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Hajjar-Nejad v. George Washington University

United States District Court, District Circuit

June 12, 2013

MOHAMMAD JAVAD HAJJAR-NEJAD, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN M. FACCIOLA UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

This case was referred to me by Judge Kollar-Kotelly for resolution of all discovery disputes. Ready for my resolution is The George Washington University’s Petition for Fees and Costs Incurred by Preparing for and Attending Hajjar-Nejad’s November 8, 2012 Deposition, and the Filing of Documents [#74] and [#135] [#149].

On May 9, 2012, I issued an Order ruling on various discovery-related issues, but deferred ruling on The George Washington University (“GWU”)’s requests for sanctions against plaintiff for various discovery-related rules violations. Order [#97]. I ordered plaintiff to show cause why he should not be required to pay fees and costs incurred as a result of his refusal to attend his original deposition and his early departure from the deposition once it was rescheduled. Id. Plaintiff failed to respond to the show cause order, presumably because objections were raised by both parties on a number of issues, and Judge Kollar-Kotelly did not have a chance to address those objections before the show cause date passed. Accordingly, I excused plaintiff’s failure to respond to the show cause order by the original deadline, and reissued that order with a new deadline. Minute Order of November 26, 2012. Plaintiff responded on December 14, 2012, Plaintiff’s Response to the Show Cause Order [#133], and GWU filed its opposition on December 28, 2012, The George Washington University’s Response to Hajjar-Nejad’s Response to Show Cause Order [#135].

On January 16, 2013, I ruled that GWU could recover fees and costs incurred as a result of plaintiff’s leaving his deposition early, but not for his failure to attend his original deposition. Order [#144]. More specifically, I held that GWU could recover reasonable attorneys’ fees for: 1) time spent preparing for and attending the rescheduled 1.5 hours of deposition; and 2) the two motions[1] filed as a result of plaintiff’s conduct. Id.

On May 3, 2012, I issued an Order clarifying my earlier holding and noting that GWU could recover fees only for those portions of the two motions that dealt specifically with plaintiff’s leaving his deposition 1.5 hours early. Order [#160] at 4. In doing so, I noted that “it would be unjust to require a pro se plaintiff to pay the attorneys’ fees associated with the production of two lengthy, consolidated findings where I ruled in defendant’s favor on only one of the issues addressed in those filings.” Id. I then ordered GWU to submit a supplemental briefing, including supporting documentation, showing how much time was spent on the relevant sections of the two motions. Id. at 4-5.

GWU submitted the requested supplemental briefing on May 15, 2013. The George Washington University’s Supplemental Brief in Support of Its Petition for Fees and Costs Incurred by Preparing for and Attending Hajjar-Nejad’s November 8, 2012 Deposition, and the Filing of Documents [#74] and [#135] [#164]. I am now prepared to issue my ruling on the amount of fees GWU may recover.

LEGAL STANDARD

In reviewing a party’s fee petition, “the Court must determine: (1) the reasonableness of the hourly rate charged; and (2) the reasonableness of the hours expended on the litigation.” Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995); Woodland v. Viacom, Inc., 255 F.R.D. 278, 280 (D.D.C. 2008). Regarding the first element, in this Circuit, “an attorney’s usual billing rate is presumptively the reasonable rate, provided that this rate is ‘in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.’” Kattan ex rel. Kattan v. District of Columbia, 995 F.2d 273, 278 (D.C. Cir. 1993) (internal quotations and citations omitted); Woodland, 255 F.R.D. at 280-81. As for the second element, “the fee petitioner must submit evidence to the court that supports the hours worked” and “the application must be sufficiently detailed to permit the District Court to make an independent determination whether or not the hours claimed are justified.” Woodland, 255 F.R.D. at 281-82; see also Nat’l Ass’n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec’y of Def., 675 F.2d 1319, 1327 (D.C. Cir. 1982).

ANALYSIS

Based on my ruling that GWU could recover fees only for those portions of its motions devoted to plaintiff’s leaving his deposition early, GWU reduced the total fee award it seeks from $12, 812.90 to $8, 340.08. Compare [#149] at 2 with [#164] at 1. I must now decide whether the rate and hours billed are reasonable.

I. The Reasonableness of the Hourly Rate Charged

GWU seeks reimbursement only at the discounted rate it paid its attorneys at Arent Fox. See [#164] at 2. Arent Fox billed GWU at the following rates:

Month and Year

Task

Attorney

Discounted Hourly Rate

March 2012

[#74]

Toof

$404.00

Heilman

$264.00

November 2012

Resumed Deposition Morris

$469.00

Toof

$378.75

December 2012

[#135]

Morri

$469.00

Toof

$378.75


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