Federal District Court: Limited success justifies an 80% reduction of requested attorneys’ fees award

Posted on January 29th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors

In a recent decision, the Northern District of California, [Moralez v Whole Foods Mkt., Inc., 2013 WL 3967639 [ND Cal July, 2013] reduced requested attorneys’ fees by 80%, due to the plaintiff’s limited success on the merits and poor descriptions of services.

In March 2012 a wheelchair user brought an action against Whole Foods Market, Inc. and others, alleging that the store violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and similar laws.  The Court granted in part defendants’ Motion to Dismiss as to claims against the store, because of a recent class-action settlement involving the store.  The claims against the premises owner were settled when the plaintiff accepted only $20,000 in damages.  Following this settlement, however, the plaintiff brought a Motion for Attorneys’ Fees in the amount of $167,431, plus litigation expenses and costs.  Further, the plaintiff requested an additional $13,712 for 27.7 hours billed by one of the associates working on the reply brief on the Motion for Attorneys’ Fees.

In rejecting the reasonableness of the $167,431 attorneys’ fees request, the Court held that when it is impossible to distinguish the time spent on each defendant, it is inappropriate for the Court “to award fees against one defendant for time spent litigating against another.” The Court further excluded 6.9 hours billed by four of the timekeepers, due to their clerical nature, stating that clerical hours are not recoverable because they are considered overhead costs.  The Court further reduced requested attorneys’ fees by 80 percent, due to the limited success achieved, taking into account that this case “did not have any broad public impact or result in significant benefit to anyone” except the plaintiff.

The lesson to be learned here is that despite the courts’ tendency to encourage “competent attorneys to handle ADA Title III cases,” in awarding attorneys’ fees courts will take into account whether the fees are well described, as well as the proportionality of the result to the fees requested.

Enisa Tutovic

Legal Fee Advisors © 2014

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