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Fancher v. Klann

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

April 21, 2015

Daniel L. Fancher, Plaintiff,
Sokhom Klann and Andrew Allen, in their individual capacities as officers of the Minneapolis Police Department and City of Minneapolis, Defendants.

Robert Bennett, Esq., Kathryn H. Bennett, Esq., Ryan O. Vettleson, Esq., and Gaskins, Bennett, Birrell and Schupp, LLP, 333 South Seventh Street, Suite 2900, Minneapolis, MN 55402, counsel for plaintiff.

Sarah C.S. McLaren, Esq., Office of the Minneapolis City Attorney, 350 South Fifth Street, Room 210, Minneapolis, MN 55415, counsel for defendants.


DAVID S. DOTY, District Judge.

This matter is before the court upon the motion for attorney's fees and costs by plaintiff Daniel L. Fancher. Based on a review of the file, record, and proceedings herein, and for the following reasons, the court grants the motion in part.


This excessive force and civil rights dispute arises out of a June 7, 2012, incident between Fancher and defendants Sokhom Klann and Andrew Allen. Fancher filed the instant action on February 22, 2013, alleging (1) unreasonable search and seizure, (2) unreasonable seizure and false arrest, and (3) excessive force. Fancher also asserted a Monell claim against the City of Minneapolis, which the court dismissed on summary judgment. The remaining claims proceeded to trial, and on November 20, 2014, the jury found Klann liable to Fancher on the excessive force claim. The jury awarded Fancher $2, 640 in compensatory damages and $25, 000 in punitive damages. ECF No. 72. Thereafter, Fancher moved for $364, 431.25 in attorney's fees and $8, 670.97 in costs. The court now considers the motion.


I. Attorney's Fees

In an action under § 1983, "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party... a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). "To be a prevailing party, a plaintiff must succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit." Gill v. Maciejewski , 546 F.3d 557, 565 (8th Cir. 2008) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). Klann does not dispute that Fancher is a prevailing party. As a result, only the reasonableness of the requested fees is at issue.

Because of the court's extensive contact with the parties and familiarity with the issues, determination of the reasonable amount of attorney's fees is "peculiarly within the... court's discretion." Greater Kan. City Laborers Pension Fund v. Thummel , 738 F.2d 926, 931 (8th Cir. 1984). In assessing the reasonableness of fees, the court considers:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the "undesirability" of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

Hensley v. Eckerhart , 461 U.S. 424, 430 n.3 (1983). The court need not "examine exhaustively and explicitly, in every case, all of the factors that are relevant to the amount of a fee award." Griffin v. Jim Jamison, Inc. , 188 F.3d 996, 997 (8th Cir. 1999). "The starting point in determining attorney fees is the lodestar, which is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by the reasonable hourly rates." Hanig v. Lee , 415 F.3d 822, 825 (8th Cir. 2005) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). In calculating the reasonable number of hours expended, the court excludes hours that are "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Hensley , 461 U.S. at 434.

Klann first argues that the rates charged by Fancher's attorneys are unreasonable. The burden is on the fee applicant to "produce satisfactory evidence - in addition to the attorney's own affidavits - that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation." Blum v. Stenson , 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984). Fancher requests reimbursement at hourly rates ranging from $225 to $650 for counsel and $125 for paralegals. See Bennett Aff. Ex. 6, at 38. Similar rates have been determined to be reasonable for excessive force cases in this district. See Madison v. Willis, No. 09-930, 2011 WL 851479, at *1 (D. Minn. Mar. 9, 2011) (approving rates ranging from $180 to $600 per hour for attorneys and $100 to $125 hours for paralegals); King v. Turner, No. 05-388 , 2007 WL 1219308, at *2 (D. Minn. Apr. 24, 2007) (approving $500 hourly rate). The rates are further supported by affidavits from local lawyers experienced with fee petitions in excessive force and other civil rights actions. See Kaster Decl. ¶ 12; O'Neill Aff. at 4. As a result, the court finds that the requested rates are reasonable, and a reduction is not warranted on this basis.

Klann next argues that the fee request should be reduced to account for vague billing entries. Imprecise billing may warrant a reduction where the court cannot adequately review the fee application for excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary hours. H.J. Inc. v. Flygt Corp. , 925 F.2d 257, 260 (8th Cir. 1991). The invoices submitted by Fancher's counsel include entries such as "Office conference, " "Exchange emails, " and "Trial preparation." See McLaren Decl. Ex. C. Because such entries do not identify the purpose underlying those tasks, the court cannot determine whether that time was reasonably spent or was related to Fancher's successful excessive force claim. See Flygt , 925 F.2d at 260 (reducing fee award where entries for "legal research, " "trial prep, " and "met w/client" prevented the court from determining whether those tasks related to the claims on which plaintiff prevailed). The court, however, can ...

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