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Attorney Fees and Costs Awarded in HRDC Suit Against Juvenile Solitary Confinement

by David M. Reutter

A Florida federal district court has awarded $420,683.53 in attorney fees and costs in a class-action suit challenging the use of solitary confinement and lack of educational opportunities for juvenile offenders held at the Palm Beach County Jail.

PLN previously reported the facts and settlement in this case. [See: PLN, Jan. 2019, p.28]. The district court retained jurisdiction for monitoring, enforcement, and determining attorney fees and costs. Before the court was the class members’ motion for an award of fees and costs, which they asserted totaled $645,822.78.

The court found the plaintiffs were prevailing parties and thus entitled to attorney fees and costs. The class sought a blended rate of $525 per hour for the work performed by all attorneys on the case. The defendants sought a rate of $200. The court rejected both parties’ positions and made a determination of what rate each individual attorney should be awarded. Three law firms worked on the case: Cohen Milstein, the Human Rights Defense Center (HRDC) and the Legal Aid Society of Palm Beach County (LASPBC).

As to the attorneys from Cohen Milstein, the district court found that $500 per hour was appropriate for Theodore J. Leopold, while Adam J. Lagino’s work was entitled to $375 an hour and Diane J. Martin should be paid $400 per hour. Paralegal Tatum Whiddon’s rate was set at $150 an hour. The court awarded a total of 232.2 hours, which made that firm’s fee award $82,240.

HRDC also had three lawyers on the case: Former general counsel Sabarish P. Neelakanta and current general counsel Dan Marshall, who were awarded $400 an hour, and staff attorney Masimba Mutamba, who received $295 per hour. Paralegal Kathy Moses’ hourly rate was set at $150. HRDC was allotted 445.08 hours of work on the case for a total attorney fee award of $172,015.

LASPBC attorneys Melissa Duncan and Danielle Capitini were awarded $400 and $200 per hour, respectively. Their paralegal, Tatum Course, received $150 an hour for her work. That firm was allotted 352.04 hours, amounting to a total fee award of $132,896.

The district court reduced the requested hours by 20 percent across the board. It then turned to the request for $39,296.78 in non-taxable costs and litigation expenses. The court subtracted some unsupported or non-recoverable costs and awarded $29,724.53 in costs. It also awarded post-judgment interest upon entry of the judgment. The defendants were given 14 days to brief the court on how the award of fees and costs would be apportioned between the Sheriff’s Office and the Palm Beach County School Board.

As a result of this litigation, juveniles held at the county jail will no longer be placed in solitary confinement except under limited circumstances, and will receive educational programming. See: H.C. v. Bradshaw, U.S.D.C. (S.D. Fla.), Case No. 9:18-cv-80810-WM. 

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Related legal case

H.C. v. Bradshaw