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Vigilant Insurance Co. v. Eemax

March 24, 2005

VIGILANT INSURANCE CO., A/S/O WILLIAMS & CONNOLLY, L.L.P, PLAINTIFF,
v.
EEMAX, INC. AND PVI INDUSTRIES, L.L.C., DEFENDANTS. EEMAX, INC., THIRD-PARTY PLAINTIFF,
v.
GENERAL ELECTRIC COMPANY ET AL., THIRD-PARTY DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

This case is before the court upon consent of the parties to trial before a United States Magistrate Judge. Currently ripe and ready for resolution is General Electric's Motion for Attorneys' Fees ("Mot."). For the reasons stated herein, the motion is granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

On June 9, 2004, this court issued a Memorandum Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part EEMAX's Motion for Extension of Time to Designate Liability Experts. In that opinion, I stated:

[B]ecause of the unnecessary delay, disruption, and expense EEMAX has caused, I will grant GE reasonable attorney's fees that it had to expend in litigating this matter. Specifically, GE may seek attorney's fees for its costs in: 1) responding to EEMAX's Motion for Extension of Time to Designate Liability Experts or, in the Alternative, Motion for Continuance; 2) preparing for and attending the hearing held before me on April 2, 2004; and 3) preparing and submitting briefs in response to my order of April 5, 2004.

Memorandum Opinion, June 9, 2004, at 10-11.

In response to this opinion, GE submitted a request for attorney's fees to EEMAX, but EEMAX refused to pay them because they seemed "unreasonably high." Mot., Ex. B. Unable to work out their dispute, GE filed a motion for attorney's fees, claiming that its fee request of $44,626.80 was "very reasonable in view of the effort required to properly brief the matters at issue." Mot. at 2. I have reviewed GE's fee request, time records, and the corresponding pleadings, and I find $44,626.80-an amount that, for many people, represents a full year's salary-is unreasonably high. I have, therefore, reduced the fees to a reasonable amount for each of the tasks involved. As a result of these reductions, I will order EEMAX to pay GE $15,457.50 within ten days of this Memorandum Order.*fn1

II. DISCUSSION

A. Overview

As I have stated in previous opinions, there are several principles that help guide the court's analysis in determining whether attorney's fees are reasonable or unreasonable. First, the court must look at the legal issues and factual analysis involved because, generally speaking, the more complicated they are, the more time attorneys may reasonably spend addressing them. However, it is inappropriate for the court to award payment at the highest rates when the work could have or should have been done at a lower level. In addition, the court must take into consideration the layers of review that are built into any law firm. It is reasonable to expect that, where the legal issues and factual analysis are fairly straightforward, lower-level associates must have the laboring oar, and senior-level associates or partners must function in a supervisory capacity. When the reverse is true, that is, when the issues are complex, the most senior attorneys ought to perform the majority of the work because they have the most experience and can accomplish the tasks much more efficiently. Indeed, as I have previously stated, the court must guard against two dangers that are mirror images of each other; insufficient or excessive delegation. Insufficient delegation means that experienced lawyers are performing tasks well beneath them. Clients will not pay $350 for a lawyer to stand over a xerox machine; their opponents should not have to, either. On the other hand, inexperienced lawyers, although they bill at a lower rate, may burn up many hours doing tasks that their seniors could have accomplished more efficiently and cheaply. Mitchell v. National R.R. Passenger Corp., 217 F.R.D. 53, 58 (D.D.C. 2003). In light of these principles, I have compared the time sheets submitted by each lawyer with the documents produced or hearing attended.

B. Fees Incurred During Each Task

1. Responding to EEMAX's Motion

GE submitted time sheets reflecting a total of 17.8 hours at the cost of $7,142.40 for responding to EEMAX's motion to extend the discovery deadline for liability experts. This work was performed by a senior-level associate and two partners, each at different firms. The records reflect that, when their time is added together, the partners did almost double the work of the associate.

A review of the docket indicates that GE attorneys wrote a six-page opposition, filed a three-page motion for leave to submit two affidavits, and secured two affidavits from GE's consulting expert and his son. In GE's opposition, GE recounted the basic procedural and discovery history of the case but cited no legal authorities. While GE did secure two affidavits, both are short and uncomplicated. In this situation, where the work involved was straightforward, I find that it should have been done primarily by an associate and reviewed by one partner. ...


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