Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Re: Plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees and costs concerning its request for records concerning the calculation of plaintiffs' retirement benefits Disposition: Granting plaintiff's motion for an award of attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $66,251.90 ($64,449.89 for attorney's fees and $1,802.01 for additional costs)
- Attorney Fees, Entitlement: The court "finds that Plaintiffs have established their entitlement to a fee award." The court notes that "[d]efendant does not contest that Plaintiffs are eligible for a fee award in that they substantially prevailed in the litigation." "Defendant contends however, that Plaintiffs are not entitled to such award." The court explains that, "[d]efendant argues that Plaintiffs are not entitled to a fee award after evaluating these factors because they sought records related to the calculation of their retirement benefits for a purely private interest or benefit and used the FOIA request as a substitute for discovery in the administrative proceedings related to the calculation of their retirement benefits." "Defendant also maintains that it did not intentionally withhold records and had a colorable basis in law for its position in the litigation." The court "finds the agency's conduct constituted an unreasonable withholding of documents and is a most significant, if not potentially determinative factor, justifying an award of fees and costs in this case." Additionally, the court "finds that Plaintiffs sufficiently have satisfied the other three (3) factors, all of which address the public versus private nature of Plaintiffs' interest in the litigation." The court explains that, "Plaintiffs' persistence in this litigation, involvement with the railroad retiree community, and communications about the lawsuit confer a public benefit, in addition to a private one. Plaintiffs financed this litigation themselves, and their expressions of intent to benefit other railroad retirees and change the agency's culture, as well as to understand why their benefits were reduced, are supported by the record."
- Attorney Fees, Calculations: The court awards plaintiffs $64,449.89 in attorney's fees and $1,802.01 in costs. The court notes that "[t]he degree of success is an important factor in determining the amount of fees to be awarded," and "[t]he court is of the opinion that Plaintiffs' success in this litigation is significant." The court then explains that "[t]o determine a reasonable hourly rate, the court looks to the prevailing market rate in the relevant community." The court "finds that Plaintiffs' counsel has provided ample support that the rates he charged and that Plaintiffs seek to recover in this lengthy, complex case are reasonable." Plaintiff's counsel supplied "his own affidavit, the affidavit of another attorney familiar with rates charged in the local community for similar services, and several court decisions awarding him fees to support recovery of fees at his customary rate, as well as the rates billed for work performed by his associate and paralegals." The court "also bases its determinations with regard to the [amount of the] fee award on the thorough job counsel has done of explaining his billing practices, providing the court with supporting documentation and authority, and describing and justifying the various expenditures of time." The court also "permit[s] Plaintiffs to recover their costs for computer research in this FOIA case," as well as "for all photocopies" although it reduces this amount for photocopies "by half."
Updated August 6, 2014