Hourly Rates Reduced and Reductions Made by New York Federal Court for Attorney’s Lack of Billing Judgment

Posted on November 11th, 2016 by Legal Fee Advisors

By Kristen Sisko

In a Title VII retaliation dispute, the Western District of New York Court reduced fees submitted on a fee petition finding that the hourly rates sought by counsel were higher than rates typically allowed in the context of this type of litigation; the fees reflected excessive staffing; counsel did not exercise sufficient billing judgment; and the time reflected for consulting services was vague.

Under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, plaintiffs sought to recover $752,835.75 in fees, plus an additional $32,817 in fees incurred during a supplemental fee application, as well as $31,892.96 in costs and expenses. The defendants argued that the hourly rates sought by plaintiffs were unreasonable, the fee entries were vague, and the amount of time spent on various aspects of the litigation was unreasonable, inflated, duplicative and unnecessary. The Court reduced the hourly rates sought, reasoning that the case was not particularly complex (in that it involved a single cause of action) and that plaintiff’s counsel did not typically represent plaintiffs in an employment discrimination context, and so should not be entitled to the higher rates that are allowed in such a context.

The Court agreed with the defendants, finding certain vague and duplicative entries as well as unnecessary fees. Finding that time entries were “replete with vague descriptions of tasks performed”, the Court noted that “[a]ny paying client would require further detail” before paying “for such ambiguous services.” It is significant to note that the Court used the benchmark of a hypothetical “paying” commercial client to determine the reasonableness of description.

The Court further found that the case did not warrant the number of attorneys involved, holding that three senior attorneys along with a paralegal and another timekeeper was excessive.  Citing examples, such as where two attorneys each charged for one hour when neither really had any involvement in the case or “who were plainly only tangentially involved in the case,” the Court concluded that “Plaintiff’s counsel’s billing records suggests that they really have not exercised any type of billing judgment.” Finally, the Court reviewed the plaintiff’s supplemental fee application and found that over 50% of the time incurred was spent on the litigation of an unsuccessful and unnecessary motion to re-open discovery. These billing issues allowed the Court to conclude that a 40% overall reduction to the initial fee application and a 60% reduction to the supplement fee application was warranted.

Additionally, the Court found that costs, with the exception of consulting services, were reasonable and appropriate. The Court held that the time reflected on invoices for consulting services contained vague descriptions and warranted an across-the-board reduction of 40%.

For these reasons, the Court reduced the total requested fees to $406,163.15 (an approximate 48% reduction from $785,652.75) and total costs to $20,174.76 for a total award of $426,337.91. This case demonstrates the importance for firms in exercising reasonable billing judgment. The courts are likely to look harshly upon fee applications that are littered with vague and ambiguous descriptions and replete with excessive staffing.


Costa v. Sears Home Improvement Prod., Inc., No. 6:12-CV-6235 EAW, 2016 WL 5266524 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 22, 2016)


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