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Gatore v. United States Department of Homeland Security

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 21, 2017

RICA GATORE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          REGGIE B. WALTON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Catholic Charities and eight individual plaintiffs brought this civil action against the defendant, the United States Department of Homeland Security, under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”), 5 U.S.C. § 552 (2012), seeking, inter alia, documents relating to the defendant's processing of FOIA requests for the assessments of asylum officers. See Amended Complaint (“Am. Compl.”) ¶¶ 1-4, 61. Currently pending before the Court is Catholic Charities' Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment as to Ninth Cause of Action (“Pl.'s Renewed Summ. J. Mot.”), which actually seeks an award of attorney's fees and costs because Catholic Charities was awarded summary judgment on its ninth cause of action. Upon careful consideration of the parties' submissions, [1] the Court concludes for the reasons set forth below that it must grant Catholic Charities' motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The Court's opinions and prior orders set forth in detail the factual and procedural history of this case, and therefore, the Court finds it unnecessary to reiterate that history here. However, the following summary is relevant to Catholic Charities' present request for attorney's fees and costs. On February 13, 2015, Catholic Charities submitted a FOIA request to the defendant seeking “[d]ocuments relating to the processing, answering, and responding to FOIA requests for assessments of asylum officers.” Am. Compl., Exhibit (“Ex.”) 9 (Catholic Charities' FOIA Request).[2] On February 18, 2015, the defendant requested additional time to process the request, citing “unusual circumstances.” See Def.'s Summ. J. Mot., Ex. 1 (Declaration of Jill A. Eggleston (July 21, 2015)), Ex. H (Letter from Jill A. Eggleston, Director, FOIA Operations, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Servs., to David L. Cleveland, Catholic Charities of Washington (Feb. 18, 2015)) at 1. The plaintiffs' amended complaint alleged as its ninth cause of action that the “[d]efendant . . . provided nothing in response” to Catholic Charities' FOIA request. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 61-62.

         On June 24, 2015, still having received no documents in response to its request, Catholic Charities filed a motion for summary judgment as to its ninth cause of action. See Pl.'s Summ. J. Mot. at 1. Thereafter, in October 2015, the defendant produced three documents in response to Catholic Charities' FOIA request. Pl.'s Mem. at 3; Def.'s Resp. at 6. Although the Court found “that the defendant's delay in processing Catholic Charities' FOIA request appear[ed] to be unjustified, ” the Court denied Catholic Charities' summary judgment motion because Catholic Charities “failed to address this Circuit's standard for the award of costs and attorney fees under the FOIA.” Gatore v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 177 F.Supp.3d 46, 54-55 (D.D.C. 2016) (Walton, J.).

         On May 27, 2016, the defendant filed a supplemental Vaughn index, which referenced a “FOIA Processing Guide” (the “Guide”). See Notice of Supplemental/Revised Vaughn Index, Ex. 1 (Supplemental Declaration of Jill A. Eggleston (May 27, 2016)) ¶¶ 8-10. In response, Catholic Charities filed its Renewed Motion for Summary Judgment as to Ninth Cause of Action, in which it argued that the Guide fell within the scope of its FOIA request and requested that the Guide be produced to it within ten days. See Pl.'s Renewed Summ. J. Mot. at 4. The motion further requested that the Court order the defendant to pay Catholic Charities “attorney['s] fees of $13, 643 and costs of $400.” Id. at 10. The defendant did not respond to Catholic Charities' motion.

         On February 3, 2017, the Court partially granted Catholic Charities' renewed summary judgment motion and ordered the defendant to produce the Guide to Catholic Charities within ten days as requested. See Order at 9 (Feb. 3, 2017), ECF No. 58 (the “February 3, 2017 Order”). Although the Court additionally “conclud[ed] that Catholic Charities [wa]s both eligible for and entitled to an award of attorney's fees and costs, ” id. at 6, in light of the defendant's failure to respond to Catholic Charities' motion, the Court ultimately found it appropriate to “give the defendant an opportunity to submit a response . . . to the amount sought, to ensure that this issue is fully briefed prior to its resolution, ” id. at 8. Accordingly, the Court ordered the defendant to “show cause . . . why the Court should not award the amount of attorney's fees and costs requested by Catholic Charities.” Id. at 9.

