Federal Judge Reduces Attorney Fees in Title IX Case

Jun 2, 2006

A federal judge in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has reduced an award of fees and other costs to attorneys that successfully represented female student-athletes in their Title IX lawsuit against West Chester University.
While acknowledging the “complete victory” that was secured by attorneys at the Philadelphia law firm of Hangley, Aronchick, Segal and Pudlin and the Washington, D.C.-based Trial Lawyers for Public Justice, the court weighed the fact that the attorneys “became involved in this matter as a public service” and that “the university is already experiencing financial difficulty” in rendering its ruling.
The case garnered headlines several years ago when the university, despite internal protests, announced its decision to shutter its women’s gymnastics team. A parent of one of the team members contacted TLPJ, which ultimately took on the case. TLPJ then contacted Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin in Philadelphia and engaged the firm as co-counsel in the matter.
The court in the instant matter noted that TLPJ has been involved in Title IX litigation since 1985 when Arthur Bryant, the Executive Director of TLPJ, served as lead counsel in Haffer v. Temple University, 688 F.2d 14 (3d Cir. 1982). It added that William Hangley, a founder and shareholder of the Hangley firm, is an experienced litigator with experience in Title IX litigation, having participated in the Haffer case.
Together, the TLPJ and firm were able to secure a preliminary injunction and an order that WCU reinstate the program. The parties then reached a settlement which provided that the preliminary injunction would become permanent and that all claims that were not related to the discontinuance of the gymnastics team would be dismissed without prejudice.
Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, 28 U.S.C. §§ 1821 and 1920, and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54, the plaintiffs presently request attorney’s fees in the amount of $207,609.50 and costs in the amount of $ 12,477.82, for a total of $ 220,087.32. The defendants object to the totals, arguing that the number of hours spent on the litigation and the hourly rate of some of the plaintiffs’ attorneys were unreasonable. The defendants contended that a more reasonable figure for attorney’s fees would be $81,858.10.
Is $500 an Hour ‘Unreasonable?’
One of the first things the court addressed was the hourly rate of William Hangley, whom all parties agreed had “an excellent reputation in the Philadelphia legal community as a litigator and an accomplished advocate.” That said, the defendants argued that Hangley’s regular rate of $500 per hour “is unreasonable in this situation.”
“We have no doubt, considering Hangley’s stature in the legal community, that he can command–and private clients will pay — $ 500 per hour for his services,” wrote the court. “However, this is not a private client. The Hangley firm agreed to assist TLPJ, a public interest law firm, in this public interest litigation.”
Weighing the Community Legal Services schedule as an alternative to Hangley’s usual hourly rate, the court reduced his hourly rate to $400, still “the highest rate on the CLS schedule.”
The defendants also obtained relief on what TLPJ attorneys submitted in its bill. Bryant, for example, billed at a regular rate of $380 an hour, and his rate was reduced to $310 an hour, pursuant to the CLS. Its rationale was that the plaintiffs did not need to “import (the) special expertise” provided by the TLPJ.
Next, the court reviewed the total number of hours submitted by the plaintiffs’ attorneys
“for redundancy and excessiveness.” Walking through dozens of challenges, it provided relief to the defendant in bits and pieces.
Finally, the court reviewed the overall sum to determine whether it was “reasonable or whether downward adjustment is appropriate. In holding that WCU violated Title IX, we noted that WCU received warnings of this violation from its own internal committees and chose not to heed the warnings. This choice resulted in this very costly litigation. Nevertheless, it is appropriate to consider the financial circumstances of these defendants. WCU is a public university with limited funds.”
Thus, the court reduced the fee award by 15 percent, putting the final figure at $148,472.59.
Elizabeth C. Barrett, et al., V. West Chester University of Pennsylvania Of The State System Of Higher Education, et al.;E.D.Pa.; NO. 03-CV-4978; 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 15332; 3/31/06
Attorneys of Record: (for plaintiffs) Leslie A. Brueckner, Trial Lawyers for Public Justice PC, Washington, DC; Sharon F. McKee, William T. Hangley, Hangley, Aronchick, Segal and Pudlin, Philadelphia, Pa.


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