Search This Blog

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Salinier v. Moore, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2010 WL 3515699 (D.Colo.) [France] [Attorneys Fees and Costs]

In Salinier v. Moore, Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 2010 WL 3515699 (D.Colo.) the matter was before the court on petitioner's motion for fees and expenses Incurred regarding the petition for return of the minor child pursuant to 42 U.S.C. s 11607(b)(3). On March 1, 2010, the District Court ordered Respondent to return the minor child to Petitioner's custody in France in accordance with the Convention on International Child Abduction. Consequently, Petitioner was entitled to an order requiring the Respondent "to pay necessary expenses incurred by or on behalf of the petitioner, including court costs, legal fees, foster home or other care during the course of the proceedings in the action, and transportation costs related to the return of the child, unless the respondent establishes that such order would be clearlyinappropriate." 42 U.S.C. s 11607(b)(3).

The Petitioner sought $24,397.67 in attorney fees, $3,350.84 in costs for litigating all aspects of this case, and $4,482.87 in travel and lodging expenses. In response, while Respondent does not contest "the reasonableness of the fees incurred ... [Respondent] suggest[s] that the paralegal time was excessive and that Respondent should not have to be liable for the costs for the travel expenses of Petitioner's Wife and other relatives." Respondent also contended that a fee award would be "clearly inappropriate" because it would limit her ability to support herself and her four other children.

The Court observed that : "The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). "In other words, to determine the reasonableness of a fee request, a court must begin by calculating the so-called 'lodestar amount' of a fee, and a claimant is entitled to the presumption that this lodestar amount reflects a 'reasonable' fee. Robinson v. City of Edmond, 160 F.3d 1275, 1281 (10th Cir.1998)"A district court should approach this reasonableness inquiry 'much as a senior partner in a private law firm would review the eports of subordinate attorneys when billing clients.' "However, '[t]he record ought to assure [the appellate court] that the district court did not eyeball the fee request and cut it down by an arbitrary percentage.'
Petitioner sought fees in the amount of $24,397.67-76 .9 hours at $200 per hour for Attorney Courtney Leathers and 55.5 hours at $100 per hour for Paralegal Cathy Butler. Respondent suggested, without providing any supporting authority or documentation, that the number of paralegal hours spent on this case was excessive. Respondent does not object to the $3,350.84 request for costs.

The Court noted that in determining the reasonableness of the hours expended, it must consider several factors, including: (1) whether the amount of time spent on a particular task appears reasonable in light of the complexity of the case, the strategies pursued, and the responses necessitated by an opponent's maneuvering; (2) whether the amount of time spent is reasonable in relation to counsel's experience; and (3) whether the billing entries are sufficiently detailed, showing how much time was allotted to specific task. See Ramos v. Lamm, 713 F.2d 546, 553-54 (10th Cir.1983),

The party seeking an award of fees should submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed." Hensley, 461 U .S. at 433. The Tenth Circuit has noted that "[c]ounsel for the party claiming the fees has the burden of proving hours to the district court by submitting meticulous, contemporaneous time records that reveal, for each lawyer for whom fees are sought, all hours for which compensation is requested and how those hours were allotted to specific tasks." Case, 157 F.3d at 1250. "A district court is justified in reducing the reasonable number of hours if the attorney's time records are 'sloppy and imprecise' and fail to document adequately how he or she utilized large blocks of time. Once the court has adequate time records before it, "it must then ensure that the winning attorneys have exercised 'billing judgment.' " Case, 157 F.3d at 1250 (quoting Ramos, 713 F.2d at 553). "Billing judgment consists of winnowing the hours actually expended down to the hours reasonably expended." "Hours that an attorney would not properly bill to his or her client cannot reasonably be billed to the adverse party, making certain time presumptively unreasonable." In other words, the district court should exclude from this initial fee calculation hours that were not 'reasonably expended.' " Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 (quotation omitted). "After examining the specific tasks and whether they are properly chargeable, the district court should look at the hours expended on each task to determine if they are reasonable." "The Ramos court suggested that among the factors to be considered were (1) whether the tasks being billed 'would normally be billed to a paying client,' (2) the number of hours spent on each task, (3) 'the complexity of the case,' (4) 'the number of reasonable strategies pursued,' (5) 'the responses necessitated by the maneuvering of the other side,' and (6) 'potential duplication of services' by multiple lawyers. Roberts, 160 F.3d at 1281 (quoting Ramos, 761 F.2d at 554). "In this analysis, [the court should] ask what hours a reasonable attorney would have incurred and billed in the marketplace under similar circumstances."

Petitioner's counsel submitted detailed billing records that "reveal, for each lawyer [and paralegal] for whom fees are sought, all hours for which compensation is requested and how those hours were allotted to specific tasks." Considering the Ramos factors, the court found that a large majority of the tasks Petitioner's counsel billed would normally be billed to a paying client. It found that although this case was resolved quickly, it involved highly contested, complex and sensitive issues. The court was unpersuaded by Respondent's argument that excessive paralegal hours were billed. In response, Petitioner's counsel stated that "it is this firm's policy to utilize paralegals to keep costs down for our clients, as it would be twice as expensive to have attorneys handling all tasks." The Court found Petitioner's counsel's billing statements reasonable and necessary. As to the hourly rate, the Tenth Circuit indicates that "the court must look to 'what the evidence shows the market commands for civil rights or analogous litigation.' The "local market rate" is usually the state or city in which counsel practices. Ellis v. Univ. of Kansas Medical Center, 163 F.3d 1186, 1203 (10th Cir.1998). The court is also entitled to consider the quality of counsel's performance in setting the fee. Ellis, 163 F.3d at 1203.

Respondent did not contest Ms. Leathers' hourly fee of $200 or Ms. Butler's hourly fee of $100, and thus, the court found the rates to be reasonable. It also found the request for $3,350.84 in costs to be reasonable.

In light of Respondent's financial status and her obligations to her children, the court held that it would be "clearly inappropriate" for Respondent to pay for Petitioner's parents' airplane tickets. However, it found that Respondent was financially responsible for costs associated with the travel of Petitioner's wife, who testified at the hearing. Accordingly, Petitioner's request for travel and lodging expenses was reduced by the total cost of Petitioner's parents' airplane tickets.

Respondent asserts that she was a stay-at-home mother. She was currently pregnant and the primary caretaker of three minor children ages 12 years, 2 years and 8 months. Respondent stated that she was unemployed, had only nominal assets and any award of fees and costs would "substantially impair ... [her] ability to support herself, her unborn child and her four living children." The Court had discretion pursuant to 42 U.S.C. s 11607(b)(3), to reduce any potential award to to allow for the financial condition of the Respondent. See Rydder v. Rydder, 49 F.3d 369, 373-74 (8th Cir.1995). Accordingly, it believed a fee award which unduly limited Respondent's ability to support her children would be "clearly inappropriate." As a result, it reduced the attorneys fee by 25% or $6,099.42. See Berendsen v. Nichols, 938 F.Supp. 737, 739 (D.Kan.1996) (reducing fee award by 15% to account for respondent's financial condition).

Petitioner was awarded attorney fees in the amount of $18,298.25, which was the original fee award, $24,397.67, reduced by 25% or $6,099.42. Petitioner was awarded costs for litigating all aspects of this case in the amount of $3,350.84. Petitioner was awarded $4,482.87 in travel and lodging expenses reduced by the total cost of Petitioner's parents' airplane tickets.

No comments:

Post a Comment