ALLISON CLAIRE, Magistrate Judge.
This matter comes before the Court on plaintiffs' Re-Noticed Motion for a Mandatory Fee and Costs Award Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(a)(5)(A) and E.D. Cal. R. ("Local Rule") 230. This motion was referred to the undersigned by Local Rule 302(c)(1).
Relevant Procedural History
Plaintiffs, two associations of parents of children with disabilities, allege that the California Department of Education ("CDE") is violating the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act, 20 U.S.C. §§ 1400, et seq., through its systemic failure to provide a "free appropriate public education" ("FAPE") to children with disabilities in accordance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act ("IDEA"). During the pendency of this litigation, the Court has addressed multiple discovery disputes between the parties. On August 17, 2016, following one such discovery dispute, an order was issued in which plaintiffs were awarded attorneys' fees at what the Court determined to be the correct Sacramento rates: $350 per hour for attorneys and $75 per hour for paralegals. ECF No. 229 at 23-24.
On November 23, 2016, plaintiffs filed a subsequent motion to compel and for sanctions, seeking fees based on San Francisco rates (ECF No. 273). Defendants filed a cross-motion for a protective order and for sanctions (ECF No. 272). The undersigned denied defendants' motions. ECF No. 287 at 20. Plaintiffs' motion to compel was granted, but their request for sanctions was denied without prejudice in light of the undersigned's finding that Sacramento rates are the appropriate fee measurement.
Plaintiffs now renew their request for fees at what they allege to be Sacramento rates. ECF No. 304. There are three issues presented: (1) the appropriate rate for attorney and paralegal fee reimbursement; (2) the billed hours appropriate for compensation as a result of plaintiffs' success on their motion to compel, and (3) plaintiffs' recoverable costs.
The parties do not dispute that the appropriate method for computing fees in this case is the lodestar approach, in which the Court multiplies the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate.
Reasonable Hourly Rates
The appropriate rate for reimbursement of fees in Sacramento is the Court's previously stated rate of $350 per hour for attorneys, and $75 per hour for paralegals. ECF No. 229 at 23-24;
Plaintiffs argue that an upward adjustment to the typical Sacramento rates is necessary due to the limited number of attorneys doing similar work in Sacramento. Their argument is unpersuasive because they interpret far too narrowly the pool of attorneys and paralegals available for comparison. Plaintiffs assert that the appropriate Sacramento rate for attorneys in the specialized area of statewide, systemic IDEA litigation is $725 per hour for attorneys and $182 per hour for paralegals. ECF No. 304-1 at 5. Plaintiffs reach these numbers by taking the average of what they allege to be the only two attorneys/organizations in Sacramento that litigate IDEA cases.
The first of the attorneys proposed by plaintiffs as a fee guidepost, Mr. Richard Ruderman, avers that he practices disability law in Sacramento, and that his current rates are $550 per hour for attorneys and $150 per hour for paralegals. ECF No. 304-6 at 2. While the undersigned agrees that Mr. Ruderman's fees may be relevant as a guidepost for the legal community in Sacramento, plaintiffs fail to explain why the Court should be guided by Mr. Ruderman's 2017 rates, when plaintiffs' motion to compel was brought in 2016. ECF No. 273. The undersigned accepts defendants' position that a more reasonable comparison would be Mr. Ruderman's 2016 rate of $400 per hour. ECF No. 305-1 at 8.
The second attorney organization used by plaintiffs as a fee guidepost, Disability Rights California, is simply unrepresentative of Sacramento community rates. The Declaration of Melinda Bird makes clear that the organization's rates are set by a "statewide fee structure" and are "not affected by the geographic location of its practice group nor the court in which its cases are pending." ECF No. 304-8, 4. This statewide fee structure, in which attorneys charge $900 per hour, is far out of step with the Sacramento community.
Plaintiffs further argue that the Court should enhance its fee award based on several considerations known as the "
The court has considered the plaintiffs' arguments, particularly the declaration of Ms. Linda McNulty (ECF No. 304-7) attesting to her journey in finding counsel for this matter. Nonetheless, the undersigned finds that the evidence does support an upward adjustment in this case. Based on a review of the matter as a whole, none of the Kerr factors support a deviation from the standard Sacramento rates. The undersigned, having considered all of the arguments and declarations presented by the Parties, concludes that $350 per hour for attorneys and $75 per hour for paralegals are the appropriate Sacramento rates and are the rates that will be applied in this case.
Hours Reasonably Expended
Plaintiff is entitled to recover 263.83 attorney hours ($92,340.50) and 62.66 paralegal hours ($4,699.50), for a total of $97,040.00 in recoverable fees. The undersigned has concluded that the remainder of the hours claimed by plaintiffs is not related to bringing their motion to compel, and is therefore unrecoverable. Plaintiffs, who were awarded fees for prevailing on a motion to compel pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(5)(A), are entitled only to "reasonable expenses incurred in making the motion[.]"
Plaintiffs' entitlement to fees pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(5)(A) does not entitle them to recover fees for everything they have ever done related to discovery in this case. Plaintiffs are entitled only to fees related to actually litigating their motion to compel. Plaintiffs' proposed hours for compensation include unrecoverable time entries going back several months before their motion was brought, including hours for general discovery tasks and case preparation.
Many of plaintiffs' proposed hours are unrecoverable because they reflect work on plaintiffs' defense to defendants' motion to compel, which is unrelated to plaintiff's success on their own motion.
The Court has reviewed all time entries submitted, and concludes that 263.83 hours of attorney work and 62.66 hours of paralegal work are sufficiently related to plaintiffs' motion to compel to be recoverable. While this is a significant reduction from plaintiffs' requested hours, the undersigned finds this to be a generous evaluation which accounts fully for the difficulties presented by defendants' noncompliant conduct. Defendants will pay plaintiffs' $97,040.00 in fees. Plaintiffs have had ample opportunities to justify their rates and argue in support of the categories of hours this Court has found unrecoverable, and the undersigned will entertain no further argument or supplemental showing related to these matters.
Plaintiff is not entitled to recover any costs. While costs are generally recoverable under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(5)(A), Plaintiffs have submitted a cost list that presents only items unrelated to their motion to compel and items that are too vague to be clearly linked to their motion to compel. For example, plaintiffs seek to recover amounts paid to Blue Iron Network Consulting for expenses related to uploading documents productions. This is a general cost of discovery, and is not clearly linked to plaintiffs' motion to compel. ECF No. 304-3, 32. Plaintiffs also include expenses for unidentified "online research," FedEx costs not linked to the service of any court filings, copying costs not linked to any court filings, and other vague entries.
Plaintiffs are awarded $97,040.00, based on plaintiffs' reasonable hours expended in bringing their motion to compel (263.83 attorney hours and 62.66 paralegal hours) multiplied by the appropriate Sacramento attorney and paralegal rates ($350 for attorneys and $75 for paralegals).
IT IS SO ORDERED.