         On February 14, 2017, the defendant filed a motion for reconsideration of the Court's February 3, 2017 Order. See generally Defendant's Motion to Reconsider & Stay, or Alternatively, to Modify the February 3, 2017[] Order and Memorandum in Support (Feb. 14, 2017). On June 27, 2017, the Court denied the defendant's motion for reconsideration, and again ordered the defendant to produce the Guide within ten days and show cause why Catholic Charities should not be awarded the amount of attorney's fees and costs requested. See Order at 6 (June 27, 2017), ECF No. 79. On July 21, 2017, over two years after Catholic Charities made its FOIA request pursuant to its ninth cause of action, the defendant produced the Guide to Catholic Charities. See Pl.'s Reply at 2.

         II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         The FOIA provides that courts “may assess against the United States reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred in any case . . . in which the [plaintiff] has substantially prevailed.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E)(i). “This language naturally divides the attorney-fee inquiry into two prongs, which [District of Columbia Circuit] case law has long described as fee ‘eligibility' and fee ‘entitlement.'” Brayton v. Office of the U.S. Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (quoting Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Dep't of Commerce, 470 F.3d 363, 368-69 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). “The eligibility prong asks whether a plaintiff has ‘substantially prevailed' and thus ‘may' receive fees.” Id. “If so, the court proceeds to the entitlement prong and considers a variety of factors to determine whether the plaintiff should receive fees.” Id. (quoting Judicial Watch, 470 F.3d at 369). “Finally, ‘[a] plaintiff who has proven both eligibility for and entitlement to fees must submit [its] fee bill to the court for [its] scrutiny of the reasonableness of (a) the number of hours expended and (b) the hourly fee claimed.'” Judicial Watch, 470 F.3d at 369 (quoting Long v. IRS, 932 F.2d 1309, 1313-14 (9th Cir. 1991)).

         III. ANALYSIS

         A. Eligibility for and Entitlement to Attorney's Fees and Costs

         As referenced above, this Court previously concluded that Catholic Charities is eligible for and entitled to attorney's fees and costs based on its ninth cause of action. See February 3, 2017 Order at 6 (“In light of the Court's conclusion that the . . . Guide must be furnished to Catholic Charities, it is beyond debate that Catholic Charities has substantially prevailed in this litigation, and consequently, it is eligible for attorney's fees.” (citation omitted)); id. at 6-7 (finding that each of the four entitlement factors weigh in favor of Catholic Charities and concluding that “Catholic Charities is . . . entitled to an award of attorney's fees and costs”). The defendant concedes that “Catholic Charities prevailed on its ninth cause of action and . . . is eligible for attorney's fees on that discrete issue, ” Def.'s Resp. at 6, and therefore, the Court need not reconsider its previous conclusion as to eligibility. The defendant disputes, however, that Catholic Charities is entitled to any amount of fees, arguing that all four entitlement factors weigh in its favor because the Guide “is of no public value, ” “Catholic Charities' request [for the Guide] was for private advantage and not for public informational purposes, ” and the defendant “was not unreasonable in not releasing the full . . . Guide to Catholic Charities.” Id. at 4-6.[3] The Court disagrees, and will again conclude that Catholic Charities is entitled to some amount of attorney's fees and costs.

