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H.P. AND R.N. v. KNICKREHM

September 16, 2005.

H.P. AND R.N., by their next friend, SUSAN PIERCE and DISABILITY RIGHTS CENTER, INC. Plaintiffs
v.
KURT KNICKREHM, in his official capacity as the Director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services; ET AL. Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: SUSAN WRIGHT, Chief Judge, District

ORDER

Before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion seeking $24,038 in attorney fees and $2,728 in costs (docket entry #118) and Defendants' response in objection (docket entry #120). After careful consideration, and for the reasons that follow, the Court determines that Plaintiffs' motion should be granted in part and denied in part.

I.

  Plaintiffs, two mentally retarded adult males, commenced this lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against the Director of the Arkansas Department of Human Services ("ADHS") and officers of the ADHS Division of Disability Services ("DDS"), claiming that Plaintiffs had been committed to a state human development center ("HDC") pursuant to statutory and administrative procedures that violate due process and equal protection guarantees.

  By way of relief, Plaintiffs sought the following: (1) a declaration that the complained-of admission and discharge procedures violate their rights to due process and equal protection of the law and (2) a judicial hearing, comporting with procedural due process, regarding Plaintiff Porter's HDC placement. See docket entry #54.

  On November 23, 2004, the Court entered summary judgment in Defendants' favor as to Plaintiffs' equal protection claims. The Court ruled, however, that the State's post-admission procedures failed to provide adequate procedural safeguards because they contained no requirement that the State discharge HDC residents who no longer require HDC services. See docket entry #101, at 14. The Court ordered Defendants to submit proposed post-admission review procedures that would remedy this constitutional infirmity.

  Defendants submitted proposed procedures, requiring that HDC superintendents discharge an HDC resident upon a determination by HDC professionals that the resident is no longer eligible for admission or retention. Additionally, the proposed rules required that every HDC resident receive an annual status review by an interdisciplinary team of medical professionals, including a licensed physician. After considering Plaintiffs' and Intervenors' objections to the proposed rules, the Court adopted Defendants' proposed procedures, finding that they provide an adequate remedy in this case.

  II.

  The case is before the Court on Plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and costs.*fn1 Title 42 U.S.C. § 1988 provides that in federal civil rights actions, "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." 28 U.S.C. § 1988. The standard for determining whether a party has prevailed for purposes of § 1988 is whether "actual relief on the merits of [his or her] claim materially alters the legal relationship between the parties by modifying the defendant's behavior in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff." Jenkins v. Missouri, 127 F.3d 709, 713 (8th Cir. 1997) (quoting Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12 (1992)).

  Under the Supreme Court's generous formulation of the term "prevailing party", "plaintiffs may be considered `prevailing parties . . . if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit . . . sought in bringing suit.'" Hensley v. Eckerhart, 103 S. Ct. 1933, 1939 (1983) (quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-279 (1st Cir. 1978)).

  Defendants acknowledge that the promulgation of new rules governing HDC post-admission review and discharge procedures effects a legal change. However, they argue that the procedures set forth in the new rules are merely a "formalization" of the "interdisciplinary team review process" already in place before Plaintiffs initiated this lawsuit. According to Defendants, Plaintiffs gained a small victory, unworthy of prevailing party status.

  It is undisputed that before the Court's judgment in this case, the rules governing HDC post-admission review and discharge failed to charge HDC superintendents with the duty to discharge HDC residents who no longer qualified for admission. According to the deposition testimony of Defendant Green, the Director of DDS, before the new rules, the ultimate decision of whether to discharge an ADC resident belonged to the resident's parent or guardian. See docket entry #65, Ex. 2, at 35-36. The new rules governing HDC changed the legal relationship between Defendants and Plaintiffs by charging Defendants with a legal duty. The Court concludes that although Plaintiffs prevailed on a discrete issue — that is, whether the State's post-admission review and discharge procedures comport with due process guarantees — they are nonetheless prevailing parties.

  It is now the Court's task to determine a reasonable award related to Plaintiffs' due process claims.*fn2 In calculating a fee award, the Court will use the "lodestar" method, which entails calculating the number of hours ...


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