United States District Court, District of Columbia
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER.
BERMAN JACKSON United States District Judge.
Gregory Smith, brought this civil rights action under to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 alleging that the District of Columbia
Department of Corrections ("DOC") unlawfully
detained him for twenty-three days after a court ordered that
he was to be released from custody. Amend. Compl. [Dkt. # 36]
at 1. In connection with a discovery dispute, plaintiff filed
a Motion for Costs and Fees against the District, arguing
that defendant violated Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
26(a)(1), 28(e), 37(c)(1), and 37(d), and seeking "to
recover costs and fees incurred as a result of a
misrepresentation by [defendant] about the existence of
documents during the course of discovery." Pl's Mot.
for Costs & Fees [Dkt. # 39] ("Pl's Mot.");
Pl's Statement of P. & A. in Supp. of Pl's Mot.
[Dkt. # 39-1] ("Pl's Statement") at 1.
Defendant denied violating any discovery rules and argued
that any costs and fees incurred by plaintiff "are the
normal costs of litigation only to be reimbursed should
[p]laintiff prevail, at the end of the case . . . ." Def
District of Columbia's Mem. of P. & A. in Opp. to
Pl's Mot. [Dkt. # 40] ("Def.'s Opp.") at 1.
Court referred the motion to a Magistrate Judge for a
decision pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.2. Min. Order
Referring Case (June 13, 2016). On December 6, 2016, the
Magistrate Judge issued an order granting the motion in part
and denying it in part. Order [Dkt. # 53]. The Magistrate
Judge found that defendant had committed two discovery
violations and awarded plaintiff attorneys' fees in the
amount of $18, 428.30: $12, 545.40 for 30.9 hours of Mr.
Klaproth's time at $406 per hour, and $5, 882.90 for 8.9
hours of Mr. Akulian's time at $661 per hour. Mem. Op. re
Pl's Mot. [Dkt. # 54] ("Mem. Op.") at 19.
only objection raised to the Magistrate Judge's ruling
relates to the amount of attorneys' fees - in particular,
the hourly rate used to calculate the fees. Def's Obj. to
Magistrate Judge's Dec. 6, 2016 Ruling [Dkt. # 58]
("Def's Obj."); Mem. of P. & A. in Supp. of
Def's Obj. [Dkt. # 58] ("Def's Obj. Mem.").
Defendant argues that the Magistrate Judge committed clear
error when she applied the higher Legal Services Index
("LSI") Laffey rates rather than the
United States Attorney's Office ("USAO")
Laffey rates. Def's Obj. Mem. at 1-5. Plaintiff
contends that the use of the higher rate scale was justified
because the case involves complex federal litigation.
Pl's Resp. to Def's Obj. [Dkt. # 59] ("Pl's
Resp.") at 1-4. Defendant's objections to the
Magistrate Judge's ruling are now before the Court.
Court concludes that the Magistrate Judge committed clear
error in calculating the fees, and therefore, it will order
defendant to pay plaintiff attorneys' fees corresponding
to the rates set forth in the USAO Laffey Matrix for
a total payment of $15, 579.90. While the D.C. Circuit has
authorized the use of the higher matrix in complex federal
litigation in general, plaintiff has failed to meet his
burden to establish that the rates are reasonable in this
case in particular, and therefore the Magistrate Judge's
determination was contrary to law.
Laffey Matrix sets out a general guideline for
awarding attorneys' fees based on experience."
Salazar ex. rel. Salazar v. District of Columbia,
809 F.3d 58, 62 (D.C. Cir. 2015). But the rates are thirty
years old and must be adjusted for inflation. Id. As
a result, updated Laffey matrices have been
developed, including the two at issue here: (1) the "LSI
Laffey Matrix, " updated in accordance with the
Legal Services Index of the Nationwide Consumer Price Index,
and (2) the "USAO Laffey Matrix, " which
is maintained by the United States Attorney's Office and
adjusts rates to account for inflation by using the All-Items
Consumer Price Index for the Washington, D.C. area. See
id.; Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 101-02
(D.C. Cir. 2015) (elaborating on the differences between the
sought attorneys' fees calculated at the rates set out in
the LSI Laffey Matrix, pointing out that the use of
the rates was affirmed recently by the D.C. Circuit in
Salazar, 809 F.3d at 62, a case involving federal
civil rights litigation. Reply Br. in Supp. of Pl's Mot.
