Det. Watch Network v. ICE, No. 14-583, 2019 WL 442453 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 5, 2019) (Schofield, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning policy of maintaining certain numerical level of detention
Disposition: Granting plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees in part
- Attorney Fees, Eligibility: The court relates that "[n]o party disputes Plaintiffs' eligibility, as Plaintiffs substantially prevailed by obtaining relief through a judicial order which survived . . . efforts to challenge it on appeal."
- Attorney Fees, Entitlement: The court relates that "[t]he parties similarly do not contest that Plaintiffs are 'entitled.'" "Plaintiffs are entitled to fees and costs because the overall weight of the four entitlement criteria is in their favor." "First, the public benefits from learning about the Government’s practices with regard to private prison contractors and the use of guaranteed minimums." "Plaintiffs have published the information they obtained through the FOIA requests." "Second, Plaintiffs did not realize any commercial benefit from this action." "Third, Plaintiffs sought the Government's records '[t]o vindicate the public's right to information about immigration detention and enforcement practices.'" "Fourth, and finally, the Government had a reasonable basis for withholding the requested information while the case was on appeal because this Court had issued a stay on the production of documents." "While this final factor favors the Government, the first three criteria weigh strongly in favor of Plaintiffs."
- Attorney Fees: The court holds that "FOIA's plain language, purpose, case law and principles of equity thus support the award of fees and costs for the prevailing party in this FOIA litigation [– Plaintiffs –] against the Government." The court relates that "[p]laintiffs contend that the Government – or in the alternative . . . intervenors – should pay Plaintiffs' attorneys' fees and costs incurred litigating this action in the Second Circuit and Supreme Court." "The Government counters that it is not responsible for such fees because the Government was not a party to the appeal and its interests were not aligned with [the intervenors]." The court finds that "[t]he plain language of FOIA's fee-shifting provision is clear – this Court 'may assess against the United States reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred in any case under [FOIA] in which the complainant has substantially prevailed.'" The court also finds that "FOIA's goals are better served by reimbursing Plaintiffs for reasonable fees and costs incurred on appeal, particularly when Plaintiffs were appellees and prevailed in the district court." Also, the court finds that "principles of equity further support holding the Government responsible for fees." "Plaintiffs disseminated the information gained through their FOIA action to the public." The court also rejects defendant's argument "for the application of a 'bright-line rule' that does not permit the award of fees against it for phases of litigation when a plaintiff is actively opposed only by third parties." The court reasons that "the intervenors here – not Plaintiffs – pursued this litigation." "Plaintiffs litigated on appeal out of necessity to defend their judgment."