Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. DOJ, No. 11-374, 2015 WL 545991 (D.D.C. Feb. 11, 2015) (Cooper, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning agency's investigation and prosecution of prominent lobbyist who pled guilty to federal campaign finance law violations
Disposition: Granting plaintiff's motion for attorney fees and costs; awarding plaintiff $34,668 in attorney fees and $350 in costs
- Attorney Fees, Calculations: "[T]he Court will award [plaintiff] attorney fees in the amount of $27,919 . . . for its litigation of the underlying case" and "$6,749 . . . for its litigation of this fee petition." "With an additional $350 in costs, the total award amounts to $35,018." The court first notes that "the parties agree that [plaintiff] is entitled to some award, and DOJ does not challenge the number of hours for which [plaintiff] seeks compensation, the only question is what hourly rates to use to calculate the award." The court notes that, "[a]s public interest lawyers, [plaintiff's] attorneys do not have standard hourly rates." "[Plaintiff] therefore requests that the Court calculate the award based on the prevailing market rate for complex federal litigation services." "[Plaintiff] urges the Court to rely on a matrix of hourly fees for complex federal litigation performed by attorneys in Washington D.C. law firms" known as "the 'LSI-adjusted Laffey matrix.'" Defendant "asks the Court to apply a version of the matrix maintained by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia." "[T]he Court is persuaded that the LSI-adjusted Laffey matrix, while imperfect, offers a better methodology for estimating prevailing market rates for complex federal litigation in Washington, D.C." The court explains "that the LSI-adjusted Laffey matrix–even if it does not capture the precise types of litigation services involved in this case–likely offers a better approximation of D.C. rates for the relevant services than a matrix adjusted using a general inflation index." "The Court [notes that it] still must assess whether the rates reflected in the LSI-adjusted Laffey matrix are reasonable for the attorneys involved and the services rendered in this case." The court "look[s] to law firm billing rates as a benchmark for the reasonableness of the rates proposed here." However, the court finds that, "[w]hile law firm billing rate surveys are a natural source of comparative data in assessing overall rates and trends, their utility in determining a prevailing rate for a specific lawyer providing a particular legal service is limited." "At the end of the day, the Court must assess whether the fees requested by CREW are consistent with those that would be paid to 'lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation' in the Washington, D.C. legal market." The court finds that "[i]t is uncontested that [plaintiff']s lawyers in this matter are experienced, national experts in FOIA litigation." "The case also involves a matter of national public interest." "And the litigation required to overcome DOJ's categorical withholding of potentially responsive records is aptly described as 'complex.'" "[T]he Court will use as a starting point the LSI-adjusted Laffey matrix," but "reduce those rates by 15 percent, . . . to account for the differences between reported rates and actual law firm billing realization."