Prison Litigation Reform Act Did Not Cap Unruh Act Fee Recovery.
In Rodriguez v. County of Los Angeles, No. 13-56292 et al. (9th Cir. May 30, 2018) (published), the Ninth Circuit reviewed and affirmed 42 U.S.C. § 1983 excessive force verdicts of $740,000 in compensatory damages and $210,000 in punitive damages (the latter against supervisory individual defendants) in favor of five prisoners severely injured during the course of a cell extraction at the L.A. County Men’s Central Jail (which included the use of taser shocks).
The district judge later awarded plaintiffs $5,378,174.66 in attorney’s fees under the federal civil rights statute and California’s Bane Act (Cal. Civ. Code § 52.1), utilizing separate calculations to arrive at the aggregate fee award. This award included a positive 2.0 multiplier in arriving at the award.
The Ninth Circuit sustained the fee award in full. The fee limits in the Prison Litigation Reform Act did not apply to cap fees incurred under California Civil Code section 52.1. With respect to the multiplier, it was justified based on the financial risks assumed by the attorneys (who invested $3.4 million in a risky case), the representation of prisoners in an excessive force action against high-ranking jail officials, and the loss of opportunity costs in a litigation which required many years of intensive efforts against aggressive defendants. The district judge also did consider the impact of the award on California taxpayers, finding that the importance of civil rights litigation of this species against large/potentially powerful defendants being such as to outweigh the need for some sort of mitigating fiscal restraint.