Warning to Attorneys: Don’t Block Bill! Mississippi Court Slashes $1.2M Fee Request in Half

Posted on September 25th, 2018 by Legal Fee Advisors

By Zachary Kalmbach.

A federal court in Mississippi slashed a fee request in half because of improper billing practices such as block billing. This fee dispute stems from a years-long, “extremely contentious litigation” between KLLM Transport Services (“KLLM”) and JBS Carriers (“JBS”). KLLM alleged that JBS tortuously interfered with KLLM’s trucking contract with a chicken processing company, and the parties ultimately settled the case. KLLM, however, later sued JBS for violating the terms of the settlement agreement, and the jury awarded KLLM $36,950 in compensatory and $900,000 in punitive damages. KLLM requested an award of $1,232,701.50 in attorneys’ fees and $84,910.23 in costs. Due to several issues with KLLM’s fee petition, the Court reduced fees by 49% and expenses by 38%.

JBS highlighted a variety of problems with KLLM’s entries such as block billing, excessive and duplicative time, unreasonable expenditures of time preparing pleadings and preparing for hearings, expert witnesses who were not called, and all entries related to electronically stored information. According toJBS, the maximum amount of fees to which KLLM was entitled to was $634,265.92. The Court accepted JBS’s contention that $634,265.92 was the maximum amount that KLLM could be awarded. Other than block-billing, the Court did not go into detail as to each of the issues highlighted by JBS.

As to block billing, the Court found that many of KLLM’s entries were improperly block-billed and quoted several entries throughout the decision. For example, one of KLLM’s attorneys billed 7.7 hours for 8 different tasks, with no indication as to how much time was spent on each task. The Court found that the quoted entries represented only “a fraction” of KLLM’s block-billed entries. The Court found that such entries “[did] not give [the Court] the requisite specificity required to determine whether the time spent was ‘reasonably expended’ in prosecuting KLLM’s case.” Accordingly, block-billing resulted in significant reductions.

The Court also reduced KLLM’s requested expenses, finding that KLLM was not allowed to recover costs for its expert witnesses who never testified at trial. The deductions totaled $32,402.17 and resulted in a total expense award of $52,158.06.

In sum, the Court awarded KLLM $634,265.92 in fees and $52,158.06 in expenses. This represented a 49% fee reduction and 38% reduction in expenses. In this case, the Court relied on JBS’s detailed objection to KLLM’s fee request, and reduced fees to the exact amount that JBS recommended. The Court appeared to be especially troubled by KLLM’s practice of block billing. Attorneys should look to this case for an example of a well-prepared fee objection as well as a warning against block billing.

KLLM Transp. Servs., LLC v. JBS Carriers, Inc., No. 3:12-CV-116-HTW-LRA, 2018 WL 1137512 (S.D. Miss. Feb. 28, 2018)

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