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Balla v. Idaho State Board of Correction

March 30, 2010

WALTER D. BALLA, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
IDAHO STATE BOARD OF CORRECTION, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable B. Lynn Winmill Chief U. S. District Judge

ORDER

Pending before the Court in the above-entitled matter is Plaintiffs' Petition for the Award of Interim Attorneys Fees and Costs (Docket No. 769). Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.

FACTUAL BACKGROUND

The detailed history of the Balla cases was set forth in the Court's May 28, 2009 Memorandum Decision and Order, Docket No. 768, and is incorporated by reference into this Order. Plaintiffs now seek reimbursement for attorneys fees directly and reasonably incurred in the monitoring and enforcing the Balla injunctive relief for the period of December 11, 2007 through June 22, 2009 in the amount of $77,608.20 and costs in the amount of $2,249.20 as well as costs for a class representative, Mr. Barry Searcy, in the amount of $269.10. The Defendants object to the requested fees and costs on numerous grounds including that the motion is untimely, the Plaintiffs were not the prevailing party, the legal issues did not need to be addressed, the hourly rates are not properly calculated, and the number of hours are excessive.

This Court has previously awarded interim attorneys fees and costs to Stoel Rives in the amount of $17,747.60 for fees and $486.06 in costs. See Order, December 18, 2007, Docket No. 724. The Court also awarded additional fees for attorneys fees associated with the petition for fees $4,776.65 and $63.60 in costs to Plaintiff Searcy. See Order, October 21, 2008, Docket No. 733.

The Court having reviewed the record in detail finds that certain attorneys fees and costs should be awarded, postage and some office supply costs for Mr. Searcy should be awarded and a plan for future monitoring should be developed.

ANALYSIS

1. Timeliness

Defendants argue that the petition of fees and costs should be denied as it was not filed within fourteen days of the Court's ruling granting the motion for clarification and denying the motion for contempt on May 28, 2009. This argument is not well-taken. The Court's Order of May 28, 2009 (Docket No. 768) was not a final order and Plaintiffs were seeking interim fees for on-going monitoring responsibilities, so the fourteen day deadline for final judgments is not applicable. The Court further finds the petition for fees and costs filed on June 23, 2009 (Docket No. 769) was filed in a timely manner after the Court's May 28, 2009 ruling and consistent with this Court's appointment of Stoel Rives for monitoring on behalf of the class.

2. Prevailing Party

It is undisputed that Plaintiffs were the prevailing parties in Balla I, II and III. Plaintiffs argue they are entitled to recover for monitoring expenses directly and reasonably related to the enforcement of such injunctions. Defendants argue the Plaintiffs are not entitled to fees as they were not the prevailing party on their motion for contempt and the motion for clarification was not necessary. The Court respectfully disagrees with Defendants.

The Prison Litigation Reform Act ("PLRA") applies to all civil rights actions by prisoners. The PLRA limits the availability of attorneys' fees under § 1988 "[i]n any action brought by a prisoner who is confined to any jail, prison, or other correctional facility." 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(1). Under the PLRA, attorneys fees can be awarded for post-judgment work in enforcing and monitoring the court's prior judgments. Webb v. Ada County, 285 F.3d 829, 835 (9th Cir. 2002). The Plaintiff need not prove a new constitutional violation. Id. at 834-35. Attorneys fees incurred to preserve the fruits of of prior judicial remedies are within the purpose and scope of the attorneys' fees provisions of 24 U.S.C. § 1988. Plyler v. Evatt, 902 f.2d 273, 281 (4th Cir. 1990). The attorneys fees requested must be "directly and reasonbly incurred in enforcing the relief ordered" for violation. Cody v. Hillard, 304 F.3d 767 (8th Cir. 2002).

While it is true that a critical factor in determining the reasonableness of a fee award is the degree of success obtained, district courts have great discretion in assessing the reasonableness of any attorneys fees and the relationship between the extent of success and the fee awarded. Dannenberg v. Valadez, 338 F.3d 1070, 1075 (9th Cir. 2003). In this case, the Court granted the Plaintiffs' motion for clarification and while the Court did not grant the motion to hold the Defendants in contempt, the Plaintiffs played a key role in monitoring and working with the IDOC to resolve the overcrowding issue that arose in January 2009 when a large number of inmates were transferred to ISCI. It was undisputed that overcrowding conditions existed for a short period of time while the IDOC was implementing a housing plan for the transferred inmates and after a inmate riot in the unit had occurred. The Court held that the IDOC did not intentionally violate the Balla injunction and the overcrowding only occurred for a short time and these facts did not warrant finding the Defendants in contempt.

Moreover, this Court had previously appointed Stoel Rives for the specific purpose of monitoring the injunctive relief of the Balla cases. The State of Idaho should not be surprised that the attorneys appointed to represent the new class representatives approved by the Court in December 2007, have incurred fees monitoring compliance and bringing motions when there is a need for clarification or to ensure the injunctive relief is being complied with by the IDOC at ISCI. The Court finds the legal services provided by Stoel Rives are within the purpose of ยง 1988 and were "inextricably intertwined with those on which the plainiff[s] ...


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