Federal District Court Reduces Attorney Fees Award By More Than 65%
Posted on June 12th, 2013 by Legal Fee Advisors
In March, 2013 the United States District Court, for the Eastern District of New York, in the case of Husain v Springer, 41 Media L. Rep. 1760 [EDNY 2013], awarded $204,848.00 in attorney fees to prevailing plaintiffs whose First Amendment rights were ruled violated. The award was a reduction by more than 65 percent of the proposed fees, due to a finding of lack or reasonableness in the submitted billing records.
The plaintiffs, including editors of a College of Staten Island (CSI) student newspaper, (some of whom were also candidates in the CSI student government election), alleged that defendants, associated with the City University of New York, violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by nullifying and rescheduling a CSI student government election in reaction to a student newspaper’s endorsement of a slate of candidate. After years of litigation, the Court of Appeals found that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights were violated, and nominal damages were awarded to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs’ counsel also sought $832,409.67 in fees and costs, determined by multiplying the number of hours spent working on this matter (1,949.1 hours), from May 21, 1997 through January 25, 2011, against each workers’ hourly rate, and then adding costs.
In determining the amount that should be awarded to plaintiffs’ counsel, the Court conducted an extensive analysis of the submitted billing hours and reduced them accordingly. First, the judge determined that $320 is a reasonable hourly rate to be applied for the case, even though counsel’s requested hourly rate was in the $350-$400 range, depending on the year in question. This Court applied the market rate for the year 2010 to all billable hours, because of more than six adjournments by counsel,and delayed submission of his fee motion papers. The judge further reduced counsel’s travel time, by half of the reasonable hourly rate for the year 2010. Second, the court reduced billable hours by 35%, because it ruled that the plaintiff’s counsel did not succeed on a separable claim against the Student Government defendants. Third, the court reduced the remaining 1,266.9 billable attorney hours and 26.5 hours of travel time by 50% on the grounds of  excessiveness of the hours spent on the matter for an attorney with comparable skill, experience and reputation,  usage of block billing and  vague descriptions on the counsel’s billing records. The court also made further reductions in paralegal rates and costs.
This case illustrates how many courts will not hesitate to conduct extensive analysis of submitted billing records and reduce them by amounts of as much as 65 percent, if the court finds a questionable hourly rate, limited success on the merits or a lack of clarity of the submitted billing records.
E. Tutovic | D. Paige
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