US District Court in California Applies a Lodestar Adjustment and Reduces Attorney Fees Sought by Nearly $700,000

Posted on July 30th, 2014 by Legal Fee Advisors

In a July 2014 decision in a disability access case, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California reduced the amount of attorney fees sought by the plaintiff from $1,444,513.84 to $758,153.89.  The Court used a two-step method to calculate a reasonable fee award.  The first step was to determine a presumptive fee award or lodestar figure.  The second step involved determining if this matter warranted an enhancement or reduction to the lodestar figure based on factors that were not taken into account in the initial calculation.  (Rodriguez v. Barrita, Inc., C 09-04057 RS, 2014 WL 2967925 (N.D. Cal. July 1, 2014)).

In conducting the first step of their analysis, the Court established that the fees sought by plaintiff contained several infirmities that warranted a 4.5% reduction.  These included instances of unnecessary co-counsel conferencing, attorneys observing unrelated trials to “evaluate and determine motions in limine and jury instructions, etc,” and excessive amounts of hours spent on various motions.   Rodriguez, 2014 WL 2967925.

The majority of the U.S. District Court’s opinion focused on the second part of the analysis and discussed whether or not a lodestar adjustment was warranted in this matter.  The plaintiff asked the Court to invoke a state law multiplier and increase the lodestar amount while the defendants sought to reduce the fee award due to plaintiff’s partial success in the underlying matter.  In California, courts in attorney fee matters have the discretion to use a “lodestar multiplier when the litigation involved a contingent risk or required extraordinary legal skill justifying augmentation of the unadorned lodestar in order to approximate the fair market rate for such services.”  Rodriguez, 2014 WL 2967925.  In denying plaintiff’s request for a multiplier, the Court concluded that counsel’s skill was already evidenced by their high fees, and the difficulty of the matter was represented in the significant number of hours logged.

The Court approved defendant’s request for a lodestar reduction because it felt the time spent on the litigation was disproportionate to the results ultimately obtained.  The Court determined that the award should be reduced because counsel was able to obtain injunctive relief as to only three of the numerous disability barriers plaintiff sought at trial.  However, the U.S. District Court somewhat limited the reduction because it determined that the outcome of the lawsuit positively affected the public as a whole in that other disabled individuals would benefit from plaintiff’s successful claims.  As a result, the Court applied a 20% reduction to the lodestar figure.  Rodriguez, 2014 WL 2967925.

As the Rodriguez decision illustrates, in those jurisdictions which allow a lodestar adjustment to attorney fees, courts are willing to look outside just counsel rates and the hours spent in determining a reasonable and equitable award.

M. Racanelli

Legal Fee Advisors © 2014

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