Pennsylvania District Court Halves Attorneys’ fees in a Students’ Civil Rights Case

Posted on August 6th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors

A recent Pennsylvania District Court decision awarded attorneys’ fees in the amount of $70,948.89, which constituted a 50% reduction of the $140,682.00 originally requested. The federal judge ruled that the fees were duplicative, unnecessary, and unreasonable due to the amount of hours spent on the same type of work, redundant staffing at hearings, and the use of counsel that had unjustifiable high hourly rates.[1] In this case the legal fees were submitted by the attorneys representing the parents of a seventh grade girl who was refused a position on the all-male junior high wrestling team. The court held that the Line Mountain Policy that prevented female athletes from joining all male-teams when there was no equivalent female-team was a violation of the students’ civil rights[2].  As a part of the verdict, the non-prevailing party was required to the pay the attorney’s fees but the prevailing party still had the burden to prove that the fees were reasonable.

There were five attorneys, whose hourly rates varied from $525 to $230, who billed a total of 337.3 hours working on this matter[3].  A review of the attorney’s bills revealed that there were numerous hours spent on reviewing each other’s work as well as overlapping hours spent on the exact same tasks.  The Court found this practice to be duplicative and excessive stating, “two experienced attorneys with self-asserted expertise in the area of law need not extensively review one another’s work, as skilled counsel should handle complicated tasks on her own[4].”

In addition, the Court also disapproved of the managing attorney’s attendance at the November hearing. The Judge claimed that the attorney played no more than a spectator role and she merely provided administrative support to the attorney who conducted the entire hearing.  Even if the Judge conceded that another attorney’s presence was necessary he felt it could have been handled by an associate with a lower hourly rate[5]. Therefore, all of her time spent on the hearing including her cost for traveling was reduced.  Lastly, the Judge felt that the parents did not do enough to find local counsel and stated that the parents’ attorneys “were not so experienced that there was a need to draw counsel from a distant district for this matter[6].” The attorneys’ rates were reduced by approximately 40% to reflect more closely the hourly rates charged by local counsel.

This case illustrates how far courts are willing to go in reducing attorney fees when there is a prevalence of duplicative and unnecessary work by attorneys.  In this case, the attorneys were billing for multiple tasks that could have been completed by one attorney, sending multiple attorneys to hearings which was not necessary, and were billing at much too high a rate for the tasks being completed. These types of inefficient billing practices lead to excessive legal fees that the courts are increasingly willing to deem unreasonable.


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[1] Strawser, Justin (July 10, 2014) “Judge Slashes Beattie Lawyer’s $525 Hourly Rate 40%”. The Daily Item Retrieved July 13, 2014

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

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