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Hall v. CIA, No. 04-814, 2015 WL 4335364 (D.D.C. July 15, 2015) (Lamberth, J.)


Hall v. CIA, No. 04-814, 2015 WL 4335364 (D.D.C. July 15, 2015) (Lamberth, J.)

Re: Request for records concerning missing Prisoners of War and persons Missing in Action in Southeast Asia

Disposition: Granting plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees and costs; awarding plaintiffs $414,478.40 in attorney fees

  • Attorney Fees, Eligibility & Entitlement:  The court relates that "[t]he CIA concedes that the plaintiffs have prevailed on several of their claims and that they are therefore eligible for fees."  "The CIA also 'accepts some responsibility for the unnecessarily protracted nature of this litigation' and notes that there is 'accordingly no need for the Court to consider whether the plaintiffs are entitled to an award.'"  "Furthermore, the CIA does not argue that interim fees are inappropriate or that fees should not be awarded until the conclusion of litigation."  "By its own admission, '[t]he only question is what award is reasonable under the circumstances.'"
  • Attorney Fees, Calculations:  The court awards plaintiffs $414,478.40 in attorney fees.  First, "[t]he Court finds that given the scope and length of this case, the number of court proceedings recorded on the docket, and the records regarding billing hours proposed by plaintiffs, the number of hours requested appears reasonable."  "[T]he Court finds that the plaintiffs in this case have been quite successful in achieving their objective: obtaining documents unlawfully withheld."  "When this lawsuit was filed, the CIA refused to release the requested records and failed to respond to plaintiffs' request for over a year."  "After many years of litigation, the CIA has released more than 4,000 documents, quite a substantial success."  "The Court finds that plaintiffs' actions in diligently pursuing their claims were reasonable—even those that were ultimately unsuccessful—and it will not use the benefit of hindsight to scrutinize every one of plaintiffs' actions." 

Additionally, the court finds that "[w]hile it is true that not all of plaintiffs' motions were successful at the time, they were not unproductive or unnecessary because all related to and contributed to the ultimate search conducted."  Moreover, "[t]o the extent that—despite plaintiffs' overall success—the Court might specifically exclude hours spent on the allegedly unsuccessful motions, the Court finds it troubling that the CIA did not even attempt to analyze how many hours related to such motions."

Regarding the benefit to the public of this information, "[w]hile the CIA apparently believes that this information is of interest only to [certain individuals] and does not improve the public's knowledge of the functioning of the government, . . . the Court vehemently disagrees."  The court finds that "[c]ertainly information regarding missing POW/MIAs following the Vietnam and Korean Wars is exactly the type of information that interests the public."  Additionally, in response to defendant's argument that the requested documents were already publically available, the court finds that "[t]he CIA fails to bear its burden of establishing the fact that the documents were already publicly available when requested."

Regarding the reasonableness of defendant's actions as a possible consideration in calculating fees, the court finds that "[t]he CIA's lack of reasonableness suggests that the plaintiffs' attorneys should be compensated for their efforts, but is not so egregious as to warrant more."

Regarding the calculation of the fees to be awarded, first, "[t]he Court rejects the CIA's allegation that the plaintiffs' separate attorneys largely duplicated each other's efforts and thus seek an award of double fees."  The court finds that "plaintiffs were entitled to have separate counsel, as the CIA concedes, and some degree of coordination was required."  Second, the court finds that while more detail would perhaps be helpful, "[a plaintiff's] assert[ion] that the times reflected on his counsel's itemization were recorded contemporaneously . . . [and] include information regarding the date, amount of time (in tenths of an hour) expended, and the general subject of the service provided . . . is all that is required."  Third, "the Court finds that the application of historic Laffey rates is appropriate" and that no upward departure is warranted here.  The court rejects plaintiffs' argument "that all of their time should be compensated at today's rates rather than those in place at the time the work was done," as well as their "suggest[ion] that an upward departure is appropriate due to the government's 'obdurate behavior.'"  Applying the Laffey rates, the court finds that "[t]he total amount awarded to [one] counsel . . . will be $294,296.40" and "[t]he total amount awarded to [the other] counsel . . . will be $120,182."

Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Updated January 12, 2022