         In assessing whether a plaintiff is entitled to attorney's fees, the Court typically considers four factors: “(1) the public benefit derived from the case; (2) the commercial benefit to the plaintiff; (3) the nature of the plaintiff's interest in the records; and (4) the reasonableness of the agency's withholding of the requested documents.” McKinley v. Fed. Hous. Fin. Agency, 739 F.3d 707, 711 (D.C. Cir. 2014) (quoting Tax Analysts v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 965 F.2d 1092, 1093 (D.C. Cir. 1992)). As to the first factor, which requires the Court to consider both “the effect of the litigation for which fees are requested and the potential public value of the information sought, ” Davy v. CIA, 550 F.3d 1155, 1159 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (quoting Tax Analysts, 965 F.2d at 1093), the defendant argues that the Guide “is of no public value, ” see Def.'s Resp. at 4-5, citing as support for this position a decision in which the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that documents relating to the Smithsonian's museum shops had no potential public value because “no evidence exist[ed] that the release of the . . . documents w[ould] contribute to the public's ability to make vital political choices, ” and the plaintiff “sought these documents for the sole purpose of facilitating her employment discrimination suit, ” Cotton v. Heyman, 63 F.3d 1115, 1120 (D.C. Cir. 1995). The documents here, however, do not compare with the documents in Cotton. Unlike the documents requested in Cotton, the defendant's Guide has significant potential public value because it “will enable citizens to more effectively and knowledgeably use FOIA to obtain information [from the defendant] to which they are entitled.” See Negley v. FBI, 818 F.Supp.2d 69, 76 (D.D.C. 2011) (concluding that “the public ha[d] derived great benefit” from the plaintiff's FOIA litigation because it “produced ‘extraordinary information regarding how the FBI maintains its records and the baseline method by which it will search for and respond to FOIA requests'”). Access to such information is especially important for organizations like Catholic Charities and their clients given that the “FOIA is the exclusive means that a respondent in Immigration Court proceedings must use to obtain documents for use in immigration proceedings.” Jarno v. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 365 F.Supp.2d 733, 739 (E.D. Va. 2005) (citing 8 C.F.R. § 1208.12 (2005)). Moreover, the defendant's argument fails to address the “effect of this litigation, ” which is a component of the public benefit analysis. See Davy, 550 F.3d at 1159. This factor weighs in favor of Catholic Charities, because the defendant “did not turn over any documents to [Catholic Charities] until after [it] filed suit, ” making the defendant's release of the Guide a “fruit of [Catholic Charities'] litigation.” See id. Thus, the Court again concludes that the first entitlement factor weighs in Catholic Charities' favor.

         As to the second and third factors, which concern the “commercial benefit to the plaintiff” and “the nature of the plaintiff's interest in the records, ” McKinley, 739 F.3d at 711 (quoting Tax Analysts, 965 F.2d at 1093), the defendant argues that Catholic Charities “sought [the Guide] specifically for use in this litigation, ” and its request therefore “was for private advantage and not for public informational purposes, ” Def.'s Resp. at 4-5. However, as the Court previously found, Catholic Charities' objective in seeking the Guide and other documents was, inter alia, “to promote the fairness and integrity of this country's asylum process.” February 3, 2017 Order at 7. And the mere fact that Catholic Charities has cited the Guide's content in litigating its remaining claims in this suit, see Def.'s Resp. at 8, without more, does not “transform [this] nonprofit['s] interests from [a] public interest to [a] commercial or self-interest, ” see Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. (“EPIC”) v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec., 218 F.Supp.3d 27, 45 (D.D.C. 2016) (rejecting the defendant's argument that the plaintiff's distribution of information it had obtained in a newsletter that featured a link for donations demonstrated that the plaintiff's interest in the information was commercial or private and not public). Moreover, the Circuit's decision in Cotton does not counsel the Court to conclude otherwise, because in that case, the Circuit was left with no choice but to conclude that the plaintiff sought the documents for her own self-interest, given its conclusion that the documents requested by the plaintiff wholly lacked public value. See 63 F.3d at 1120. The defendant thus “provides no basis to doubt that [Catholic Charities'] purpose in filing the FOIA request and pursuing litigation was to increase the public fund of knowledge about a matter of public concern.” Davy, 550 F.3d at 1162; see also EPIC, 218 F.Supp.3d at 45 (“[N]onprofit public interest group[s] are usually allow[ed] recovery of fees . . . .” (second and third alterations in original) (quoting All. for Responsible CFC Policy, Inc. v. Costle, 631 F.Supp. 1469, 1471 (D.D.C. 1986))).

