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Court Cuts Fee Request of $932,900 to $74,000

Posted by Judie Bronsther | Mar 31, 2015 | 0 Comments

In Walton v Dawson (Dist. Court, ED Missouri 2015), the Court found that the Plaintiff's fee request of $932,900 was unreasonable. Among the reasons that the court drastically reduced the fee award were:

 

1)    The Court excluded the time of an attorney whose primary role was to prepare a witness for trial since there were three other attorneys of record who could have prepared the witness.

2)     The hours spent by the attorneys were determined to be grossly excessive. Examples given were 545 hours researching the case prior to the interlocutory appeal, including 140 hours before the original complaint was filed.

3)    There was excessive duplication in effort, including extraordinary number of telephone calls and conferences among various attorneys, and the participation of more than one attorney in activities that easily could have been handled by one.

4)    Inadequate Billing Entries that were vague and billed in full hour billing increments resulted in the denial of all fees for legal assistants.

5)    Hourly rates requested were unreasonable. Plaintiff's reliance on a prior case, the Laffey Matrix and a billing rate survey published in Missouri Lawyer's Weekly were not sufficient to support the requested hourly rates. The Court reasoned that the attorneys were not entitled to the rates of St. Louis attorneys as they offered no evidence to prove that it was impossible to find counsel in the relevant locality, Plaintiff's attorneys did not have extensive experience litigating Section 1983 cases and, based on affidavits submitted by the Defendant, rates of attorneys in the relevant community were significantly less than those requested. Of note, the Court found one of the attorney's rate of $150 to be reasonable in 2007 and in the case at hand (eight years later) found a rate of $160 to be reasonable.

6)    Plaintiff was awarded 2.4% of his pretrial award and even though damage awards do not reflect fully the public benefit advanced by civil rights litigation, the Court found that this level of success necessitated a reduction in the lodestar.   

 

In total, the Court reduced the fee award by over 92%. If you are submitting or opposing a motion for attorney's fee and costs, review this case and see how this Court carefully reviewed each of the elements of the lodestar and determined that the legal fees were unreasonable.

About the Author

Judie Bronsther

Ms. Bronsther began her career in 1979 as an associate with Finley, Kumble, Wagner, Heine, Manley & Underberg specializing in corporate finance. In 1984, she joined forces with a client, Empire Securities, a brokerage house specializing in oil and gas transactions, and became Executive Vice President and General Counsel. In 1989, she joined Kaye, Scholer, Fierman, Hayes and Handler. Ms. Bronsther graduated from University of Rochester, magna cum laude, and New York University School of Law. Ms. Bronsther has written extensively on the subject of legal cost control and lectures frequently on this subject.

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