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Successful Defense of Consent Decree Merits Award of Untimely Attorney Fees

Successful Defense of Consent Decree Merits Award of Untimely Attorney Fees

by David Reutter

On September 8, 2014, a California federal district court awarded $7,826.60 in fees and costs to the attorneys and certified law students who successfully defended against a motion to terminate a decades-old consent decree.

At issue was a consent decree governing conditions at the Yuba County Jail (YCJ). The court denied the defendants’ motion to terminate the decree on April 2, 2014, and under a local rule the plaintiffs had 28 days to file a motion for an award of attorneys’ fees. They did not file the motion until 12:03 a.m. on May 1, which made it untimely by three minutes.

The plaintiffs argued that the “excusable neglect” provision of Fed.R.Civ.P. 6(b) authorized them to be granted an extension of time to file the motion. Rule 6(b) requires the application of a four-factor equitable test for such a finding: 1) the danger of prejudice to the opposing party, 2) the length of the delay and its potential impact upon the proceedings, 3) the reason for the delay and 4) whether the movant acted in good faith.

The district court found there was no prejudice to the defendants, as the plaintiffs’ attorneys had emailed the motion to defendants’ counsel before filing it with the court. The three minute tardiness had no negative impact on the proceedings, but the claim by plaintiffs’ counsel that there were electronic problems in the last-minute filing did not weigh in favor of excusable neglect. Finally, the court found the plaintiffs had acted in good faith.

Having found that three of the four factors weighed in favor of granting an extension of time, the district court turned to the award of fees and costs requested in the motion. It held the plaintiffs’ attorneys were entitled to fees for work related to defending the portions of the consent decree concerning access to legal materials and participation by female prisoners in the jail’s trusty program, as only those aspects of the decree were found by the court to be constitutional violations.

Based on that determination, the district court denied fees for any work not specifically related to those issues. The court also found the plaintiffs’ attorneys were entitled to a baseline rate of $165 per hour for services provided prior to March 1, 2014, and $189 per hour for subsequent work. It set the rate for law students at $55 an hour for services prior to March 1 and $63 for subsequent hours.

In total, the court awarded $7,826.60 in fees and costs. See: Hendrick v. Grant, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:76-cv-00162-GEB-EFB; 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 127102.


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Related legal case

Hendrick v. Grant