Pennsylvania Court Tosses “Absolutely Opprobrious” Fee Request
Posted on June 19th, 2018 by Legal Fee Advisors
By Zachary Kalmbach.
A Pennsylvania judge threw out an entire fee petition after a line-by-line review convinced him that the petition was “outrageously excessive.” Plaintiff brought an action to recover benefits under his automobile insurance policy, and included a bad faith claim. The first claim settled, and a jury entered a verdict for plaintiff on the bad faith claim. Plaintiff requested $902,655 in fees. The Court was so disturbed by the fee petition’s deficiencies that it was rejected in full.
First, the fact that none of the time records were contemporaneous gave the Court “serious concerns.” In fact, a single attorney reconstructed the records for every attorney or staff member over a period of 6 years. The Court emphasized that, although reconstructed time records are acceptable in the 3rd Circuit, every entry would be “scrutinized carefully.”
Further, the Court found that 86% of paralegal hours were too vague, excessive, duplicative, or unnecessary to be allowed. The Court gave many examples of such entries, such as those with vague descriptions like “file maintenance,” “communicate,” and “other.” Moreover, many entries simply referred to “correspondence received,” with no sign that any action was taken with respect to the correspondence. Entries referring to phone calls with no identification as to the subject of the calls were also excluded, as were numerous entries reflecting time spent on administrative tasks such as mailing, faxing, or filing documents.
In addition to the reduction to paralegal hours, the Court disallowed 84% of attorney hours as vague, redundant, excessive, or unnecessary. For example, many entries simply stated, “attorney review,” with no description of what was being reviewed. Further, a number of entries described non-compensable administrative work such as “document preparation.” In addition to many other improper entries described by the Court, there were several entries for conferences for which each of the participating attorneys billed, despite the non-complexity of the case. The Court concluded that, while such conferences may serve a purpose when multiple attorneys work on the same case, because the case was not complex and no necessity was shown for the conferences, such billing was not allowed.
Most disturbing was an “astonishing” 562 hours billed for trial preparation. On several days, counsel billed over 20 hours per day for such work. The Court observed, “[i]f counsel did nothing else for eight hours a day, every day, this would mean that counsel spent approximately 70 days doing nothing but preparing for the trial.” The Court found this was unacceptable for a case involving only one issue, 5 witnesses, and the fact that during trial counsel had to be repeatedly reprimanded for not being prepared. Accordingly, the Court disallowed all fees for trial preparation as “outrageous and abusively excessive.”
To the Court’s dismay, counsel also requested a fee enhancement. “Considering the absolutely opprobrious request for interest and fees,” the Court found that the request for an enhancement was “beyond shameless.”
Finally, only one attorney provided any information for the Court to determine her reasonable rate. Thus, the Court found that every other attorney failed to meet their initial burden to demonstrate the reasonableness of their hourly rates, and disallowed fees for each attorney.
In sum, the petition for fees was “woefully deficient.” Whether the deficiencies were “the result of gross negligence or some level of fraud upon the court,” the Court was convinced that the hours billed were outrageously excessive. Based on counsel’s “amateurish” performance at trial and the low quality of the fee petition, the Court exercised its discretion to deny the petition in its entirety. Attorneys should view this case as a warning that filing deficient fee petitions can lead to enormous consequences.
Clemens v. New York Cent. Mut. Fire Ins. Co., 264 F. Supp. 3d 618 (M.D. Pa. 2017)
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