Abundance of Billing Errors Lead Ohio Court to Slash Fees by Nearly 60%

Posted on May 22nd, 2018 by Legal Fee Advisors

By Zachary Kalmbach.

An Ohio court substantially reduced a fee request to account for a plethora of billing improprieties and billing for time spent “taking the Court and defense counsel in circles.” Plaintiffs’ alleged several employment claims against defendants, several of which were dismissed and the rest settled. Plaintiffs requested $1,026,316.10 in fees and $102,325.72 in costs.  The Court reduced the requested fees by 59% and costs by 50%, for a total award of $420,102.38 in fees and $51,263.40 in costs.

Defendants argued that plaintiffs wrongly billed pre-claim time and time spent on matters unrelated to their case. For example, plaintiffs sought fees for pre-suit interviews and reviewing depositions in unrelated cases. As it was unclear exactly when counsel began litigating for plaintiffs, the Court reduced the requested hours by 100 hours for pre-claim time. Further, because counsel failed to show that time spent reviewing depositions from other cases “specifically benefitted” plaintiffs, the Court applied a further reduction of 50 hours.

Additionally, the Court found that plaintiffs’ counsel billed for work that was not “reasonably expended in pursuit of success at the point in time when the work was performed.” For example, plaintiffs’ counsel “[took] the Court and defense counsel in circles for months because of a refusal or inability to file complaints that [were] compliant with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8.” The Court was also troubled by counsel spending $600,000 to convert discovery data into a readable format and for preparing noncompliant discovery requests. Consequently, the Court reduced the request by 500 hours.

Moreover, the Court found that the plaintiffs’ bills were generally excessive. For example, counsel billed 3 hours to read each of defendants’ 9 summary judgment motions. The Court concluded that, “even assuming the grand coincidence of nine identical time entries, billing twenty-seven hours to read nine substantially similar motions is excessive.” The Court also found that, perhaps because one of plaintiffs’ attorneys was in over his head, the attorney conducted a lot of “treadmill” work in a case that should have been straightforward. For example, the billing records showed 15 months of case development before the complaints were even filed—complaints which failed to meet basic pleading standards. The Court found that such excessiveness warranted a 20% reduction in the requested hours.

Billing for administrative work warranted further reductions. The Court reduced the hours of a legal assistant by 250 hours and plaintiffs’ counsel by 50 hours because entries for work such as scheduling and attendance at interoffice meetings should not have been billed.

Finally, the Court reduced the total fee award by 30% to account for plaintiffs’ limited success. In the Court’s view, counsel’s engagement “in a variety of unnecessary, time-consuming and expensive maneuvers that did not ultimately achieve success,” as well as receiving a small fraction of the relief sought, warranted the reduction.

As to costs, the Court reduced the requested reimbursement by $6,062.33 to account for costs associated with the improper bills discussed above, such as unrelated deposition costs. Moreover, the Court disallowed costs associated with expert witnesses, which amounted to $45,000.

In sum, plaintiffs were awarded $420,102.38 in fees and $51,263.40 in costs. These totals reflected a 59% reduction in fees and a 50% reduction in costs. This case displays several factors that may lead a court to reduce a fee request. For example, lack of competence in performing tasks such as drafting complaints and discovery requests may warrant reductions. Moreover, the case suggests that time spent on tasks such as converting discovery data, scheduling, and attending interoffice meetings should not be billed, or, at least, should be closely scrutinized for excessiveness. This case is also a classic example of a fee request reduced to account for limited success.

Miller v. Food Concepts Int’l, LP, No. 2:13-CV-00124, 2017 WL 5247542 (S.D. Ohio Nov. 13 2017)

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