Fourth District Court Rules that Attorney Time Spent in Preparing an Administrative Record is Recoverable

Posted on November 19th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors

In a September 2014 case, Division 1 of the Fourth District held that the County of San Diego could recover labor costs expended for an attorney and paralegals to prepare an administrative record.

This case involved a plan for a remediation project at a shooting range, which was approved by the County.  The former owners of the shooting range, collectively called the Otay Ranch parties, alleged that the county violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and Health and Safety Code by implementing the remediation project.[1]  A CEQA record needed to be prepared during the course of this litigation, and this task was initially undertaken by the County, with the understanding that the Otay Ranch parties would pay the costs of preparing the record.[2] When it became clear that the County didn’t have the resources to prepare the administrative record, the County asked a law firm to prepare it.  This task was initially delegated to paralegals, but given that the attorneys were the only ones who could understand the technical complexity of the documents, this task then fell to them.[3]

In preparing the record, the hourly rates charged by the attorneys and paralegals were discounted from their regular rates to $350 and $100 per hour, respectively.[4]   The Otay Ranch parties then argued that attorneys’ fees should not be included in a cost award for preparation of the administrative record, which the County opposed by arguing that “the labor costs of persons with specialized knowledge are recoverable when they are reasonably necessary to prepare an administrative record.”  The trial court agreed with the County that the Otay Ranch parties were responsible for the costs of preparing the record, which the appellate court affirmed, holding that the trial court correctly assessed the reasonableness of the attorneys’ rates, based on the complexity of the case and the skill required.[5]

This case demonstrates a situation where attorneys can be compensated for a task that is deemed administrative, which is something that is usually not allowed.  The court’s holding shows that it is willing to allow attorneys to perform administrative tasks if there are certain complexities in a particular case which demand it.  However, this decision does seem to indicate that, even if attorneys can recover for preparing an administrative record due to case complexities, they cannot recover their full rate.  This is shown by the fact that the County’s attorneys did not recover their full hourly rates for preparing the administrative record.

M. Connelly

Legal Fee Advisors © 2014

[1] Otay Ranch, L.P. v. Cty. of San Diego, 230 Cal. App. 4th 60, 178 Cal. Rptr. 3d 346 (2014)

[2] Id.  at 4.

[3] Id. at 5.

[4] Id. at 20.

[5] Id. at 20.

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