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Taylor v. Republic Services, Inc.

United States District Court, Fourth Circuit

January 29, 2014

JENNIFER TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
v.
REPUBLIC SERVICES, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

GERALD BRUCE LEE, District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Jennifer Taylor ("Ms. Taylor")'s Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Doc. 295). This is an employment discrimination action. Ms. Taylor brought Title VII and state law claims against her former employer and colleagues for gender discrimination, sexual harassment and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII; retaliation, retaliatory discharge and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII; common law wrongful termination of employment for opposing or resisting criminal conduct; negligent retention of employees; tortious interference with business expectancy; common law conspiracy; and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Following a five-day non-jury trial on Ms. Taylor's claims for hostile work environment and retaliatory discharge, the Court returned a verdict in favor of Ms. Taylor on her claim for retaliatory discharge only (Doc. 288). Subsequently, Ms. Taylor filed this Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs.

There are three issues before the Court. The first issue is whether Ms. Taylor's attorneys' fees represent a reasonable number of hours at a reasonable rate in litigating this employment discrimination action. The second issue is whether the Court should reduce the proposed amount of attorneys' fees due to Ms. Taylor's limited success in this action as a whole. The third issue is whether the Court should grant in full Ms. Taylor's request for costs, which include taxable costs in the amount of $36, 160.12 and non-taxable costs in the amount of $86, 314.61.

The Court grants in part and denies in part Ms. Taylor's Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Expenses. The Court finds that the proposed fees represent a reasonable number of hours charged at a reasonable rate based upon the skill and experience of Ms. Taylor's counsel and the vigorous defense advanced by Defendants. The Court, however, must reduce the lodestar figure by 50 percent to reflect Ms. Taylor's limited success in this action. Thus, the Court awards Ms. Taylor $559, 572.00 in attorneys' fees.

The Court also finds that Ms. Taylor is entitled to reasonable and necessary costs in the action. After careful consideration, the Court holds that Ms. Taylor is entitled to $18, 080.06 in taxable costs and $42, 907.30 in non-taxable costs, which constitutes a 50 percent reduction to reflect Ms. Taylor's limited success in this action.

I. BACKGROUND

This case concerns Ms. Taylor's claims that she was subject to systematic unwelcome sexual harassment by her former employer and co-workers for four years, which ultimately led to her termination of employment.[1]

On May 11, 2012, Ms. Taylor filed her Amended Complaint in this Court, asserting the following claims against Defendants Republic Services, Inc., Republic Services of Virginia, LLC, Jason Callaway, Ronald Krall, Douglas Murphy, Christopher Rains and Daniel E. Jameson: gender discrimination, sexual harassment and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count I); retaliation, retaliatory discharge and hostile work environment in violation of Title VII (Count II); common law wrongful termination of employment for opposing or resisting criminal conduct (Count III); negligent retention of employees (Count IV); tortious interference with business expectancy (Count V); common law conspiracy (Count VI); and intentional infliction of emotional distress (Count VII). Ms. Taylor requested compensatory, punitive and equitable relief.

The parties vigorously litigated this action. On August 17, 2012, the Court granted Defendants' Motion to Dismiss as to Counts III, IV, VI and VII, dismissing Ms. Taylor's claims for common law wrongful termination of employment for opposing or resisting criminal conduct, negligent retention of employees, tortious interference with business expectancy and intentional infliction of emotional distress. On December 14, 2012, the Court granted Ms. Taylor's Motion for Reconsideration and reinstated Count III, Ms. Taylor's claim for common law wrongful termination of employment for opposing or resisting criminal conduct. At the summary judgment stage, only Counts I, II, III and V remained. On December 20, 2012, the Court granted Defendants' Motions for Summary Judgment on Counts I and V of the Amended Complaint and Partial Summary Judgment on Count II of the Amended Complaint, dismissing Ms. Taylor's claims for gender discrimination, various claims of retaliation and tortious interference with business expectancy. The Court subsequently granted Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment on Ms. Taylor's claim for common law wrongful termination of employment for opposing or resisting criminal conduct in Count III of the Amended Complaint.

