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Yonemoto v. McDonald

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

May 20, 2016



          J. Michael Seabright Chief United States District Judge


         At issue is the reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs for Plaintiff Ronald Yonemoto (“Plaintiff”), where: (1) the court determined after an 11-day bench trial that Plaintiff prevailed on one of four remaining claims in Plaintiff’s workplace discrimination action against Defendant Robert A. McDonald, Secretary, United States Department of Veterans Affairs (“Defendant”); (2) Plaintiff requested $672, 980.74 in damages but the court awarded $1, 867.40; and (3) Plaintiff now seeks $182, 266.38 in attorneys’ fees (25% of the attorneys’ fees actually incurred) and $89, 711.59 in costs.

         Currently before court is Plaintiff’s Objections to Magistrate Judge Richard L. Puglisi’s February 19, 2016 Findings and Recommendation to (1) Deny Defendant’s Bill of Costs; and (2) Grant in Part and Deny in Part Plaintiff’s Motion for an Award of Attorneys’ Fees and Costs (“F&R”), Doc. No. 228. For the reasons that follow, the court OVERRULES Plaintiff’s objections and ADOPTS the F&R.


         The court has previously discussed the factual and procedural history of this case at length in both its summary judgment order, Doc. No. 79, and its Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law (“FOF/COL”), Doc. No. 198. In addition, the F&R summarizes both the factual and procedural history of this case, Doc. No. 226, F&R at 2-5, and Plaintiff “does not contest the accuracy with which the factual recitations in the [F&R] reiterate those set forth in the Court’s ruling.” Doc. No. 228, Objections at 2. Accordingly, the court discusses only certain post-trial events relevant to this Order.

         After the 11-day bench trial, the court “determined that Plaintiff has established by a preponderance of the evidence his Title VII retaliation claim based on the June 16, 2010 denial of authorized absence [for EEO activities]. Plaintiff has not, however, prevailed on any of his other claims.”[1] Doc. No. 196. The parties subsequently stipulated that Plaintiff was entitled to $1, 867.40 in damages, Doc. No. 197, and the court issued its FOF/COL. No. 198.

         The FOF/COL described Plaintiff’s victory as “limited.” Doc. No. 198, FOF/COL at page 9. In fact, Plaintiff prevailed on a very discrete claim, one that resulted in an extremely limited success when compared to the relief sought. At trial, Plaintiff pursued four claims:

(1) a Title VII retaliation claim based on his placement into a semi-public cubicle on April 29, 2010, and a denial of authorized absence (leave with pay) on June 16, 2010; (2) a Title VII retaliatory hostile work environment claim based on a refusal to assign Plaintiff meaningful work and continued placement in a cubicle, actionable beginning April 26, 2010; (3) a Rehabilitation Act denial of reasonable accommodation claim based on discrete acts occurring on or after July 3, 2011; and (4) a hostile work environment claim, occurring from November 30, 2010 to the present.

Id. at 3. Plaintiff lost on three of these claims entirely. See Doc. No. 196. And Plaintiff’s victory on his Title VII claim was based only on the discrete portion of his claim alleging retaliation for denying him leave with pay on June 16, 2010 to pursue EEO activities; as to the other portion of the Title VII retaliation claim, the court found that “Plaintiff was moved to a semi-public cubicle for legitimate reasons.” Id. at ¶ 143.

         On December 14, 2015, Defendant filed a bill of costs seeking $11, 378.80 pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d). Doc. No. 218. Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney’s Fees and Costs (“Motion”) followed, in which he sought costs pursuant to Rule 54(d) as well as an award of attorneys’ fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k), which applies to Title VII actions. Doc. No. 219. Specifically, Plaintiff’s Motion sought $182, 266.38 in attorneys’ fees (25% of the attorneys’ fees actually incurred) and $89, 711.59 in costs, for a total award of $271, 977.97. Id. Plaintiff was represented by two law firms during this litigation -- the Law Office of Carl M. Varady and Smith Himmelmann, AAL, ALC -- and his Motion seeks fees and costs for work done by both firms.

         The F&R recommended (1) denying Defendant’s Bill of Costs because Plaintiff is the “prevailing party”; and (2) reducing Plaintiff’s requested fees and costs in light of Plaintiff’s limited success in the litigation. Doc. No. 226, F&R. Specifically, the F&R recommended that Plaintiff be awarded $10, 000 in attorneys’ fees and $1, 225 in costs, for a total award of $11, 225. See Id. at 21, 23. The F&R came to this figure after determining that Plaintiff’s successful claim was distinct from his unsuccessful claims and finding it “evident that Plaintiff’s successful claim did not require significant resources during discovery, dispositive motions, or trial.” Id. at 21.

         Plaintiff timely filed Objections to the F&R. Doc. No. 228. In response, Defendant filed an Opposition urging the court to adopt the F&R. See Doc. 230, Defendant’s Opposition at 2.[2] Pursuant to Local Rule 7.2(d), the court determines this matter without a hearing.


         When a party objects to a magistrate judge’s findings or recommendations, the district court must review de novo those portions to which the objections are made and “may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate judge.” 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); see also United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 673 (1980); United States v. Reyna-Tapia, 328 F.3d 1114, 1121 (9th Cir. 2003) (en banc) (“[T]he district judge must review the magistrate judge’s findings and recommendations de novo if objection is made, but not otherwise.”).

         Under a de novo standard, this court reviews “the matter anew, the same as if it had not been heard before, and as if no decision previously had been rendered.” Freeman v. DirecTV, Inc., 457 F.3d 1001, 1004 (9th Cir. 2006); United States v. Silverman, 861 F.2d 571, 576 (9th Cir. 1988). The district court need not hold a de novo hearing; however, it is the court’s obligation to arrive at its own independent conclusion about those portions of the magistrate judge’s findings or recommendation to which a party objects. United States v. Remsing, 874 F.2d 614, 618 (9th Cir. 1989).

         IV. ...

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