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Am. Oversight v. DOJ, No. 17-727, 2019 WL 1330481 (D.D.C. Mar. 25, 2019) (Moss, J.)


Am. Oversight v. DOJ, No. 17-727, 2019 WL 1330481 (D.D.C. Mar. 25, 2019) (Moss, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning Attorney General Jeff Sessions's disclosure of any contacts with Russian officials in connection with his security clearance process, as well as documents concerning reported communications between White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and FBI regarding press reports of contacts between Russian nationals and individuals associated with Trump campaign

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part plaintiff's motion for attorney fees; awarding plaintiff $16,061.96 in attorney fees, $5,501.61 in fees-on-fees, and $769.69 in costs

  • Attorney Fees, Eligibility:  "Because the Court required the FBI to produce non-exempt documents relevant to both the Sessions request and the Priebus request by set dates, the Court concludes that Plaintiff 'obtained relief through . . . a judicial order,' and [plaintiff] is, accordingly, eligible for an award of attorneys' fees."  The court finds that "even if Defendants were already 'processing' the records, nothing in [defendant's] declaration suggests that the FBI planned to produce the relevant records on the same timeline as the one adopted by the Court, absent this litigation."  "But, more importantly, Plaintiff could still satisfy the judicial-order requirement by showing that the Court issued an order adopting an existing production schedule."  "Defendants' contention that the Court 'adopted in full DOJ's processing proposal,' . . . is therefore 'besides the point.'"  "Regardless of who proposed the schedule, '[o]nce an order has been adopted by the court, requiring the agency to release documents, the legal relationship between the parties changes.'"
  • Attorney Fees, Entitlement:  The court holds that "[plaintiff] is both eligible and entitled to an award of fees and costs . . . ."  "None of the four entitlement factors 'is dispositive.'"  "Here, however, the first three factors tip decidedly in favor of awarding fees in favor of [plaintiff], and the fourth factor tips, if at all, slightly in the same direction."  The court finds that "[f]actor one . . . weighs in favor of an award of attorneys' fees[]" because "[t]he question whether Attorney General Sessions listed any contacts with Russian government officials on his SF-86 form was a matter of substantial interest in the media, and the release of his SF-86 was the focus of extensive reporting."  Regarding the second and third factors, the court finds that "[plaintiff] is a non-profit with a 'mission of promoting government transparency and accountability,' . . . and the government does not contest that these factors weigh in favor of the Plaintiff."  Regarding the fourth factor, the court holds that "this is not a case in which fees are unavailable because the government's position was 'correct as a matter of law,' . . . nor it a case in which the government acted in bad faith or in a defiant or intractable manner."  "The Court is cognizant that the Department 'voluntarily' released the portion of the SF-86 at issue and that the Court never held that the release was required by FOIA."  "As the Court previously explained, it is not surprising that it would take some time for senior Department officials to consider, and to decide, whether to release the form."  "That does not explain, however, the delay in releasing the records responsive to [one] request, and it does not explain why the FBI took a month to decide even whether expedited processing of either request was warranted."
  • Attorney Fees, Calculations:  First, "[t]he Court will . . . discount the fee award by one-third to address overstaffing."  "The Court is unpersuaded . . . that attorneys' fees of almost $20,000 for attending three status conferences and conferring with opposing counsel is reasonable."  Second, "[t]he Court . . . concludes that the fee award should not be reduced based on the results that [plaintiff] achieved."  "The Court is unpersuaded . . . that [plaintiff] suffered the litigation setbacks that Defendants posit."  "As discussed at greater length above, [plaintiff] succeeded in obtaining judicial orders that ensured that the FBI would expeditiously respond to their FOIA requests."  "The fact that the Court did not adopt the specific scheduled proposed by [plaintiff] at the status conferences does not substantially undercut that victory."  Finally, the court finds that, "[g]iven that [plaintiff] prevailed in this case and has prevailed at least in part on its fees petition, the Court sees no basis to depart from the 'settled' rule in this circuit that '[h]ours reasonably devoted to a request for fees are compensable.'"  However, "the Court will apply the same one-third reduction to [plaintiff's] request for 'fees on fees' that it will apply to [plaintiff's] principal fees petition."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Updated January 11, 2022