Gahagan v. USCIS, No. 14-2233, 2016 WL 1110229 (E.D. La. Mar. 21, 2016) (Brown, J.)
Re: Request for client's alien file
Disposition: Granting plaintiff's motion for attorney fees and costs; awarding plaintiff $12,676 in attorney fees and $462.87 in costs
- Attorney Fees, Eligibility: The court holds that plaintiff is eligible for an award of attorney fees and costs. The court notes that "[d]efendant acknowledges that the Court ordered Defendant to release ten pages of responsive material that were originally withheld as duplicates, thereby making [plaintiff] eligible for an award of attorney's fees." "Therefore, as it is uncontested that the Court ordered Defendant to produce ten pages of responsive records, [the court finds that] [plaintiff] is eligible for an award of attorney's fees."
- Attorney Fees, Entitlement: "[T]he Court concludes that an award of attorney's fees is appropriate." Regarding the public benefit factor, the court finds that "[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 and by securing the benefits assumed to flow from the public disclosure of government information[,]" "in order to establish that this first factor has been met." The court also finds that "[plaintiff] cannot rely upon the use of these documents in an immigration proceeding as the basis of a finding that this case resulted in a public benefit because these documents were duplicates of documents that were previously disclosed to [plaintiff]" and, regardless, "[plaintiff's] request of documents pertaining specifically to his client, for use in his client's deportation proceedings, does not serve the public." Regarding the commercial benefit factor, "the Court finds that this factor weighs in favor of an award of attorney's fees" because "[plaintiff] asserts that he received no commercial benefit and actually lost income by having to refuse new cases due to the time-consuming nature of the litigation." Regarding the nature of plaintiff's interest in the record factor, "the Court finds that [plaintiff's] interest in the requested records . . . implicates the strong public interest in preserving the administration of justice in our nation's immigration courts." In response to defendant's argument, the court also finds that "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" because "[plaintiff] had no other option in obtaining these records." Regarding the reasonableness of the government's withholding factor, "the Court finds that [plaintiff] has demonstrated that the agency's failure to disclose was unreasonable." "The Court, in granting [plaintiff's] motion for summary judgment, found that there was no language in FOIA capable of supporting an exemption on the basis that a document is a 'duplicate' of another, and, even if any such language existed, Defendant had not furnished the Court with any information that would permit it to determine de novo whether the documents were actually duplicates of documents already disclosed."
- Attorney Fees, Calculations: "[T]he Court will award attorney’s fees in the amount of $12,676." Additionally, "[t]he Court therefore finds that the costs were reasonably incurred and will award [plaintiff] the full $462.87 requested." Regarding attorney fees, the court first rejects plaintiff's request for an hourly billing rate of "$300 per hour" and instead "concludes that $200 an hour is appropriate given [plaintiff's] eight years of experience in immigration law and FOIA." Next, the court finds that "the sheer number of hours spent on researching and drafting in an area [plaintiff] claims to have expertise in is excessive." "Therefore, 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 is appropriate." The court then finds that "[m]ultiplying the number of hours reasonably expended in this case, 63.38, by the hourly rate of $200, the lodestar is $12,676." In response to plaintiff's argument for an upwards adjustment of this amount, the court finds that "[plaintiff] has failed to meet his burden of showing that the case is so undesirable as to warrant an upward adjustment." Similarly, "[t]he Court is not persuaded by Defendant's argument that [plaintiff] had limited success because, in fact, during the course of this litigation, he obtained access to the majority of the information he sought in his complaint." Regarding litigation costs, the court notes that "[d]efendant does not state any opposition to [plaintiff's] recovery of litigation costs."