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Barton v. U.S. Geological Survey, No. 17-1188, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167501 (D.D.C. Sept. 29, 2019) (Jackson, J.)


Barton v. U.S. Geological Survey, No. 17-1188, 2019 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 167501 (D.D.C. Sept. 29, 2019) (Jackson, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning white tail deer population in Rock Creek Park

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees, awarding plaintiffs $47,298.44 in attorney fees for the underlying litigation, $12,500.00 fees on fees, and $2,097.31 in costs

  • Attorney Fees, Calculations:  The court notes that "Defendants U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Department of the Interior concede that plaintiffs are eligible for and entitled to attorneys' fees, but they maintain that the amount sought is unreasonable."
    The court relates that "Plaintiffs submitted time records detailing the hours expended by each attorney and law clerk for the tasks performed in the case."  The court finds that "[g]iven [one of plaintiff's attorney's] expertise and unique familiarity with the underlying facts, the Court finds that the seventeen hours she billed for the 'background' section of the summary judgment brief is excessive, and it will reduce the amount . . . ."  Additionally, the court finds that "[certain] entries will also be excluded from the calculation of the fee award" because they "are unreasonable since they bear no obvious connection to this litigation."

    Additionally, the court holds that "Plaintiffs' evidence is insufficient to establish that FOIA practitioners in Washington, D.C. receive rates in line with the LSI Matrix for complex federal litigation."  The court finds that "the declarations submitted by plaintiffs fail to establish the prevailing rates for FOIA practitioners in Washington, D.C."  "In addition to the declarations, plaintiffs cite several cases for the proposition that the 'LSI Laffey rates are the appropriate rates to use for the D.C. market.'"  "But that statement overlooks the fact that the LSI Matrix is supposed to apply to complex federal litigation not the general 'D.C. market.'"  "So the two D.C. Circuit cases plaintiffs cite, involving significant class action suits are inapplicable here."  "Accordingly, the Court will utilize the lower USAO Matrix rates."

    Also, regarding administrative tasks, "[w]hile the Court agrees that plaintiffs' counsel should be compensated for these tasks, it finds that using the lawyers' full hourly rates is excessive for non-legal work."  "Therefore, the Court finds that the 2015 USAO hourly rate for paralegals and law clerks . . . is most appropriate for the administrative work completed by [the] attorneys [here] . . . ."

    Finally, regarding fees on fees, the court finds that, "'[w]hile it is settled in this circuit that hours reasonably devoted to a request for fees are compensable, fees on fees must be reasonable, and not excessive.'"  The court finds that "[the fees on fees] amount is nearly half of the total fee award for litigating the merits which is excessive."  The court relates that "[one] Attorney . . . spent almost as much time on the reply brief (13 hours), as she did on the petition for attorneys' fees (15.6 hours), even though the reply brief unnecessarily repeated a number of the same arguments."  "Therefore, in its discretion, the Court will reduce the fees on fees award to $12,500.00, which is more than 25% of the fee for litigating the underlying FOIA matter."
Court Decision Topic(s)
Attorney Fees
District Court opinions
Updated October 21, 2019