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Louise Trauma Ctr. LLC v. DHS, No. 20-01128, 2023 WL 3478479 (D.D.C. May 16, 2023) (McFadden, J.)


Louise Trauma Ctr. LLC v. DHS, No. 20-01128, 2023 WL 3478479 (D.D.C. May 16, 2023) (McFadden, J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning agency’s handling of FOIA’s foreseeable harm requirement and related training for asylum officers

Disposition:  Granting plaintiff’s motion for attorney fees and costs; awarding plaintiff $106,098 in fees and $402 in costs

  • Attorney Fees, Eligibility:  The court relates that “[it] ordered the agency to complete processing of and produce all nonexempt documents by a specified date.”  “And the Court later granted partial summary judgment to [plaintiff] and required the agency to conduct supplemental searches and disclose some previously withheld records.”  “So [plaintiff] is eligible for fees.”
  • Attorney Fees, Entitlement:  “[T]he Court concludes that [plaintiff] is entitled to fees.”  “To determine whether [plaintiff] is entitled to fees, the Court considers ‘(1) the public benefit derived from the case; (2) the commercial benefit to the plaintiff; (3) the nature of the plaintiff’s interest in the records; and (4) the reasonableness of the agency’s withholding of the requested documents.’”  “The first factor favors awarding fees.”  “[Plaintiff] requested documents concerning asylum officers and their training.”  “‘The nature of the subject that the request seeks to illuminate is obviously important.’”  “So these requests had ‘a modest probability of generating useful new information about a matter of public concern.’”  “The second and third factors . . . also favor [plaintiff].”  “[Plaintiff] is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help immigrant wom[e]n obtain asylum.”  “To that end, it ‘publicizes,’ ‘educates,’ and ‘sets forth new asylum cases, briefs, reports, and analysis on the law surrounding these women and their issues.’”  “And ‘those requesters who seek documents for public informational purposes are favored by FOIA, and they engage in the kind of endeavor for which a public subsidy makes some sense.’”  “Finally, the fourth factor . . . supports awarding fees.”  “The Court held that the agency violated its duties under FOIA.”  “After finding that USCIS failed to conduct adequate searches . . . , the Court ordered the agency to conduct supplemental searches.”  “And these searches turned up over 200 pages that USCIS had initially missed.”  “More, the Court ruled against the agency on some of its withholdings under Exemptions 5 and 7(E).”
  • Attorney Fees, Calculations:  The court finds that “[plaintiff] is entitled to $106,098 in fees.”  “And the Court will grant [plaintiff’s] request for costs of $402, which the agency does not specifically oppose.”  “First, [plaintiff] contends that FOIA cases are per se ‘complex federal litigation’ justifying Fitzpatrick Matrix rates.”  The court finds that “[plaintiff’s] conclusion – that FOIA cases are essentially always complex – does not follow.”  “‘[T]here is no presumption that FOIA cases qualify as complex federal litigation.’”  “So [plaintiff] must show that this particular case qualifies as complex federal litigation.”  “[Plaintiff] does not meet its burden.”  “Indeed, it makes little effort to show that this case was especially complex.”  “And the Court doubts that it is.”  “‘This was not an unusual FOIA case.’”  “‘It was not a class action on behalf of a large number of plaintiffs; it did not involve particularly voluminous or complicated factual and legal issues; it did not require plaintiff[ ] to conduct extensive investigation and discovery; and it required no specialized non-legal knowledge.’”  “Indeed, this case was ‘resolved on a motion for summary judgment involving straightforward issues.’”  “So [plaintiff] has not shown that this case qualifies as complex federal litigation such that the Fitzpatrick Matrix presumptively applies.”

    “[Plaintiff] has a second route to showing the reasonableness of its requested rate.”  “First, [plaintiff] notes that certain partners at large law firms command rates above Fitzpatrick Matrix rates.”  “This argument fails.”  “The relevant comparators are ‘attorneys with comparable qualifications handling similar cases.’”  “[Plaintiff] fails to show that its work is of the same ilk.”  “More, that other lawyers command a premium says nothing about the billing rates for lawyers in the District who represent clients in immigration proceedings.”  “[Plaintiff’s] only other evidence in support of its requested rate is a declaration from its counsel.”  “Counsel points to three cases in which he was awarded attorney’s fees.”  “These submissions do not persuade.”  The court finds that plaintiff does not adequately explain how the cited cases compare to the instant case.  The court holds that “[i]n this case, ‘a rate considerably below’ the Fitzpatrick maximum is called for.”  “The Court will thus award fees at an hourly rate equal to 80% of the Fitzpatrick rate.”

    The court finds that “[plaintiff’s] billing records are difficult to decipher.”  “But from what the Court can tell, it spent too much time on this case.”  “[Plaintiff’s] time entries show significant inefficiencies and a lack of billing judgment.”  The court finds that “much of counsel’s work was needless, duplicative, or inefficient.”  “So the Court will reduce the hours [plaintiff] may recover.”  Additionally, the court finds that “[a] review of [plaintiff’s] billing records show that they lack adequate detail.”  “Most of the entries lack any real description detailing the task counsel performed, or why he performed it.”  “This warrants an across-the-board reduction of the hours claimed.”  “The Court will thus award fees for 60% of the claimed hours.”

    “Finally, [the court] consider[s] [plaintiff’s] request for fees spent preparing this fee motion.”  “Counsel allegedly spent 56.7 hours preparing its fee motion and reply, and it requests a total award of $45,044.”  “Though ‘hours reasonably devoted to a request for fees are compensable, fees on fees must be reasonable, and not excessive.’”  “Here too, [plaintiff’s] request is unreasonable.”  “The Court has a duty to ‘scrutinize fees-on-fees to ensure that the total is reasonable and does not represent a windfall for the attorneys.’”  “Counsel spent 19.7 hours on its fees motion and 37.2 hours on the reply brief.”  “It is unclear why the reply took almost twice as many hours as the application.”  “And in reply, he briefed his eligibility and entitlement to fees again, even though the agency did not contest this in its opposition.”  “[Plaintiff’s] fees-on-fees request is also equivalent to nearly 30% of the claimed total cost of this litigation.”  “Such an award would be an ‘unsupportable windfall.’”  “The Court will thus award $10,000 in fees-on-fees.”
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Updated June 12, 2023