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Taylor v. North Carolina Department of Revenue

United States District Court, W.D. North Carolina, Charlotte Division

July 7, 2015



MAX O. COGBURN, Jr., District Judge.

THIS MATTER is before the court on Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees (#62). The time allowed for a response has passed without any filings by Defendant. Having considered the motion and reviewed the pleadings, the court enters the following Order.

I. Introduction

On December 29, 2012, Plaintiff Bridget Taylor filed suit against Defendant North Carolina Department of Revenue, claiming race and gender discrimination pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (#1). After Plaintiff dropped her race discrimination claim and proceeded to trial based on her claim that she was demoted and denied promotions due to her gender, a jury found for Plaintiff and awarded her back pay and compensatory damages. (#57). Plaintiff subsequently filed the instant motion for attorneys' fees and costs. (#62).

II. Legal Standards

A. Attorneys' Fees

Title VII allows district courts, in their discretion, to award reasonable attorneys' fees to prevailing parties in actions brought under it. 42 U.S.C. ยง 2000e-5(k). There is no dispute that Plaintiff is the prevailing party in this case. "Prevailing plaintiffs in Title VII actions ordinarily are entitled to attorneys' fees unless special circumstances militate against such an award." E.E.O.C. v. Great Steaks, Inc., 667 F.3d 510, 516 (4th Cir. 2012) (citing Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n, 434 U.S. 412, 417 (1978)). The Supreme Court stated in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983) that "[t]he most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Id. at 433. The Fourth Circuit has adopted twelve factors that courts should consider when determining this "lodestar" amount. See Barber v. Kimbrell's. Inc., 577 F.2d 216, 226 n. 28 (4th Cir. 1978) (adopting factors set forth in Johnson v. Ga. Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974)). These factors include: (1) the time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the question raised; (3) the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the attorney's opportunity cost in pressing the 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 undesireability of the case within the legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship between the attorney and client; and (12) attorneys' fees in similar cases. See Johnson. 488 F.2d at 717-19. A party seeking attorneys' fees must set forth complete and accurate time records to enable the court to make an appropriate calculation and award. See Daly v. Hill, 790 F.2d 1071, 1079 (4th Cir.1986).

The party seeking an award of attorneys' fees also has the burden of demonstrating a reasonable fee. Plyler v. Evatt, 902 F.2d 273, 277 (4th Cir. 1990); McAfee v. Boczar, 738 F.3d 81, 91 (4th Cir. 2013), as amended (Jan. 23, 2014). As noted by the Fourth Circuit in Plyler,

[D]etermination of the hourly rate will generally be the critical inquiry in setting the reasonable fee, and the burden rests with the fee applicant to establish the reasonableness of a requested rate. In addition to the attorney's own affidavits, the fee applicant must produce satisfactory specific evidence of the prevailing market rates in the relevant community for the type of work for which he seeks an award. Although the determination of a market rate in the legal profession is inherently problematic, as wide variations in skill and reputation render the usual laws of supply and demand largely inapplicable, the Court has nonetheless emphasized that market rate should guide the fee inquiry.

Id. (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). "[T]he community in which the court sits is the first place to look to in evaluating the prevailing market rate." Grissom v. The Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 321 (4th Cir. 2008) (citing Rum Creek Coal Sales, Inc. v. Caperton, 31 F.3d 169, 179 (4th Cir. 1994)). "After calculating the lodestar figure, the court then should subtract fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful ones. Once 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." Grissom v. The Mills Corp., 549 F.3d 313, 321 (4th Cir. 2008) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

B. Costs

"Costs other than attorneys' fees shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs." Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). This rule creates the presumption that costs should be awarded to the prevailing party. See Delta Airlines, Inc. v. August, 450 U.S. 346, 352 (1981); Teague v. Bakker, 35 F.3d 978, 995-96 (4th Cir. 1990). To overcome this presumption, a district court is required to "justify its decision [to deny costs] by articulating some good reason for doing so.'" Teague, 35 F.3d at 996 (quoting Oak Hall Cap and Gown Co. v. Old Dominion Freight Line, Inc., 899 F.2d 291, 296 (4th Cir. 1990)). Costs may be denied to the prevailing party only when there would be an element of injustice in a presumptive cost award, with the decision at the district court's discretion. See Delta Air Lines, 450 U.S. at 355; Teague, 35 F.3d at 996. However, the district court's discretion is limited, as generally "only misconduct by the prevailing party worthy of a penalty... or the losing party's inability to pay will suffice to justify denying costs." Cherry v. Champion Int'l Corp., 186 F.3d 442, 446 (4th Cir. 1999) (quoting Congregation of The Passion, Holy Cross Province v. Touche, Ross & Co., 854 F.2d 219, 222 (7th Cir. 1988)). The Fourth Circuit also recognizes other factors in justifying the denial of an award of costs, such as "their excessiveness in a particular case, the limited value of the prevailing party's victory, or the closeness and difficulty of the issues decided." Id.

III. Analysis

Plaintiff requests attorneys' fees in the amount of $71, 380.75 and costs of $1, 891.00.

A. Reasonableness of Fees

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