Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. FEC, No. 11-951, 2014 WL 4380292 (D.D.C. Sept. 5, 2014) (Kollar-Kotelly, J.)
Re: Request for communications between three FEC commissioners and individuals and entities outside of FEC, as well as calendars and other recordation of meetings and appointments of these commissioners
Disposition: Adopting Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation and granting plaintiff's motion for attorney fees and costs; awarding plaintiff additional $13,260.30 for attorney fees expended in preparing response to defendant's objections to Report and Recommendation, for total attorney fee award of $153,258.98 and $500 in costs
- Attorney Fees, Eligibility: The court holds that plaintiff is eligible for attorney fees and finds that "[d]efendant's argument is flawed because, as the Report and Recommendation properly describes, a plaintiff in this Circuit may establish that he or she has substantially prevailed by obtaining a ruling that will force an agency to more fully comply with FOIA, even if such a ruling does not require the actual release of the requested documents in that matter." Here, the court finds that "[plaintiff] had substantially prevailed by virtue of its favorable appellate decision, regardless of the fact that neither the D.C. Circuit nor this Court ultimately issued an order requiring the FEC to provide [plaintiff] with the requested documents." Instead, the court notes that the "D.C. Circuit clarified that [plaintiff's] request could be litigated in this Court because the FEC had not provided [plaintiff] with a determination within the meaning of the statute."
- Attorney Fees, Entitlement: The court holds that "weighing all four factors as a whole, the Court finds that [plaintiff] is entitled to attorney fees." The court first finds that defendant effectively conceded the "'the public benefit derived from the case[,] . . . the commercial benefit to the plaintiff, [and] . . . the nature of the plaintiff's interest in the records,'" and, therefore, focuses its analysis on "'the reasonableness of the agency's withholding.'" The court then "finds that the FEC did not act reasonably in withholding documents for two years identified in [plaintiff's] opposition as documents that 'the agency has failed to produce' in its first batch of documents responsive to the narrowed search, and to which the FEC itself has asserted it had no legal basis to withhold." The court also "declines to exercise its discretion to deny the fee request for two reasons." "First, as indicated supra, [plaintiff's] successful appeal led to the FEC's production of documents that were responsive to the mutually-agreed upon narrowed search over two years after the FEC was on notice of [plaintiff's] objections." "Second, [plaintiff's] appeal not only 'facilitate[s] citizen access to the courts to vindicate their statutory rights' by clarifying what an agency must communicate as a 'determination' to a FOIA requester, but also aids the agency by explaining what it must do to fully comply with FOIA."
- Attorney Fees, Calculation: The court notes that "[t]he Report and Recommendation found that [plaintiff] should be awarded the full amount of its requested fees, $139,998.68, and costs, $500." The court disagrees with defendant's objections and finds that "there is no indication that [plaintiff[ engaged in post hoc reconstruction of hours," there is no issue with "[plaintiff's] keeping of time in half-hour and hour increments," and "[plaintiff's] time entries are not vague and insufficient." Additionally, "[t]he Court has determined that it shall award [plaintiff] attorney fees for the hours worked on its response to the FEC's objections using the USAO Laffey Matrix to determine the appropriate rate." Therefore, "the Court has determined that [plaintiff's] attorney fees award shall include $139,998.68 as indicated in the Report and Recommendation, as well as $13,260.30 for attorney fees expended by CREW in preparing its response to the FEC's objections to the Report and Recommendation, for a total attorney fee award of $153,258.98."