PLN Attorneys Awarded $137,672 for Post-Settlement Work in CDCR Censorship Case
by John E. Dannenberg
On April 10, 2008, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California awarded $137,672 in supplemental legal fees and costs incurred in enforcing a settlement agreement between PLN and the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) that had resolved PLN’s complaint of illegal censorship at some CDCR prisons.
The December 12, 2006 settlement required CDCR to purchase (at a cost of $65,100) five-year PLN subscriptions for every law library in California’s 33 prisons, plus three for CDCR headquarters. [See: PLN, May 2007, p.34]. Legal fees and costs in the case were settled at $320,000. [See: PLN, Nov. 2007, p.32]. However, the agreement provided that subsequent work would be needed in the form of filing a formal complaint and stipulating to its dismissal, so as to give the court continuing jurisdiction for enforcement purposes.
CDCR objected to the supplemental legal bills. It argued that simply because PLN was deemed the “prevailing party” in the underlying settlement, that did not provide continuing prevailing party status for post-agreement work by PLN’s attorneys. CDCR contended that since both parties were necessarily engaged in post-settlement work, each should pay its own way. CDCR also claimed that PLN’s additional legal work was not significant and that its attorney billing rates were “exorbitant.”
The district court, finding that the work in question was “anticipated by the agreement and necessary to effectuate its terms,” affirmed PLN’s supplemental fee request based on the twelve-part reasonableness test established in Kerr v. Screen Guild Extras, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1975). The court then reviewed the billing breakdown: $95,306 in fees, $1,376 in costs and $42,098 for fee-recovery efforts. The district court approved all attorney and paralegal fees except for $1,108 that was held to be clerical in nature and thus should be encompassed in overhead. The court specifically rejected CDCR’s objections to PLN’s attorney fees for “internal conferencing” and legal research costs.
Finally, CDCR objected to the hourly rates of PLN’s attorneys. Lead attorney Sanford Rosen, a 1962 law school graduate, billed at $700 per hour; Amy Whelan, a 2001 graduate, billed at $340; Meghan Lang (a 2002 graduate) billed at $325; and Kenneth Walczak (graduated in 2003) billed at $295. Interns and paralegals billed at $160 to $170 per hour. CDCR complained that these rates exceeded those permitted under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA). The court quickly dismissed this argument by noting the PLRA did not apply in this case because it was not brought by a prisoner. Instead, the district court found that the billed rates were normal and customary, and approved them.
As to PLN’s request that the court establish an automatic semi-annual process to protect its right to future fee awards, the court balked. The settlement did not include any monitoring provisions, and PLN admitted in its motion that such work would be “far less extensive” than its previous efforts. Unconvinced of PLN’s position, the court denied PLN’s motion for regular fee reviews. PLN was ably represented by the San Francisco law firm of Rosen, Bien and Galvan. See: Prison Legal News v. Schwarzenegger, 561 F.Supp.2d 1095 (N.D. Cal. 2008).
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Related legal case
Prison Legal News v. Schwarzenegger
|Cite||561 F.Supp.2d 1095 (N.D. Cal. 2008)|