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Reininger v. State

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

August 9, 2019

STATE OF OKLAHOMA, OKLAHOMA STATE SENATE, GREG TREAT, in his official capacity as President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma State Senate, OKLAHOMA HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, and CHARLES McCALL, in his official capacity as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives, Defendants.[1]



         Before the Court is Plaintiff Johnny Reininger, Jr.'s Motion for Reasonable Attorneys' Fees and Costs [Doc. No. 98]. It is at issue. See Resp., Doc. No. 99; Reply, Doc. No. 100; Surresponse, Doc. No. 103; Surreply, Doc. No. 106.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed this action in October 2016 against the State of Oklahoma, the Oklahoma House of Representatives and Oklahoma Senate, and the leaders of each legislative chamber in their official capacities. The legislative bodies and their individual leaders are referred to together as the House and the Senate, respectively, in this Order. The State was sued by Plaintiff only to the same extent that Plaintiff sued the individual legislative bodies.

         Plaintiff, who is deaf, alleged that Defendants' online streams of legislative proceedings (both floor proceedings and committee proceedings), as well as their videos of previous proceedings, were required to include captioning under (i) Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12131 et seq., and its implementing regulations and (ii) Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, 29 U.S.C. § 794. As relief, Plaintiff sought (i) “a declaratory judgment that Defendants' policies, procedures, and practices subjected [Plaintiff] to discrimination in violation of [the afore-mentioned statutes], ” (ii) enjoinment of “Defendants from implementing or enforcing any policy, procedure, or practice that denies individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, such as Plaintiff, full and equal enjoyment of and an equal opportunity to participate in and benefit from Defendants' services and programs, ” (iii) enjoinment of “Defendants from implementing or enforcing any policy, procedure, or practice that limits or restricts individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing, such as Plaintiff, from full and equal access to the video and audio streamlining of legislative proceedings, ” (iv) orders from the Court for Defendants “to develop and comply with written policies, procedures, and practices to ensure that Defendants do not discriminate in the future against Plaintiff and other similarly situated individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing” and for Defendants “to make accessible to individuals who are deaf or hard of hearing all audio and video content on their websites, including by displaying simultaneous captioning, ” (v) training of Defendants' representatives and employees regarding rights of persons who are deaf or hard of hearing, (vi) compensatory damages, and (vii) attorneys' fees, and costs. Compl. at pp. 7-8, Doc. No. 1.

         Defendants jointly filed a motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction in which they argued that they were sovereignly immune from ADA liability under the Eleventh Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and that Defendants' ADA claim violated the Tenth Amendment to the extent Plaintiff requested a mandatory injunction directing Oklahoma's legislative bodies to act in certain manners. See Mot. to Dismiss, Doc. No. 26. In November 2017, Judge Timothy D. DeGiusti (to whom this case was then assigned) denied Defendants' motion, finding that the right at issue in the case was “a citizen's right to participate in the political process and to have meaningful access to the tools necessary to such participation” and that Defendants' Eleventh Amendment sovereign immunity had been abrogated by Title II of the ADA. Order of Nov. 9, 2017, at 8, Doc. No. 40. He further determined that Defendants' Tenth Amendment argument related to one of Plaintiff's proposed remedies (an injunction), not dismissal of one of Plaintiff's claims, and therefore was not ripe for determination.

         The case was subsequently transferred to this Court, and discovery opened on January 8, 2018. See Jt. Status Report & Disc. Plan ¶ 8(A), Doc. No. 62. The case was stayed in June 2018, pending a judicial settlement conference. See Order of June 18, 2018, Doc. No. 71. The parties participated in such a conference with Judge Shon T. Erwin and, at that conference, Plaintiff and the Senate reached a settlement. See Order of Aug. 14, 2018, Doc. No. 84. Attorneys' fees and costs for Plaintiff's claims against the Senate and the recoverability of the same, if any, are not at issue herein.

