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Smith v. Loudoun County Public Schools

United States District Court, E.D. Virginia, Alexandria Division

January 17, 2017

ADONIA K. SMITH, Plaintiff,
v.
LOUDOUN COUNTY PUBLIC SCHOOLS, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          JAMES C. CACHERIS JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs [Dkt. 129]. For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant the Motion in part and award Plaintiff $44, 986.88 in fees with $3, 131.82 in costs to Coffield PLC, and $46, 333.08 in fees with $7, 346.00 in costs to Swick & Shapiro, PC.

         I. Background

         A detailed description of the facts of this case may be found in the Court's earlier Memorandum Opinion [Dkt. 59] on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. As such, the Court repeats here only what is relevant to its ruling on the instant Motion.

         Plaintiff Adonia K. Smith is a deaf individual who, from August of 2007 to June of 2010, served as a special education teacher employed by Defendant Loudoun County School Board. During her tenure, Plaintiff became embroiled in disputes with the school's administration regarding the accommodations provided for her disability. On July 28, 2015, Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant under the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq., contending that (1) Defendant failed to reasonably accommodate her disability during her employment; (2) Defendant discharged her in retaliation for requesting accommodations; and (3) Defendant discharged her for discriminatory reasons.

         After the close of discovery, Defendant moved for summary judgment. In a Memorandum Opinion [Dkt. 59], the Court granted Defendant's Motion as to Plaintiff's retaliatory and wrongful discharge claims, but denied it as to Plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim. The latter claim was tried over the course of five days, resulting in a hung jury. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff discharged her attorneys from the firm of Swick & Shapiro. Plaintiff then secured alternative counsel, Timothy Coffield, who tried Plaintiff's failure to accommodate claim to a second jury. This time, the jury returned a verdict in Plaintiff's favor, awarding $310.00 - an amount representing the sum total of Plaintiff's medical bills. Plaintiff has since appealed the Court's ruling with respect to her retaliatory and wrongful discharge claims.

         Plaintiff now moves for an award of attorney's fees and costs in the following amounts: $44, 986.88 in fees and $3, 143.06 in costs for Coffield PLC; $208, 498.88 in fees and $7, 346.00 in costs for Swick & Shapiro PC; and $8, 400.00 in fees for an attorney who assisted Plaintiff at the administrative stage of these proceedings before the EEOC.

         II. Legal Standard

         Under the ADA, “the court . . . in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 12205.

         The Fourth Circuit has set out a three-step process for determining a reasonable attorney's fee. First, the Court should “‘determine the lodestar figure by multiplying the number of reasonable hours expended times a reasonable rate.'” McAfee v. Boczar, 738 F.3d 81, 88 (4th Cir.2013) (quoting Robinson v. Equifax Info. Servs., LLC, 560 F.3d 235, 243 (4th Cir.2009)). In determining what is reasonable, the Court should apply the twelve factors enumerated in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir.1974). McAfee, 738 F.3d at 88. Those factors are:

(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) attorneys' fees awards in similar cases.

Barber v. Kimbrell's, Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 n.28 (4th Cir. 1978). Generally, “[t]he Court need not address all twelve . . . factors independently” as they are “subsumed” into the initial evaluation of what constitutes a reasonable rate and number of hours expended. Wells Fargo Bank, Nat. Ass'n v. Walls, No. 1:12-CV-664 LMB/IDD, 2013 WL 869902, at *2 (E.D. Va. Mar. 4, 2013), aff'd sub nom. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Walls, 543 F. App'x 350 (4th Cir. 2013).

         After making this initial determination, the Court must subtract fees for time spent on unsuccessful claims. McAfee, 738 F.3d at 88. Finally, the Court should award a percentage of the remaining amount depending on the extent of the Plaintiff's success. Id.

         III. Analysis

         Defendant first contends that Plaintiff's Motion should be denied without “detailed analysis, ” as the amount sought “shocks the conscience.” Opp. [Dkt. 132] at 4. The Court declines to reject Plaintiff's claimed fees out of hand. Given the substantial briefing and two jury trials required to bring these ...


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