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Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. DEA, No. 15-00667, 2017 WL 3049403 (D.D.C. July 18, 2017) (Cooper, J.)


Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. DEA, No. 15-00667, 2017 WL 3049403 (D.D.C. July 18, 2017) (Cooper, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning internal assessments of how agency's information collection systems affect citizens' privacy

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part plaintiff's motion for attorney fees; awarding plaintiff some of requested amount

  • Attorney Fees, Eligibility:  The court holds that "[one] Order and the DEA's subsequent release of records establishes [plaintiff] as a prevailing party by granting the organization's requested relief."  The court explains that "DEA appears to have engaged meaningfully with [plaintiff] only after the complaint was filed."  "And, even if the DEA was already planning to release its responsive records, the order still changed the legal relationship between the two parties because [plaintiff] had 'an enforceable judgment, and if the [DEA] failed to comply, it faced the sanction of contempt.'"  However, regarding a second order, the court finds that "DEA had a choice between conducting an additional search and submitting a supplemental declaration."  "After the DEA offered its supplemental declaration, the Court granted the DEA summary judgment in full."  "The [second] order therefore did not make [plaintiff] a substantially prevailing party [on that issue]."
  • Attorney Fees, Entitlement:  "Balancing the somewhat-neutral fourth factor against the three others favoring [plaintiff], the Court finds that [plaintiff] is entitled to attorneys' fees under FOIA's fees-shifting provision."  The court first finds that "there was public value to [plaintiff's] request: [plaintiff] sought the privacy assessments because it believed the public should be able to 'assess the government's efforts to protect its privacy and serve as a check against the encroachment on privacy by the government.'"  Also, the court finds that "[it] has no reason to question the determinations of its colleagues that [plaintiff's] non-profit status and journalistic interest warrant an attorney fees award."  Last, the court finds that, "[w]hile the DEA initially failed to fulfill its FOIA obligations in a timely manner, it appears to have acted reasonably and in good-faith ever since."  "It promptly disclosed responsive material well before the court-ordered deadline and remained receptive to [plaintiff's] requests for additional searches."
  • Attorney Fees, Calculations:  First, "[a]fter examining the case law and the supporting evidence offered by both parties, the Court is persuaded that the updated USAO matrix, which covers billing rates from 2015 to 2017, is the most suitable choice here."  "Accordingly, [the court] order[s] [plaintiff] to re-calculate its fees based on the applicable rates in the updated USAO matrix."  Second, "[h]aving found that the Court's initial order – but not its [second] summary judgment order – entitles [plaintiff] to attorneys' fees, the Court will exclude any hours worked after [the first order] from its award because [plaintiff] 'did not ultimately prevail' on any of the issues raised in its summary judgment briefing, and therefore should not be reimbursed for its later efforts."  Third, "[w]ithout evidence of bad faith or egregious practices, the Court declines to entertain squabbles over the minutes logged for a particular task, and will, therefore, accept [plaintiff's] time entries as well-founded and reasonable."  However, "[t]he Court will, therefore, 'reduce [plaintiff's] [relevant] billing entries to the extent of allowing [plaintiff] to claim fees for at most one senior attorney and one junior attorney for participating in conference calls,' . . . and will order [plaintiff] to adjust its billing records and re-calculate its requested award in accordance with this opinion."  Fourth, "[f]ollowing the methodology employed by many of its colleagues in this district, the Court will reduce the amount of fees on fees proportionally to the percentage of fees actually awarded as compared to [plaintiff's] request."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Updated December 14, 2021