Gatore v. DHS, No. 15-459, 2017 WL 6543813 (D.D.C. Dec. 21, 2017) (Walton, J.)
Re: Request for records concerning defendant's processing of FOIA requests for assessments of asylum officers
Disposition: Granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees and costs; awarding plaintiff $5,255.78 in attorney fees and $400 in costs
- Attorney Fees, Eligibility: "[The] Court previously concluded that [plaintiff] is eligible for and entitled to attorney's fees and costs[.]" Also, "defendant concedes that '[plaintiff] prevailed on its ninth cause of action and . . . is eligible for attorney's fees on that discrete issue[.]'"
- Attorney Fees, Entitlement: The court relates that "defendant disputes . . . that [plaintiff] is entitled to any amount of fees[.]" "The Court disagrees, and will again conclude that [plaintiff] is entitled to some amount of attorney's fees and costs." First, the court finds that the requested information "has significant potential public value because it 'will enable citizens to more effectively and knowledgeably use FOIA to obtain information [from the defendant] to which they are entitled.'" Next, "as the Court previously found, [plaintiff's] objective in seeking the Guide and other documents was, inter alia, 'to promote the fairness and integrity of this country' asylum process.'" "And the mere fact that [plaintiff] has cited the Guide's content in litigating its remaining claims in this suit, . . . without more, does not 'transform [this] nonprofit['s] interests from [a] public interest to [a] commercial or self-interest[.]'" Last, the court finds that "defendant offers no evidence to show that it had a reasonable basis for not disclosing any part of the Guide until after [plaintiff] filed suit" and "defendant has certainly been recalcitrant in refusing for over two years to produce the Guide, which 'falls squarely within the scope of [plaintiff's] FOIA request.'"
- Attorney Fees, Calculations: "[T]he Court will award [plaintiff] $5,255.78 in attorney's fees[.]" "In addition, the Court will award [plaintiff] $400 in costs[.]" The court first notes that "because [plaintiff's] attorney is a 'full-time volunteer' at a nonprofit organization, . . . he presumably has no relevant billing practices." "However, this element is not determinative because, as the Circuit instructs, attorneys at nonprofit organizations 'who have no established billing practice' are 'entitled to an award based on the prevailing market rates.'" "[T]he Court concludes that, under either approach, the evidence submitted by the parties demonstrates that the rates provided by the USAO Matrix are reasonable to apply in this case." "Although the Court finds that [plaintiff] has submitted a 'great deal of evidence regarding [the] prevailing market rates for complex federal litigation' to demonstrate that its requested rates are entitled to a presumption of reasonableness, . . . the Court nonetheless concludes that the defendant has rebutted that presumption and shown that the current USAO Matrix is the more accurate matrix for estimating the prevailing rates for complex federal litigation in this District." In making this determination, the court reviews submissions from economists, market data, declarations from other practitioners, fee awards in other similar cases, and prevailing rates for FOIA litigation. Then, "the Court finds it appropriate to compensate [plaintiff] for the hours its attorney alleges he expended on the ninth cause of action, with one exception." "That one exception encompasses the three hours the attorney represents he expended preparing [plaintiff's] original summary judgment motion regarding its ninth cause of action and its reply in response to the defendant's opposition, . . . because the Court ultimately denied that motion[.]" Additionally, "[u]pon careful review of the billing records submitted by [plaintiff] for its fees on fees request, the Court is satisfied that its request is not excessive." However, "[d]espite finding that [plaintiffs'] requested fees on fees hours are reasonable, the Court nonetheless agrees with the defendant that [plaintiffs'] total fees on fees award should be reduced to account for its limited success on its fees motion." "[Plaintiffs'] success is limited in light of the Court's determination that [plaintiff] should be compensated at the rates set forth in the USAO Matrix, as well as the determination that three hours of [plaintiffs'] time must be excluded from its award."