New York Federal Court Reduces Attorney Fees from $238,000 to $54,000
Posted on May 13th, 2015 by Legal Fee Advisors
A plaintiff in a civil rights lawsuit over the denial of a handgun permit had its request for attorney fees slashed by more than $184,000. In a March 2015 decision, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York drastically reduced the fee award because some of the attorneys’ billing entries were impermissibly vague, plaintiff sought to be compensated at attorney rates for tasks capable of performance by clerical or paralegal staff, and a duplication of efforts by multiple attorneys on many of the tasks performed. (Osterweil v. Bartlett, No. 1:09-CV-825 MAD/CFH, 2015 WL 1066404 (N.D.N.Y. Mar. 11, 2015)).
The plaintiff in the Osterweil case was a resident of New York who applied for handgun permit but subsequently moved his primary residence to Louisiana, while keeping his New York home as a part-time vacation residence. As a result, the defendant, the handgun licensing officer, denied the application based on the plaintiff no longer having a domicile in New York. Plaintiff brought suit in New York federal court claiming his civils rights were violated under the United States Constitution, the New York State Constitution, and the New York State Civil Rights Law. Plaintiff ultimately prevailed and now seeks attorneys’ fees in the amount of $238,871.32. Osterweil, 2015 WL 1066404.
The Court vigorously examined the attorneys’ billing records in order to determine their reasonableness. The U.S. District Court found that many of the billing entries were “mixed-class” or block billed, but held that they were “not so cluttered or entangled as to prevent the Court from meaningfully reviewing whether the time spent on each task was excessive.” However, many time entries were found to be impermissibly vague and the Court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that the entries were “properly redacted to protect privileged communications and attorney work product.” The Court also applied a reduced rate for many tasks “capable of performance by clerical or paralegal staff.” These tasks included: preparation and filing of notice of appearance; preparation and filing of the Second Circuit’s brief administrative forms; filing of various scheduling notifications; conferral with the court regarding filings; preparation and filing of oral argument statement; and preparation of counsel’s pro hac vice motions. The Court also stated that the “review of counsels’ records reveals a duplication of efforts by multiple attorneys on many of the tasks performed.” Such tasks included time spent drafting and editing an appellate brief, preparing a simple opposition to a motion to extend time, and preparing for oral argument before the Second Circuit. Osterweil, 2015 WL 1066404.
After all the above-discussed reductions, the Court awarded plaintiff only $54,305.65 of its originally requested $238,871.32 in attorneys’ fees.