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$65,000 Settlement Plus Fees and Costs in New York City Jail Assault Suit

A New York federal district court awarded $47,429.27 in attorney fees and costs in a lawsuit seeking damages for assaults upon a prisoner by guards employed by the New York City Department of Correction (NYCDOC). In ordering the award of fees and costs, the court held that the NYCDOC was bound by its offer of judgment “plus” attorney fees.

The city did not respond to the complaint, filed in March 2013, for around seven months due to multiple extensions of time, but on February 14, 2014 it made an offer of judgment. The plaintiff, former prisoner Stafford Berrian, accepted four days later. The offer provided “a total sum” of $65,000 in damages payable to Berrian, “plus reasonable attorney fees, expenses and costs to the extent, and only to the extent,” that the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) allowed such recovery.

Despite Berrian’s acceptance of the offer, the NYCDOC then made an offer of $35,000 to satisfy fees and costs in the case. That offer was rejected and the court entered judgment in accord with the city’s $65,000 offer for damages on March 6, 2014.

Berrian’s counsel moved for a total of $48,536.74 in attorney fees for the work of five paralegals and four attorneys. The first matter the court resolved was the NYCDOC’s contention that the PLRA required Berrian to pay an allocation of his judgment towards the attorney fees. The district court agreed with Berrian that he had entered into a contractual agreement with the defendants that he “receive $65,000 plus fees.”

The court awarded attorney fees, including fees for work done by paralegals, totaling $44,175.50 plus $3,253.77 in costs on November 21, 2014. Rather than appeal, the NYCDOC entered into negotiations with Berrian’s counsel, and in January 2015 the parties agreed to settle the issue of fees and costs for $20,000. See: Berrian v. City of New York, U.S.D.C. (S.D. NY), Case No. 1:13-cv-01719-DLC-DCF; 2014 U.S. Dist. Lexis 104255. 

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Related legal case

Berrian v. City of New York