United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
S. Zilly, United States District Judge.
MATTER comes before the Court on a motion for attorneys'
fees, docket no. 321, brought by Steven Ritt and the marital
community composed of Steven Ritt and Laurie Rosen-Ritt
(collectively, “Ritt”). Having reviewed all papers filed in
support of, and in opposition to, Ritt's motion, the
Court enters the following order.
was the prevailing party with regard to a claim brought by
Seattle Times Company (“Seattle Times”) pursuant
to Washington's Model Toxics Control Act
(“MTCA”). See Minute Order at ¶
2(b) (docket no. 313); see also Order (docket no.
270); Judgment (docket no. 271). Under MTCA, the prevailing
party in a lawsuit to recoup “remedial action
costs” is entitled to recover “reasonable
attorneys' fees and costs.” RCW 70.105D.080. The
fee applicant bears the burden of proving the reasonableness
of the amount requested. Scott Fetzer Co. v. Weeks,
122 Wn.2d 141, 151, 859 P.2d 1210 (1993). Under Washington
law, which governs the determination of reasonable
attorneys' fees in this case, the lodestar method
applies. See Brand v. Dep't of Labor &
Indus., 139 Wn.2d 659, 666, 989 P.2d 1111 (1999).
lodestar method involves two steps: first, computing a
lodestar amount by multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by
the number of hours reasonably expended on the matter; and
second, adjusting the lodestar figure either up or down to
reflect factors that have not already been taken into
account, for example, the contingent nature of success and
the quality of the work performed. See id.; see
also Bowers v. Transamerica Title Ins. Co., 100 Wn.2d
581, 593-99, 675 P.2d 193 (1983) (quoting Miles v.
Sampson, 675 F.2d 5, 8 (1st Cir. 1982), and citing
Copeland v. Marshall, 641 F.2d 880 (D.C. Cir.
1980)). The Court is not bound by the lodestar value, but
rather, is charged with making “an independent
decision” as to what represents a reasonable amount of
attorneys' fees. Nordstrom, Inc. v. Tampourlos,
107 Wn.2d 735, 744, 733 P.2d 208 (1987). With regard to
reasonableness, an attorney's billing records, although
relevant, are “in no way dispositive.”
has requested $807, 613.00 in attorneys' fees, arguing
that the time spent on defending LeatherCare, Inc.
(“LeatherCare”), which was also sued by Seattle
Times, and which was represented by the same attorneys as
Ritt, cannot be segregated from the efforts devoted to
Ritt's defense. The Court disagrees. The Court will award
100% of the attorneys' fees associated with (i) the
billing entries of Jo M. Flannery and Kristin Nealey
mention Ritt, and (ii) Flannery's and Meier's
services in successfully opposing the motion filed by Seattle
Times in June 2017 seeking summary judgment concerning
Ritt's liability. With regard to the remainder of
Flannery's and Meier's fees, the Court will use a 10%
multiplier of the lodestar amount, which reflects a
reasonable apportionment between work performed for Ritt and
their representation of LeatherCare.
personal liability was not a primary issue in this
litigation. Rather, on behalf of both Ritt and LeatherCare,
Flannery and Meier focused most of their energy on the
unsuccessful argument that recovery under MTCA for
excavation-related expenses should be limited to the
percentage (allegedly 22%) of soil that had concentrations of
perchloroethylene (“PCE”) above the
“cleanup” level published by Washington's
Department of Ecology (0.05 mg PCE per kg soil). See
Order at 105-07 (docket no. 270). They also lobbied to no
avail for parties other than Ritt and LeatherCare to be
equitably allocated a majority (60% or more) of the
responsibility for the remedial action costs at issue.
See Trial Br. at 27 (docket no. 131). Ritt is not
entitled to attorneys' fees or litigation expenses,
including expert witness fees, incurred to advance theories
on which neither Ritt nor LeatherCare prevailed.
concluding that Ritt is entitled to 10% of the lodestar
figure for Flannery's and Meier's general billings,
the Court has considered the declaration of Peter Hsiao, an
expert for Seattle Times, who opined that the appropriate
amount of reduction for entries encompassing recoverable and
non-recoverable time is 85%. See Hsiao Decl. at
¶¶ 6 & 20 (docket no. 326). Because the Court
has awarded 100% of the fees related to Flannery's and
Meier's “Ritt” specific work, the Court will
allow 10%, rather than 15%, of their remaining billings. The
10% figure also reflects the proportion of the discussion
section of the Court's Order entered August 15, 2018,
docket no. 270, that was devoted to analyzing whether Ritt
qualified as an “operator” under MTCA (roughly
5.5 of the 56 pages).
Court will use the same multiplier (10%) with respect to
paralegal billings, which adequately accounts for the
segregable nature of the issues on which Ritt prevailed, as
well as any work that was clerical, as opposed to legal, in
nature. The Court declines to adopt the suggestion of Seattle
Times to further reduce the lodestar figure to compensate for
has represented that both she and Meier billed at the reduced
rate of $300 per hour for this matter. Flannery Decl. at
¶¶ 6 & 7 (docket no. 322). The billing entries
submitted in support of the motion for attorneys' fees,
however, show rates for Flannery's and Meier's
services ranging from $260 to $380 per hour, with the
prevalent rates being $300 or $320 per hour. See id.
at Ex. B (docket no. 322-2). Seattle Times has not challenged
the hourly rates requested for Flannery's and Meier's
services, and the Court finds that rates ranging from $260 to
$380 per hour are reasonable.
has also indicated that paralegals billed at reduced rates in
this matter. See id. at ¶ 10. The proffered
billing entries reflect rates ranging from $115 to $170 per
hour. See id. at Ex. B. Seattle Times contends that
all paralegal time should be deducted because biographical
information was not provided for any paralegal, but it has
not separately argued that the requested rates are
unreasonable. The Court concludes that Flannery's
description of the paralegals as having “a minimum of
10 years of experience in the field, ” id. at
¶ 10, is sufficient to support the hourly rates at
issue, which the Court finds reasonable and consistent with
the typical rates in the local legal community for paralegals
with equivalent experience.
foregoing reasons, the Court ORDERS as follows:
Ritt's motion for attorneys' fees, docket no. 321, is
STRICKEN in part (as to costs and/or litigation expenses)