Attorney’s fees reduced by more than 75% due to lack of reasonableness

Posted on March 12th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors

In a recent decision, the United States District Judge for the District of Colorado, William J. Martinez, awarded $53,391.76 in attorney fees, following more than 75% reduction of the fees sought (Strachan v Pandaw Cruises India Pvt. Ltd., No. 10-CV-02593-WJM-KLM, 2013 WL 5651399 [D Colo Oct. 15, 2013]).

This case started as a copyright action brought by an American corporation and its principal against various entities in India.  A settlement was ultimately reached between the American corporation and the Indian corporations. Even though the settlement did not include the principal of the American corporation, he stopped participating in the case, and his claims were dismissed due to failure to prosecute. The Indian Corporation moved for summary judgment against the principal for breach of contract, unjust enrichment and abuse of process. The court granted summary judgment for the abuse of process claim, and awarded damages to the counter-plaintiffs in the amount of their attorney’s fees and costs. The affidavit submitted by counter-plaintiffs stated that they have expended $234,780.79 on attorneys’ fees and costs.  Guided by the principle of reasonableness, the District Court significantly reduced the attorney’s fees award.

In reviewing the fee affidavit, the District Court declined to award $17,213.76 for work performed by the counsel in India, due to lack of information provided. The hours submitted by the Indian counsel only listed four tasks, and did not contain descriptions and hours expended on each of them. The remaining $217,567.03 covered work of three United States attorneys. And despite their hourly rate being reasonable, the court found 743.69 hours billed by the attorneys to be “the most egregious over-larded petition for attorney’s fees the Court has ever seen.” Upon considering multiple factors, including complexity of the case and the actual work completed by the attorneys, the court further reduced the requested hours by 75 percent, and awarded $53,391.76.

There is a lesson here.  Regardless of the nature of the underlying case, attorney fee awards should be reasonable. Even though the Court awarded damages to the counter-plaintiffs in the amount of the attorney fees and costs, the court reviewed in detail the fee application and focused on “what did not occur” in this case. Attorneys were required to appear only for scheduling and status conferences, each of which they participated over the phone, and as such, the Court found that awarding $217,567.03 for this case with no travel for appearances or even discovery exchanges would be clearly excessive.

Enisa Tutovic

Legal Fee Advisors © 2014

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