         Finally, regarding the fourth factor, which concerns “whether the [defendant's] opposition to disclosure ‘had a reasonable basis in law' and whether the [defendant] ‘had not been recalcitrant in its opposition to a valid claim or otherwise engaged in obdurate behavior, '” Davy, 550 F.3d at 1162 (first quoting Tax Analysts, 965 F.2d at 1096, then quoting LaSalle Extension Univ. v. FTC, 627 F.2d 481, 486 (D.C. Cir. 1980)), the defendant argues that it “was not unreasonable in not releasing the full . . . Guide to Catholic Charities” because “Catholic Charities limited its FOIA request to documents about ‘processing, answering, and responding to FOIA requests for assessments of [an] asylum officer, ' so [the d]efendant released only the sections of its . . . Guide related to that specified subject matter, ” Def.'s Resp. at 5. However, this was not a “reasonable basis in the law” for the defendant's failure to disclose the entire Guide, as this Court's prior rulings make clear, see June 27, 2017 Order at 6 (“The Court finds that the Department's selective release of only a portion of the . . . Guide it deemed responsive to Catholic Charities' request, and its failure to explain why the other portions are exempted from disclosure, do not square with the Circuit's instruction that the FOIA's statutory scheme does not permit an agency to fail to disclose purportedly non-responsive information from a record deemed responsive, unless that information is subject to a statutory exemption.” (citations omitted)). In addition, the defendant offers no evidence to show that it had a reasonable basis for not disclosing any part of the Guide until after Catholic Charities filed suit. See Davy, 550 F.3d at 1163; see also EPIC, 218 F.Supp.3d at 46 (“[A]n agency lacks a colorable basis in the law where it does not [substantively] respond to a FOIA request until after a lawsuit has been filed.” (citing Davy, 550 F.3d at 1163)). Furthermore, the defendant has certainly been recalcitrant in refusing for over two years to produce the Guide, which “falls squarely within the scope of Catholic Charities' FOIA request.” See June 27, 2017 Order at 4; see also February 3, 2017 Order at 7-8 (“[I]n light of the fact that it defies logic that a document titled ‘FOIA Processing Guide' does not fall squarely within the scope of Catholic Charities' FOIA request, the Court must conclude that the defendant's inaction amounts to recalcitrance in regards to its obligations under the FOIA.”). Thus, the Court again finds that all four entitlement factors weigh in favor of Catholic Charities, and as a result, Catholic Charities is entitled to some amount of attorney's fees and costs.

         B. Reasonableness of Attorney's Fees and Costs

         Having found that Catholic Charities is both eligible for and entitled to attorney's fees and costs, the Court must next assess the reasonableness of the fees and costs requested, as the FOIA permits an award of “reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E)(i) (emphasis added). “The usual method of calculating reasonable attorney's fees is to multiply the hours reasonably expended in the litigation by a reasonable hourly fee, producing the ‘lodestar' amount.” Bd. of Trs. of Hotel & Rest. Emps. Local 25 v. JPR, Inc., 136 F.3d 794, 801 (D.C. Cir. 1998). The party seeking fees and costs bears the burden of showing the reasonableness of its fees and costs requests.[4] Role Models Am., Inc. v. Brownlee, 353 F.3d 962, 970 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Once the plaintiff has met this burden, the burden shifts to the defendant to rebut the presumption of reasonableness with “equally specific countervailing evidence.” Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1109 (D.C. Cir. 1995) (quoting Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec'y of Def., 675 F.2d 1319, 1326 (D.C. Cir. 1982)); see also Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 774 F.Supp.2d 225, 232 (D.D.C. 2011). Finally, the Court may, in its discretion, adjust the amount based on other relevant factors. See Weisberg v. U.S. Dep't of Justice, 745 F.2d 1476, 1499-500 (D.C. Cir. 1984); see also Fenster v. Brown, 617 F.2d 740, 742 (D.C. Cir. 1979) (recognizing a court's considerable discretion in awarding attorney's fees and costs).

         1. Reasonableness of the Rate

         To show that its requested hourly rate is reasonable, a plaintiff must submit evidence to show “(1) ‘the attorney['s] billing practices'; (2) ‘the attorney['s] skills, experience, and reputation'; and (3) ‘the prevailing market rates in the relevant community.'” Salazar ex rel. Salazar v. District of Columbia, 809 F.3d 58, 62 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107). As to the first element, because Catholic Charities' attorney is a “full-time volunteer” at a nonprofit organization, see Pl.'s Mem., Ex. A (Declaration of David Cleveland (June 6, 2016) (“Cleveland Decl.”)) ¶ 6, he presumably has no relevant billing practices. However, this element is not determinative because, as the Circuit instructs, attorneys at nonprofit organizations “who have no established billing practice” are “entitled to an award based on the prevailing market rates.” Covington, 57 F.3d at 1107; see also Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984) (“Reasonable fees . . . are to be calculated according to the prevailing market rates in the relevant community, regardless of whether [the] plaintiff is represented by private or nonprofit counsel.” (internal quotation marks omitted)). As to the second element, Catholic Charities has submitted a declaration from its attorney representing that he has practiced as an attorney for over forty years and litigated a number of cases, including four FOIA cases in this Court. See id., Ex. A (Cleveland Decl.) ¶¶ 2-9. Based on these representations, which the defendant does not dispute, see generally Def.'s Mem., the Court concludes that Catholic Charities has satisfied its burden as to this element also. Therefore, the Court turns to the evidence submitted by the parties regarding the applicable prevailing rate.

