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United States ex rel. Peterson v. Port of Benton County

United States District Court, E.D. Washington

December 6, 2019


v.
PORT OF BENTON COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER APPROVING QUI TAM ATTORNEY FEES

          THOMAS O. RICE CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         BEFORE THE COURT is the Port of Benton's accounting for attorney fees in relation to the Qui Tam claims. ECF Nos. 148, 213. Plaintiffs do not object to the amount requested, but rather request the Court not require payment until final judgment is entered on the remaining claims. ECF No. 218. The Court - having reviewed the record and briefing - is fully informed. For the reasons discussed below, the Court approves the requested attorney fees award and denies Plaintiffs' request to defer payment.

         BACKGROUND

         By way of background, Plaintiffs Randolph Peterson and Tri-City Railroad Company, LLC, brought this action asserting only a Qui Tam action based on two legal theories. ECF No. 1. Plaintiffs thereafter filed the First Amended Complaint asserting a plethora of other, unrelated causes of action and filed the Second Amended Complaint adding more substance to their claims. ECF Nos. 6; 13. After obtaining approval from the Court, Plaintiffs filed a Third Amended Complaint. ECF No. 124. The Port objected, arguing the Third Amended Complaint went beyond what was authorized by the Court; the Court agreed and struck the complaint. ECF Nos. 133; 165. Plaintiffs thereafter filed the Fourth Amended Complaint. ECF No. 167.

         On August 8, 2019, the Port moved for summary judgment on the Qui Tam claims and requested attorney fees. ECF No. 148. The Court granted the motion as to the Qui Tam claims and the request for attorney fees under 41 U.S.C. § 3730. ECF No. 196. The Port has since provided an accounting of the fees related to defending the Qui Tam claims. ECF No. 213

         GOVERNING LAW

         31 U.S.C. § 3730(d)(4) provides: “If the Government does not proceed with the action and the person bringing the action conducts the action, the court may award to the defendant its reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses if the defendant prevails in the action and the court finds that the claim of the person bringing the action was clearly frivolous, clearly vexatious, or brought primarily for purposes of harassment.” “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). “This calculation provides an objective basis on which to make an initial estimate of the value of a lawyer's services.” Id. “The district court [] should exclude from this initial fee calculation hours that were not ‘reasonably expended.'” Id. at 434 (citation omitted).

         “The product of reasonable hours times a reasonable rate does not end the inquiry. There remain other considerations that may lead the district court to adjust the fee upward or downward, including the important factor of the ‘results obtained.'” Id. “Although hours claimed or spent on a case should not be the sole basis for determining a fee, [citation omitted], they are a necessary ingredient to be considered. The trial judge should weigh the hours claimed against his own knowledge, experience, and expertise of the time required to complete similar activities.” Johnson v. Georgia Highway Exp., Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717 (5th Cir. 1974), abrogated on other grounds by Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87 (1989); Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434, n.9 (“The district court also may consider other factors identified in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc.”). Other factors include the novelty and difficulty of the questions, the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly, the customary fee, the amount involved, and the results obtained. Johnson, 488 F.2d at 717-719.

         The party seeking an award of fees should submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. The fee applicant “should make a good faith effort to exclude from a fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary . . . .” Id. “The applicant should exercise ‘billing judgment' with respect to hours worked [] and should maintain billing time records in a manner that will enable a reviewing court to identify distinct claims.” Id. at 437.

It is not necessary to know the exact number of minutes spent nor the precise activity to which each hour was devoted nor the specific attainments of each attorney. But without some fairly definite information as to the hours devoted to various general activities, e. g., pretrial discovery, settlement negotiations, and the hours spent by various classes of attorneys, e. g., senior partners, junior partners, associates, the court cannot know the nature of the services for which compensation is sought.

Copeland v. Marshall, 641 F.2d 880, 891 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (quoting Lindy Bros. Builders of Phila. v. Am. Radiator & Standard Sanitary Corp., 487 F.2d 161, 167 (3d Cir. 1973)). “Where the documentation of hours is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award accordingly.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433.

         “[T]he district court has discretion in determining the amount of a fee award.” Id. at 437. “It remains important, however, for the district court to provide a concise but clear explanation of its reasons for the fee award.” Id.

         FEE REQUEST

         The Port has submitted a declaration with supporting material in which the Port requests attorney fees in the amount of $102, 980.25. The Court previously approved of the hourly rate requested for the attorney fees in its Order Granting Rule 37 Attorney Fees in Part and the Court adopts that portion of ...


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