Under the Uniform Relocation Act, a prevailing plaintiff in a taking case in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims may recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and cost. But all too often, trying to recover those rightfully incurred attorneys’ fees and costs results in more litigation, with the Government arguing for and often winning a substantial reduction in the amount of attorneys’ fees and costs the successful plaintiff actually recovers.
A case in point is the recent ruling on an attorneys’ fee petition in a successful rails-to-trails taking case. In 2014, fourteen Plaintiffs and the United States settled liability and damages for $122,466 plus interest. Two years later, the Plaintiffs claimed nearly $1.2 million in attorney fees for 2,260 hours of work, and nearly $50,000 in costs. The Government argued that the Plaintiffs should be awarded no more than $228,502.25 in fees and $12,692.60 in costs, or only a fraction of what Plaintiffs believed they were entitled to.
The Court undertook a painstaking analysis of the work performed by Plaintiffs in winning the case. The Court first examined 1,120 hours spent prior to the settlement, of which the Court disallowed about 46 hours spent prior to the clients’ first retainer agreement on March 11, 2013. The Court reduced by 37 hours the time spent between March 2013 and June 2014 identifying and qualifying new clients for the class action. Finally, the Court reduced by 30% the remaining number of hours spent prior to June 2014 on class certification and unsuccessful Plaintiffs, knocking the total for that time worked down to 726 hours.
As for the hours of litigation in trying to recover their attorneys’ fees and costs, the Court deemed the 640 hours claimed a “problematic issue,” and reduced the recovered fees by 400 hours.
On the rate of attorneys’ fees, using the adjusted Laffey matrices and the firm’s rates, the Court determined that the partner rate for 2013-2014 would be calculated at $701 per hour and $749 per hour for 2015-2017. The Court also awarded roughly $34,000 in costs. The Court directed Plaintiffs to submit their calculations of fees in accordance with the opinion.
Read Judge Bruggink’s full opinion here.