Plaintiff filed a petition for $39,112 in reasonable attorney fees at hourly rates of $375 and $400 after prevailing on her ERISA claim for long- term disability benefits. ?The trial court awarded only $10,762, finding that $250 was the reasonable hourly rate, because the plaintiff?s counsel did not collect the requested rate from her paying clients, and reduced the fees across- the-board by 20 percent for block billing entries and another 20 percent for billing in quarter-hour increments.?? The trial court also reduced hours spent on unnecessary activities, including meetings between firm lawyers and excessive billing?? for?? boilerplate?? motions.???? ?The?? Ninth Circuit affirmed the reductions for unnecessary activities and excessive billing in deference to the district court?s familiarity with the litigation. Likewise, the Court of Appeals affirmed the across-the-board? reduction? for? charging? in quarter-hour increments. ?However, applying the loadstar calculation precedent, the Court of Appeals reversed the reduction in plaintiff?s counsel?s rate, finding that she established that $375 and $400 were prevailing rates in the community by presenting supporting affidavits from? other ?lawyers ?and ?court ?awards ?to ?that effect. ?The Ninth Circuit found that the district court had erred by concluding otherwise because ?We have repeatedly held that the determination of a reasonable hourly rate ?is not made by reference to the rates actually charged the prevailing party.???? On remand, the trial court may reduce the rate to the extent it concludes that the plaintiff?s counsel performed below the level of expertise for the rate requested, or finds that the rate was enhanced to adjust for contingent risk,? but? not? where? the? rate? compensates? for delay? in? payment ?which? is? a? proper consideration. ???The Court of Appeals also remanded because although across-the-board reductions for block billing would have been acceptable, the trial court improperly applied the reduction ?to ?non-block ?billing ?entries ?as ?well.?Welch v. Metropolitan Life Ins. Co., 480 F.3d 942 (9th Cir. 2007)
Reduction in Attorney Fees Hourly Rate Reversed but Block Billing Entries Warranted Some Reduction.
Jan 18, 2007