         Plaintiff's claims against the House continued after those parties failed to reach an agreement at the judicial settlement conference, and a new scheduling order was entered by which Plaintiff and the House could re-engage in discovery. See Scheduling Order, Doc. No. 86. On January 9, 2019, the House extended a Rule 68 offer of judgment to Plaintiff, which Plaintiff accepted on January 17, 2019. See Notice of Acceptance of Offer of J., Doc. No. 91. In its offer, the House “continue[d] to deny that [it is] liable to Plaintiff for the claims asserted in this lawsuit” and offered judgment in the amount of $5, 377.37 only. Offer of J. by House Defs. 2, Doc. No. 91-1. The House further “consent[ed] to allow the Court to add an additional amount for any reasonable costs, litigation expenses, and/or attorney fees accrued by Plaintiff up to [January 9, 2019] that Plaintiff may be entitled to recover as a ‘prevailing party' under 42 U.S.C. § 12205.” Id. The Court issued judgment for Plaintiff on January 17, 2019. See J. for Pl., Doc. No. 93.

         II. Discussion and analysis

         Plaintiff now has filed his attorneys' fees and costs request, which the House opposes in part. Specifically, the House does not oppose Plaintiff's entitlement to attorneys' fees and costs. Nor does the House oppose the hourly rates for Plaintiffs' attorneys who worked on this matter. And the House likewise does not object to Plaintiff's requested costs. The Court therefore finds that Plaintiff is the prevailing party as to his claims against the House and that he is entitled to attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 12205. The Court likewise finds that the hourly rates for Plaintiffs' attorneys are reasonable based on the Court's knowledge of prevailing attorneys' rates in this district.[2]See Metz v. Merrill Lynch, Pierce, Fenner & Smith, Inc., 39 F.3d 1482, 1493 (10th Cir. 1994) (“A district judge may turn to [his] own knowledge of prevailing market rates as well as other indicia of a reasonable market rate.” (quotation marks and citation omitted)). And the Court finds that Plaintiff's requested costs are reasonable and should be awarded to him.

         At issue, then, is the amount of attorneys' fees to be awarded to Plaintiff. He seeks $93, 296.25. See Reply 10, Doc. No. 100. The House, in turn, argues for an award of only $10, 754.74 (i.e., two times the amount of the judgment entered against the House). See Resp. 4, Doc. No. 99. In reaching its determination of what amount to award, the Court of cognizant that “a reasonable fee is a fee that is sufficient to induce a capable attorney to undertake the representation of a meritorious civil rights case.” Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 552 (2010) (quotation marks and citation omitted). And “the lodestar method yields a fee that is presumptively sufficient to achieve this objective.” Id.

         The Court starts with the lodestar calculation, which is $75, 242.50. See Reply 10, Doc. No. 100. “[T]here is a strong presumption that the lodestar is sufficient” because, among other reasons, it “produces an award that roughly approximates the fee that the prevailing attorney[s] would have received if [they] had been representing a paying client who was billed by the hour in a comparable case.” Perdue, 559 U.S. at 546, 551.

         The House argues against the inclusion of certain tasks and amounts in the lodestar calculation. The House faults Plaintiff's counsel, and specifically Ms. Lafferty, for block-billing. The Court has reviewed the contemporaneous time records submitted by Plaintiff's counsel and finds that a block-billing reduction is necessary because of Ms. Lafferty's failure to explain within a few of her time entries how her time was divided between disparate tasks. However, the time records provided to the Court are not so deficient that the Court is unable to determine what actions were performed by which counsel on which days. Thus, the block-billing reduction applied will be minimal. See Henderson v. Horace Mann Ins. Co., 560 F.Supp.2d 1099, 1117 (N.D. Okla. 2008) (collecting cases showing block-billing reductions ranging from 10% to 35%). Accordingly, the Court has applied a 10% reduction for block-billing only to those time entries identified by the House as having been block-billed by Ms. Lafferty. See Resp. 6-7, Doc. No. 99. The Court finds a greater and/or more broadly applied block-billing reduction to be unnecessary.

         The House next argues (without citation to any legal authority) that certain of the hours for which reimbursement is requested by Plaintiff should be reduced by half because they relate to Plaintiff's claims against both the Senate and the House, not just his claims against the House. See Id. at 8-9. But the activities in the entries identified by Plaintiff- e.g., filing his complaint, drafting and reviewing motions-would have been performed by Plaintiff's counsel even if this lawsuit had been solely against the House. The House does not identify any entries in Plaintiff's counsel's billing records which appear to relate only to Plaintiff's claims against the Senate and not his claims against the House. Further, Plaintiff's claims against the Senate were based on common facts and legal theories as those in his claims against ...

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