In Lost Tree Village Corporation v. United States, a taking case, the Court of Federal Claims awarded the plaintiff reimbursement of all the attorneys’ fees and expenses it had actually paid—totaling $2,021,257.72. The court rejected the Government’s arguments that the hourly rates of Lost Tree’s law firm were too high (up to $810 per hour), that the hours were excessive, and that some expenses were unnecessary, stating “[f]ees incurred and paid by a client at an agreed rate are presumptively reasonable because ‘[i]n reaching agreement, lawyer and client have already considered and weighed all the relevant factors,’” and that “[w]hen fixed market rates already exist, there is no good reason to tolerate the substantial costs of turning every attorneys[’] fee case into a major ratemaking proceeding.”
Lost Tree obtained the award of fees and costs under Section 304(c) of the Uniform Relocation Assistance and Real Property Acquisition Act, which provides a successful inverse condemnation plaintiff in the Court of Federal Claims the right to recover “reasonable costs, disbursements, and expenses, including reasonable attorney, appraisal, and engineering fees, actually incurred because of such proceeding.” The Court distinguished contingent fee cases, where there is no billing and payment history and the Court must determine the reasonableness of fees and expenses that the client has not yet paid. Applying this distinction, the Court denied reimbursement for a $300,000 contingent fee that Lost Tree’s counsel would recover only if awarded because the client would not come out of pocket for this amount.
The case arose out of the Army Corps of Engineers’ denial of a Section 404 wetlands fill permit in 2004, and the outcome turned on determination of the nature and size of the parcel to be analyzed. The case was twice appealed to the Federal Circuit. The court also awarded compound interest from 2004 (date of taking) until the judgment is paid.
Read Judge Lettow’s opinion here.