Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

West Virginia Highlands Conservancy v. Caperton

United States District Court, S.D. West Virginia, Charleston Division

February 22, 2019

WEST VIRGINIA HIGHLANDS CONSERVANCY, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
AUSTIN CAPERTON, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JOSEPH R. GOODWIN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Pending before the court is the plaintiffs' Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Expenses [ECF No. 32]. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is GRANTED.

         I. Introduction

         The plaintiffs brought this case pursuant to the citizen suit section of the Clean Water Act (“CWA”). The plaintiffs alleged that the defendant was in violation of West Virginia and National Pollution Discharge Elimination System Permits for seven mining sites controlled by the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection's Special Reclamation Program, two of which are in this District. On April 25, 2018, this court approved and entered a Consent Decree [ECF No. 31]. The remaining issue before the court is whether the plaintiffs are entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees for obtaining the Consent Decree.

         II. Discussion

         a. Prevailing Party

         Section 1365(d) of the CWA provides that a court “may award costs of litigation (including reasonable attorney and expert witness fees) to any prevailing or substantially prevailing party, whenever the court determines such award is appropriate.” 33 U.S.C. § 1365(d). “The touchstone of the prevailing party inquiry must be the material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties in a manner which Congress sought to promote in the fee statute.” Tex. State Teachers Ass'n v. Garland Indep. Sch. Dist., 489 U.S. 782, 792-93 (1989).

         “[E]nforceable judgments on the merits and court-ordered consent decrees create the ‘material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties' necessary to permit an award of attorneys' fees.” Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W.Va. Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 604 (2001). As the Fourth Circuit has observed, “a consent decree approved and entered by a trial court is sufficient to make the party that obtains relief a ‘prevailing party' under the fee-shifting statutes, because such a decree ‘is entered as an [approved] order of the court . . . and is subject to the oversight attendant to the court's authority to enforce its orders.” Goldstein v. Moatz, 445 F.3d 747, 751 (4th Cir. 2006) (quoting Smyth ex rel. Smyth v. Rivero, 282 F.3d 268, 281 (4th Cir. 2002)).

         Put simply, because a judicially approved consent decree subject to the oversight of this court was issued, the plaintiffs are a prevailing party. Nevertheless, the defendant argues that the Consent Decree did not result in the defendant modifying its behavior toward the plaintiffs because “it merely agreed to . . . continue what it was already doing and what it planned to do going forward and . . . report its compliance progress.” Resp. 7 [ECF No. 35]. For support, the defendant sites multiple cases that it argues suggest that “enshrin[ing] the status quo” is not enough to create a material alteration in a legal relationship between the parties to permit an award of attorneys' fees. Resp. 7 [ECF No. 35]. Importantly, however, all of the cited cases were missing one thing: a consent decree. See McQueary v. Conway, 614 F.3d 591 (6th Cir. 2010) (no consent decree); Walker v. Calumet City, 565 F.3d 1031, 1034 (7th Cir. 2009) (“[The plaintiff] did not obtain a consent decree in this case; hence, the second Buckhannon example does not apply.”); Sierra Club v. City of Little Rock, 351 F.3d 840 (8th Cir. 2003) (no consent decree).

         The defendant also argues that the plaintiffs are attempting to revive the “catalyst theory, ” which the defendant argues has been rejected by the Supreme Court. While it is true that the Court rejected the catalyst theory under certain circumstances, the Court was doing so specifically because the catalyst theory is unlike an “enforceable judgment on the merits and court-ordered consent decrees.” Buckhannon, 532 U.S. at 604-05 (emphasis added) (“[T]he ‘catalyst theory' falls on the other side of the line from these examples. It allows an award where there is not judicially sanctioned change in the legal relationship of the parties.”). Thus, because the consent decree is a material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties necessary to permit an award of attorneys' fees, all that is left to consider is whether the amount requested by the plaintiff's is reasonable.

         b. Reasonableness

         Under the CWA, the “lodestar” method is used to calculate the amount of attorneys' fees. See, e.g., City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 562 (1992).

First, ‘the court must determine the lodestar figure by multiplying the number of reasonable hours expended times a reasonable rate'. Second, ‘the court must subtract fees for hours spent on unsuccessful claims unrelated to successful ones. [Third], the court should award some percentage of the remaining amount, depending on the degree of success enjoyed by the plaintiff.'

Jones v. Southpeak Interactive Corp. of Del., 777 F.3d 658, 675 (4th Cir. 2015)(citations omitted). In deciding what constitutes a “reasonable” number of hours and rate, the Fourth Circuit has instructed that a district court's ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.