[Dkt. #41] ("Pl's Reply") at 12-13. Defendant
argued that plaintiffs requested rates were "excessive,
unreasonable, and would constitute a windfall for [p]laintiff
s counsel, " and that the Magistrate Judge should
calculate the rates based on the USAO Laffey Matrix.
Def's Opp. at 11-14.
ruling, the Magistrate Judge stated at the outset that the
"district court has broad discretion in determining the
size of an expense award under Rule 37, " Mem. Op. at
16, quoting Beckv. Test Masters Educ. Servs., Inc.,
289 F.R.D. 374, 382 (D.D.C. 2013), and that "the [c]ourt
uses the lodestar method, multiplying a reasonably hourly
rate by the number of hours expended" to determine the
size of the award. Id. In reliance upon the holding
in Salazar that "an award of the
LSl-Iaffey rates in a civil rights action was not an
abuse of the [d]istrict [c]ourt's discretion, "
id. at 17, citing Salazar, 809 F.3d at 64,
the Magistrate Judge found that plaintiff had presented
enough evidence to establish that the
"LSI-Laffey rates are the prevailing rates for
this type of complex federal litigation." Id.
The Magistrate Judge also concluded that defendant
"fail[ed] to present sufficient evidence to rebut the
reasonableness of the LSI-Laffey rates requested by
[p]laintiff." Id Defendant had submitted the
Statement of Interest of the United States which the District
had previously submitted to the district court in Eley v.
District of Columbia, 201 F.Supp.3d 150 (D.D.C. 2016),
and which argues that USAO Laffey rates should be
the highest rates awarded for attorney fees. See
Mem. Op. at 17; Ex. 2 to Def's Opp. [Dkt. # 40-2]. But
the Magistrate Judge stated that she would accord the
Statement of Interest from Eley "relatively
little weight" because it "predates
Salazaf and "deals mainly with rates for fees
subject to a fee-shifting statute rather than Rule 37
sanctions . . . ." Mem. Op. at 17. Without other
evidence to rebut a finding that the LSI Laffey
rates were reasonable, the Magistrate Judge exercised her
discretion "to award [p]laintiff attorneys' fees
corresponding to the hourly rate set forth in the
LSl-Laffey matrix." Id.
has objected to the Magistrate Judge's decision to apply
the hourly rates contained in the LSI Laffey Matrix
instead of the less generous USAO Laffey fee
schedule. Def's Obj. at 1. It contends that plaintiff did
not produce sufficient evidence to establish that the hourly
rates were reasonable, and that the Magistrate Judge erred in
applying the LSI Laffey rate schedule. Def's
Obj. Mem. at 3-5. The Court agrees. After reviewing the
Magistrate Judge's decision under the deferential
standard set out by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) and
Local Civil Rule 72.2(c), the Court concludes that the
Magistrate Judge's fee award was clearly erroneous and
contrary to law.
may refer nondispositive matters, including a motion for
attorneys' fees, to a Magistrate Judge for resolution
pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) and Local
Rule 72.2. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); LCvR 72.2(a); see also New
Life Evangelistic Ctr., Inc. v. Sebelius, 847 F.Supp.2d
50, 51-52 (D.D.C. 2012). Upon referral, the Magistrate Judge
"must promptly conduct the required proceedings and,
when appropriate, issue a written order stating the
decision." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); see also LCvR
72.2(a). Once the Magistrate Judge issues her decision, any
party may raise objections to that decision within fourteen
days "after being served with the order." LCvR
72.2(b); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(a). Failure to
enter a timely objection will result in a waiver.
district court shall review "timely objections and
modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly
erroneous or is contrary to law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a).
"A court should make such a finding when the court
'is left with the definite and firm conviction that a
mistake has been committed.'" New Life
Evangelistic Ctr., Inc., 847 F.Supp.2d at 53, quoting
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