On May 6, 2013, the Court conducted a five-day nonjury trial on Ms. Taylor's remaining claims for hostile work environment and retaliatory discharge. On September 16, 2013, the Court issued its ruling, holding that

(1) Judgment is entered in favor of Defendants Republic Services, Inc. and Republic Services of Virginia, LLC and against Plaintiff Jennifer Taylor on the claim of hostile work environment as stated in Count I of the Amended Complaint;
(2) Judgment is entered in favor of Plaintiff Jennifer Taylor and against Defendant Republic Services, Inc. on the claim of retaliatory discharge as stated in Count II of the Amended Complaint; and
(3) Plaintiff Jennifer Taylor is awarded damages against Defendant Republic Services, Inc. on Count II of the Amended Complaint in the amounts set forth below:
(a) Back pay damages in the amount of $377, 734 pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
(b) Front pay damages in the amount of $804, 791 pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964;
(c) Compensatory damages in the amount of $50, 000 pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1981a(b)(3);and
(d) Reasonable attorneys' fees and costs in an amount to be determined in a subsequent order.

(Doc. 288).

On September 30, 2013, Ms. Taylor filed this Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Doc. 295). Ms. Taylor seeks $1, 119, 144.00 in attorneys' fees; non-taxable costs and expenses in the amount of $86, 314.61[2]; and taxable costs in the amount of $36, 160.12 (Docs. 296; 310). In total, Ms. Taylor is requesting $1, 241, 618.73 in attorneys' fees and costs. Id. Defendants Republic Services, Inc. and Republic Services of Virginia, LLC ("Defendants")[3] assert numerous challenges to Ms. Taylor's motion. First, Defendants contend that Ms. Taylor was not the prevailing party in this action as Defendants prevailed on six of the seven claims pursued in this action. Second, Defendants argue that Ms. Taylor's attorneys' fees rates are inflated and should be reduced. Third, Defendants proclaim that Ms. Taylor's fee petition includes unnecessary charges related to unsuccessful claims. Fourth, Defendants argue that the costs sought by Ms. Taylor are factually unsupported, related to her unsuccessful claims, and are therefore not recoverable.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

Title VII expressly provides that a district court "[i]n its discretion, may allow the prevailing party... a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs [of a Title VII action]...." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). To determine the appropriate amount of attorney's fees, "a court must first determine a lodestar figure by multiplying the number of reasonable hours expended times a reasonable rate." Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243 (4th Cir. 2009) (citing Grissom v. Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 320 (4th Cir. 2008)). In determining the reasonableness of the number of hours and the rate, the district court should be guided by the twelve Johnson/Barber factors:

(1) The time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised; (3) the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the attorney's opportunity costs in pressing the instant litigation; (5) the customary fee for like work; (6) the attorney's expectations at the outset of the litigation; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount in controversy and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship between attorney and client; and (12) attorney's fees awards in similar cases.

Id. at 243-44 (citing Barber v. Kimbrell's Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 n.28 (4th Cir. 1978)) (explaining that the Fourth Circuit has adopted the twelve factors set forth in Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974)). When considering the Johnson/Barber factors, the court need neither robotically list each factor nor comment on inapplicable factors. Bergstrom v. Dalkon Shield Claimants Trust (In re A.H Robins Co.), 86 F.3d 364, 376 (4th Cir. 1996).

The court then "subtracts the fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful ones." Robinson, 560 F.3d at 244. Lastly, "[o]nce the court has subtracted the fees incurred for unsuccessful, unrelated claims, it then awards some percentage of the remaining amount, depending on the degree of success enjoyed by the plaintiff." Id. (quoting Grissom, 549 F.3d at 321 (4th Cir. 2008)) (alteration in original). Because the "degree of success obtained by the plaintiff is the most critical factor' in determining the reasonableness of a fee award, the district court may simply reduce the award to account for the limited success.'" Lilienthal v. City of Suffolk, 322 F.Supp.2d 667, 675 (E.D. Va. 2004) (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436-37). There is no "precise rule or formula for making this reduction to the lodestar amount"; however, the court may either reduce the overall award "to account for limited success" or "identify specific hours that should be eliminated." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 436-37 (1983).

