Skip to main content v. IRS, No. 13-2789 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 20, 2015) (Orrick, J.)

Date v. IRS, No. 13-2789 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 20, 2015) (Orrick, J.)

Re: Request for Modernized E-file (MeF) format of Form 990s for nine tax exempt organizations

Disposition: Granting plaintiff's motion for attorney fees and costs; awarding plaintiff $238,125.62 in attorney fees and $1,272.46 in costs

  • Attorney Fees, Eligibility:  The court note that "[t]he IRS concedes in its opposition brief that [plaintiff] is eligible for attorney’s fees under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E)."  The court "agree[s] with the parties that the filing of this action could have been reasonably regarded as necessary to obtain the requested Form 990s in MeF format, and that the action had a substantial causative effect on the ultimate delivery of those records."
  • Attorney Fees, Entitlement:  The court holds that "the public benefit, commercial benefit, and complainant’s interest factors all strongly favor [plaintiff], the reasonable basis in law factor is neutral at best, and there are no other relevant factors that cut against an award."  First, the court finds that "[t]he public interest factor weighs strongly in favor of an award here" because "[plaintiff] . . . has identified significant benefits to the disclosure of Form 990s in MeF format beyond simply obtaining information sooner, and, moreover, [plaintiff] does not charge for the information it makes available."  Regarding the second and third factors, the court finds that "[plaintiff's] status as a public-oriented nonprofit organization, and the lack of evidence of any private or commercial interest underlying its litigation of this case, strongly favor an award here."  Regarding the fourth factor, the court finds that "despite the fact that Form 990s are electronically-filed and maintained by the IRS in MeF format, the IRS has continued to rely on the same method of disclosing Form 990s that has been in place for nearly 20 years."  "When it came time for the IRS to present evidence in support of its position, the evidence it offered fell far short of establishing the 'significant interference or burden' necessary to justify its refusal to comply with [plaintiff's]  request.  "At best, the reasonable basis in law factor is neutral."
  • Attorney Fees, Calculations:  The court finds that it is "satisfied that [plaintiff's] hourly rates are reasonable" because "[a]bsent some showing that the rates stated in the [Laffey] matrix are in line with those prevailing in this community – a showing the IRS has not even attempted to make – [the court] agree[s] with [plaintiff] that the matrix is not persuasive evidence of the reasonableness of its requested rates."  However, the court does "reduce the requested fees-on-fees by 25 percent, or $6,196.88, to $18,590.63."  The court does this because of the "excessive amount of time [spent] on this motion given counsel’s familiarity with attorney’s fees litigation in this area."  Additionally, the court finds that "[plaintiff] has not overcome the strong presumption that the lodestar figure represents a reasonable award in this case."  "It contends that it is entitled to a 1.5 multiplier because (1) it was represented 'on a pro bono basis;' (2) it 'achieved impressive results;' and (3) 'this action greatly advanced the public interest.'" "But it offers only cursory arguments in support of each of these factors and fails to specifically demonstrate how they are not already 'subsumed in the initial calculation of the lodestar.'"  Moreover, the court finds that "without a more substantial showing of the specific benefits of the litigation, [the court] cannot . . . justif[y] a multiplier."
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Updated January 10, 2022