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Wadelton v. Dep't of State, No. 13-412, 2018 WL 4705793 (D.D.C. Sept. 30, 2018) (Chutkan,J.)


Wadelton v. Dep't of State, No. 13-412, 2018 WL 4705793 (D.D.C. Sept. 30, 2018) (Chutkan,J.)

Re:  Request for records concerning plaintiff's tenure at agency

Disposition:  Granting in part and denying in part plaintiffs' motion for attorney fees; awarding plaintiff $11,726.97 in fees and costs

  • Attorney Fees, Eligibility:  The court finds that "State concedes that Plaintiffs are eligible for fees . . . and the court agrees."  "Plaintiffs secured a 'unilateral change in position by the agency,' that was not insubstantial, given State's contention that it needed sequential document reviews and eighteen months in which to complete the process."
  • Attorney Fees, Entitlement:  "Because the four entitlement factors weigh in favor of Plaintiffs, the court finds that they are entitled to fees."  First, the court finds that "Plaintiffs' litigation has already contributed to public discourse."  The court explains that "[n]ot only do these articles impact the public benefit analysis," but "[plaintiff's] allegations of wrongdoing, coupled with governmental investigations and media attention regarding the leadership vacuum at the OIG, are sufficient to convince this court that the requested records had more than 'potential' or 'likely' public value."  Second, the court finds that "State ignores the fact that [plaintiff] was not the sole plaintiff in this matter; [a] media outlet . . . joined [plaintiff's] FOIA request intending to publish 'one or more in-depth' articles about '[plaintiff's] case and the underlying problems facing the State Department personnel system.'"  "Moreover, any private interest [plaintiff] may have had in obtaining the records does not necessarily disqualify her from obtaining fees."  Third, the court finds that, "[d]uring the initial stages of the litigation, State did not provide a reasoned explanation for why it needed eighteen months and sequential rounds of review to process the records, and at several later intervals, the court ordered State to move more quickly than it had claimed to be able to do."  "Accordingly, the court finds State did not have a colorable or reasonable basis for the positions it maintained."
  • Attorney Fees, Calculations:  Regarding the rate to be used, "[the] court is unable to find that Plaintiffs have met their burden of establishing that the LSI matrix rates are more reasonable."  The court explains that "Plaintiffs here rely on opinions, rather than evidence from prior decisions, and it is not this court's responsibility to scour the dockets in other cases to obtain the evidentiary basis for those decisions."  "On the other hand, the court is not convinced that the lower rates in the USAO matrix are consistent with 'the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.'"  "Accordingly, the court will award fees based on the 2015 USAO matrix[.]"  Regarding the hour calculation, the court finds that "it is difficult to analyze a fee application without billing information that includes the amount of time expended on both fruitful and non-fruitful tasks."  The court finds that "[t]he billing chart provided to the court does not provide sufficient information from which to determine whether the requested hours are 'accurate and equitable.'"  "Given these deficiencies, the court will reduce the fee award by ten percent."  Regarding fees on fees, "the court will reduce the 'fees-on-fees' amount by fifty percent" because of several duplicative efforts by plaintiff in drafting the fee petition and reply brief.
Court Decision Topic(s)
District Court opinions
Attorney Fees
Updated November 19, 2021