Plaintiff eDiscovery Costs and Attorney Fees Taxable as a “Prevailing Party” After Settlement
In a housing discrimination case, Fair Housing Center of Southeast Michigan v. Hunt, Case No. 1:09-cv-593 (W.D. Mich. October 21, 2013), plaintiffs and defendants were able to come to a settlement agreement after three years in litigation. The settlement provided for defendants to pay plaintiffs $47,500 for their damage claims, but left open the question of attorney fees and costs to be heard before the court. Plaintiffs sought attorney fees as well as $17,602 for costs, most of which consisted of transcription costs.
Defendant’s main objection to both the requests for attorney fees and costs cited 43 USC § 3613(c)(2), as defedants asserted that the plaintiffs were not “prevailing parties” under the statute, as the case was settled between the parties. The court disagreed, citing case law that demonstrates a prevailing party is one who achieves “a material alteration of the legal relationship between the parties,” and is eligible for a fee award if the plaintiff prevails “on any significant claim affording some of the relief sought.” Further, the “amount of monetary award is not material to prevailing party status.” Id. Therefore, the court found the plaintiffs were entitled to an attorney fee award of $223,444 (the amount was reduced due to the court’s use of the lodestar method of calculation, reduction due to excessive focus on electronic discovery spoliation, plus further reduction for partial success.)
For taxation of costs, Federal Rule 54(d)(1) allows for costs to be awarded to the prevailing party, and the defendants only objection to plaintiffs’ costs was that they were not the prevailing party. As the court disagreed, the full amount of costs was awarded to plaintiffs. In the end, plaintiffs did come out on top after the settlement award of $47,000, the attorney fees in the amount of $223,444 and costs of $17,602.