception to the American Rule in civil rights actions by permitting a "prevailing party" to recover attorney's fees. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). In relevant part, § 1988 permits a court, "[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of section[ ]... 1983... of this title... [to] allow the prevailing party... a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." Id. A district court should award attorney's fees to a prevailing plaintiff absent special circumstances weighing against such an award. Truesdell, 290 F.3d at 163 (citing County of Morris v. Nationalist Movement, 273 F.3d 527, 535 (3d Cir. 2001)).

In performing an analysis pursuant to § 1988, the court must first determine whether a plaintiff is a "prevailing party, " meaning that the plaintiff has "succeed[ed] on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978)). Next, the court must determine whether the requested fee is "reasonable" by examining "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Id. Although this "lodestar" amount is presumed to represent a reasonable fee, the figure may be adjusted to compensate for other factors, including the contingency of success or duplication of work. See City of Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 568 (1986); Lindy Bros. Builders, Inc. of Phila. v. Am. Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp., 487 F.2d 161, 168-69 (3d Cir. 1973); Daggett v. Kimmelman, 811 F.2d 793, 797-98 (3d Cir. 1987).

IV. ANALYSIS

A. Eligibility to Recover Attorney's Fees

As a preliminary matter, the court addresses DOC's challenges to ACLF's authority to request attorney's fees. First, DOC alleges that the terms of the Bloothoofd settlement agreement bar further recovery of attorney's fees, claiming that "the award of fees to ACLF and the release of liability are clear." (D.I. 155 at 4, 12-13; Ex. 1) However, the Bloothoofd settlement agreement does not expressly bar recovery of attorney's fees for claims arising after the date the release was executed. See Torres v. Metro. Life Ins. Co., 189 F.3d 331, 333 (3d Cir. 1999) (holding that a suit for recovery of attorney's fees is foreclosed only upon express stipulation in the settlement agreement). Specifically, the Bloothoofd settlement agreement bars claims for attorney's fees "which may have resulted, directly or indirectly, or may in the future develop, up to the date that this release is executed, as a result of an incident in the Baylor Women's Correctional Institution that is alleged to have occurred on or about October 12, 2008." ( Id. , Ex. 1 at 2) (emphasis added). The Bloothoofd settlement agreement was executed on September 30, 2011, and the instant claim for attorney's fees began to accrue in January 2013. (D.I. 152 at ¶ 6) Therefore, ACLF's claim for attorney's fees is not barred under the express language of the Bloothoofd settlement agreement.

Second, DOC contends that the statutory fee provisions of the Civil Rights Act do not apply to enforcement of the Order, which is a collateral agreement negotiated by different parties. (D.I. 155 at 4, 12) This position is not consistent with the language of the Order or the relevant case authority. Although the parties to the Order were not the original parties to the civil rights action, the court expressly authorized ACLF to monitor DOC's compliance and seek enforcement of the Order. Specifically, the Order states that ACLF "shall have the right to seek enforcement of this Order and Agreement, and DOC shall not oppose an application by ACLF to intervene in this action for [enforcement of the Order]." (D.I. 123 at ¶ 48) The law is well-established that an attorney may recover fees for monitoring and enforcing a consent decree. See Pennsylvania v. Del. Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478 U.S. 546, 558 (1986) (concluding that attorneys' monitoring efforts can be "as necessary to the attainment of adequate relief for their client as was all of their earlier work in the courtroom..."); People Against Police Violence v. City of Pittsburgh, 520 F.3d 226, 235 (3d Cir. 2008) ("This Court, like other Courts of Appeals, allows fees to be awarded for monitoring and enforcing Court orders and judgments."). This principle extends to claims for attorney's fees brought by a ...


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