Elec. Frontier Found. v. DHS, No. 12-5580, 2014 WL 6469122 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 18, 2014) (Hamilton, J.)
Re: Motion for attorney fees and costs arising from request for records concerning CBP's use of unmanned aircraft systems
Disposition: Granting plaintiff's motion for attorney fees and costs
- Attorney Fees, Eligibility: "Based on the fact that defendant began to release records only after the suit was filed, the court finds that plaintiff's suit was indeed a 'catalyst' to the documents' release, and thus, that EFF 'substantially prevailed' on its FOIA claim based on defendant's voluntary change in position." "However, the court does not find that plaintiff has 'substantially prevailed' on its fee waiver claim, for purposes of an attorneys' fee award." The court explains that the "proposed judgment indicating that 'defendant has agreed to grant plaintiff's request ... for a fee waiver,' . . . simply reflects the parties own agreement" and "while defendant did indeed make a 'voluntary or unilateral change in position by the agency,' plaintiff's fee waiver claim was 'insubstantial,' especially as compared to its claim for the wrongful withholding of records."
- Attorney Fees, Entitlement: The court first notes that "the only dispute relates to" "whether the government's withholding of records had a reasonable basis in law." The court holds that "defendant does not attempt to justify the reasonableness of its failure to produce documents pre-suit, except to argue that it never expressly refused to produce records" and, therefore, "defendant's initial withholdings lacked a reasonable basis in law."
- Attorney Fees, Calculations: "Overall, the court finds that the vast majority of the relief obtained by plaintiff came in response to the filing of the complaint itself, and were unrelated to the subsequent proceedings." "The court also notes that plaintiff prevailed on only a small portion of the arguments that it raised in its summary judgment motion." "The court will thus downwardly adjust the amount requested by plaintiff, to account for the limited nature of plaintiff's success in this specific case, and the reasonableness of the hours expended subsequent to the filing of the complaint." "The court finds that an award of $7,500 in fees to be reasonable." "The court will also award the full $436 requested in costs."