Gahagan v. CBP, No. 14-2619, 2016 WL 3090216 (E.D. La. June 1, 2016) (Brown, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning plaintiff's client
Disposition: Granting plaintiff's motion for attorney fees and costs; granting plaintiff $16,016 in attorney fees and $469.70 in costs
- Attorney Fees, Eligibility: The court holds that "[plaintiff] has demonstrated that he is eligible for attorney's fees both as a result of the Court's Order requiring Defendants to produce the Form I-826 ["which was originally withheld by CBP as non-responsive"], as well as Defendants' voluntary disclosure of documents following the commencement of this suit."
- Attorney Fees, Entitlement: The court finds "that all four factors weigh in favor of an award of attorney's fees," and, therefore, "the Court concludes that an award of attorney's fees is appropriate." First, the court finds that although "[plaintiff] may not rely upon [the] general benefit [that "a successful FOIA plaintiff always acts in some degree for the benefit of the public by bringing the government into compliance with FOIA"] in order to establish that this first factor has been met," "the Court concludes that the public benefit factor weighs in favor of an award of attorney's fees because the disclosure of the documents contributes to the legitimacy of the immigration proceedings." Second, "the Court finds that [the commercial benefit] factor weighs in favor of an award of attorney's fees" because "[d]efendants do not appear to contest [this] assertion" and "[plaintiff] asserts that he received no commercial benefit and actually lost income by having to refuse a new case due to the time-consuming nature of the litigation." Third, "the Court concludes that [plaintiff's] interest in the requested records also implicates the strong public interest in preserving the administration of justice in our nation’s immigration courts." Responding to defendants' argument, the court finds that "a concern about using FOIA as a discovery tool arises when the plaintiff has used FOIA 'as a substitute for discovery in private litigation with the government.'" "Here, [plaintiff] had no other option in obtaining these records." "Therefore, the fact that [plaintiff] used FOIA in the instant litigation in order to obtain records to be used in a deportation proceeding does not weigh against an award of attorney's fees." Last, the court finds that "the Court concludes that [plaintiff] has demonstrated that the agency's failure to disclose was unreasonable." The court relates that "[t]he withholding at issue in this case was not based upon any statutory exception, but rather the government's statement that the requested documents were of no consequence because the document was never printed, served, or executed" and, therefore, were unresponsive.
- Attorney Fees, Calculations: "[T]he Court will grant the motion and award [plaintiff] $16,485.70, representing $16,016 for attorney's fees and $469.70 for litigation costs." First, "the Court concludes that $200 per hour is appropriate." Although plaintiff requested a higher rate, the court finds that "[t]he arguments made in [plaintiff's] motion for attorney's fees in [one of his previous cases] are almost identical to the arguments made in the instant motion" and "[plaintiff] has provided the Court with no reason to reach a different determination regarding the appropriate hourly rate in this case, and the Court sees no reason to do so." Second, "having reviewed the motion for attorney's fees in the instant case and the motion for attorney’s fees in [one of plaintiff's previous cases], and having determined that the motions contain almost entirely the same arguments and the same case law, the Court will reduce the number of hours that [plaintiff] may recover for his work on the instant motion to two hours rather than 11.8 hours." "[Plaintiff's] time records reflect the hours of an attorney who has to research and draft motions working from a blank slate, rather than an attorney with expertise in the subject matter and experience in FOIA litigation." Additionally, "in light of the fact that [plaintiff] has not met his burden of showing that he exercised billing judgment, and considering the redundant and excessive nature of [plaintiff's] hours, the Court finds that a 25% reduction for the remainder of [plaintiff's] asserted hours is appropriate." Third, responding to plaintiff's request for an upward adjustment, "[t]he Court concludes that [plaintiff] has not met his burden of demonstrating that an enhanced fee is justified in this case." "[Plaintiff] has not provided any further explanation regarding his assertion that he lost $5,000 in income as a result of this case."