Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Fee Award Affirmed as Reasonable

Sayers Properties v. Rankin, No. A137610 (D1d2 May 27, 2014)

A plaintiff appeals the court’s lodestar* calculation of attorney’s fees awarded to a prevailing defendant under a contract containing a fee-shifting provision. He objects to both the hours expended and the rate applied. 

In affirming, the court notes that a fee applicant is not required to produce line-by-line billing entries to support a fee award. Breaking the bill up into hours spent on various task categories per biller is sufficient to establish the amount of work done, particularly when supported by the attorneys’ under oath declarations.

As to the rate, the issue is the reasonable market rate charged locally for similar work. It does not matter if the actual rate billed to the client differs from the market rate, even in non-contingency hourly billed matters. Here, defendants supported their rates with their lawyer’s declarations that the rates were in accord with those charged in the local market. They also relied on the Laffey Matrix, a publication that sets out standard fee rates for the Washington, D.C. market. Courts have adjusted the Laffey Matrix for geographic differences by applying locality premiums. It deciding rates, the trial court was not required to defer to either the attorney declaration or the Laffey Matrix. But it did not err by doing so. Given that the trial judge was in the best position to decide the value of the services rendered in his courtroom, he did not abuse his broad discretion in finding that these sources supported that the lodestar rates claimed by defense counsel were reasonable.


*This gets spelled “lodestar,” (212 reported California cases) but also occasionally “loadstar,” (5 reported California cases), and one one occasion, both ways in the same opinion. See U.S. W. Falun Dafa Assn v. Chinese Chamber of Commerce, 163 Cal. App. 4th 590, 597 (2008). Black’s Law Dictionary recognizes only the “lode,” version, but Garner's Legal Usage Dictionary recognizes both. Although Garner too thinks the “lode,” version is preferable as it is closer to the Middle English derivation of the term.

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