III. DISCUSSION

A. ATTORNEYS' FEES

The Court grants in part and denies in part Ms. Taylor's Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs. The Court finds that attorneys' fees in the amount of $1, 119, 144.00 are reasonable both in terms of hours and rates. The Court, however, must reduce the fee request by 50 percent to reflect Ms. Taylor's limited success in this action as a whole. Accordingly, the Court finds $559, 572.00 in attorneys' fees to be appropriate based upon consideration of the Johnson/Barber factors and the standard set forth in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 436-37 (1983).

1. The Prevailing Party

The Court finds that, as a prevailing party, Ms. Taylor is entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees. Whether Ms. Taylor is entitled to recover attorneys' fees in this action turns on whether she is a "prevailing party" within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). The Supreme Court has broadly construed the term "prevailing party." See Truesdell v. Phila. Hous. Auth., 290 F.3d 159, 163 (2002) (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433). A "prevailing party" is a party that succeeds on any significant issue in litigation and attains some of the benefit sought in bringing suit. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. Despite the fact that Ms. Taylor was only successful on one of her seven claims before the Court, she nonetheless is a prevailing party as she succeeded on her claim for retaliatory discharge and was awarded a judgment in the amount of $1, 232, 525.00. As such, Ms. Taylor is entitled to recover reasonable attorneys' fees.

2. Calculation of the Lodestar Figure

a. Hourly Rate

The Court finds that Ms. Taylor's proposed hourly rate is reasonable based upon the declarations of lead counsel and supporting declarations of practitioners from the Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia legal market, and based upon the 2011 Range of Hourly Rates for Northern Virginia that has been adopted by this Court in two recent cases.

The determination of the hourly rate is the critical inquiry in assessing a reasonable fee, and the burden is on Ms. Taylor to demonstrate that the rate requested is reasonable. Robinson, 560 F.3d at 244. To meet this burden, Ms. Taylor must provide not only affidavits of her own attorneys, but also "specific evidence of the prevailing market rates in the relevant community for the type of work for which [she] seeks an award." Id. (quoting Plyler v. Evatt, 902 F.2d 273, 277 (4th Cir. 1990)). Specific evidence that is "sufficient to verify the prevailing market rates [includes] affidavits of other local lawyers who are familiar both with the skills of the fee applicants and more generally with the type of work in the relevant community." Robinson, 560 F.3d at 245.

Ms. Taylor was represented by Charleson Bredehoft Cohen & Brown, P.C. of Reston, Virginia, and seeks a fee award for 2, 082.9 hours of attorney time and 606.4 hours of paralegal time based upon the following rates:

Table 1: Ms. Taylor's Requested Hourly Rates Attorney Experience (years) Rate (per hour) Elaine C. Bredehoft 29 $550 through 3/31/13; $600 thereafter Carla D. Brown 14 $475 Brian A. Scotti 9 $425 Heather Austin Jones 11 $545 Kathleen Z. Quill 17 $400 Daphne Shih Gebauer 6 $375 through 11/4/12; $400 thereafter Aseil Abu-Baker 3 $325 Paralegals Kathy M. Baker 30 $250 Leslie A. Hoff 23 $250 Alexandra C. Bredehoft 1 $135 Abbas A. Sabur 1 $135

Doc. 296-2. In support of her contention that the hourly rates she seeks are consistent with the prevailing market rates in this district, Ms. Taylor submitted declarations from her lead counsel, Ms. Carla Brown and Ms. Elaine C. Bredehoft, setting forth in detail their credentials and experience, as well as the qualifications of associate counsel. In particular, Ms. Bredehoft has practiced law for twenty-nine years and has been the sole or lead counsel for the prevailing party in twenty-three employment discrimination cases in federal and state courts throughout Northern virginia (Doc. 296-18). Ms. Brown has fourteen years of experience handling employment related matters in state and federal courts throughout Virginia. Id. Ms. Bredehoft and Ms. Brown aver that the rates requested represent "the standard hourly rate charged for all clients represented on other than a contingent-fee or full or partial pro bono basis" (Docs. 296-1; 296-18).

Ms. Taylor also provides the declarations of two experienced Washington, D.C.-based employment litigation attorneys, Debra S. Katz and Nicholas Woodfield, who attest to the reasonableness of the rates charged by Ms. Taylor's counsel in comparison to the rates identified ...


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