         To demonstrate the prevailing market rate, “a fee applicant must ‘produce satisfactory evidence-in addition to the attorney's own affidavits-that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation.'” Eley v. District of Columbia, 793 F.3d 97, 100 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (quoting Blum, 465 U.S. at 895 n.11); see also Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans, 675 F.2d at 1325 (“An applicant is required to provide specific evidence of the prevailing community rate for the type of work for which he seeks an award.”). As this Court has observed, “[a]scertaining the prevailing market rate is ‘inherently difficult.'” Taylor v. District of Columbia, 205 F.Supp.3d 75, 83-84 (D.D.C. 2016) (Walton, J.) (quoting Eley, 793 F.3d at 100). “Nonetheless, the court must determine ‘the prevailing hourly rate in each particular case with a fair degree of accuracy.'” Id. at 84 (quoting Nat'l Ass'n of Concerned Veterans, 675 F.2d at 1325).

         Fee applicants may “submit attorney['s] fee matrices as one type of evidence that ‘provide[s] a useful starting point' in calculating the prevailing market rate.” Eley, 793 F.3d at 100 (second alteration in original) (quoting Covington, 57 F.3d at 1109). “For public-interest or government lawyers who do not have customary billing rates, courts in this [C]ircuit have frequently employed the ‘Laffey Matrix, ' a schedule of fees based on years of attorney experience that was developed in Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 572 F.Supp. 354 (D.D.C. 1983), rev'd on other grounds, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1984), ” Judicial Watch, 774 F.Supp.2d at 232, which “established . . . [a fee] schedule for lawyers who practice ‘complex federal litigation, '” Eley, 793 F.3d at 100. To account for inflation, “competing updated Laffey Matrices have [been] developed[.]” See id. at 101. Two of these updated versions are relevant here. The first version, which is maintained and updated by the United States Attorney's Office (“USAO”) for the District of Columbia (the “USAO Matrix”), “begins with 2011 average hourly attorney rates in the Washington, D[.]C[.] area, . . . derived from ALM Legal Intelligence's 2011 Survey of Law Firm Economics” (the “2011 ALM survey”), and is “adjusted for inflation using a Producer Price Index (‘PPI') published by the [Bureau of Labor Statistics]” that “tracks pricing changes in output of Offices of Lawyers (‘PPI-OL').” See Def.'s Resp., Ex. 1 (Declaration of Dr. Laura A. Malowane, Clemente v. Fed. Bureau of Investigation, Civ. Action No. 08-1252 (D.D.C. July 6, 2016) (“Malowane Decl.”)) ¶¶ 9-10; see also id., Ex. 3 (USAO Attorney's Fees Matrix: 2015-2017).[5] The second version, known as the LSI Laffey Matrix, begins with “the base rates . . . provided by a 1989 declaration submitted by attorney Joseph Yablonski for use in Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Hodel, 857 F.2d 1516 (D.C. Cir. 1988) (en banc), ” DL v. District of Columbia, __ F.Supp.3d __, __, No. 05-cv-1437 (RCL), 2017 WL 3705067, at *8 (D.D.C. Aug. 25, 2017), and then uses “the Legal Services Index of the Bureau of Labor Statistics to adjust for inflation, ” Eley, 793 F.3d at 101.

         Because fee matrices are “somewhat crude, ” Covington, 57 F.3d at 1109 (“[T]he Laffey matrix, for example, lumps attorneys with four to seven years of experience in the same category; attorneys with eleven to nineteen [years of experience] also share the same hourly rate.”), a fee applicant may supplement the proffered fee matrix with additional evidence. Such additional evidence may include “surveys to update the matrix; affidavits reciting the precise fees that attorneys with similar qualifications have received from fee-paying clients in comparable cases; and evidence of recent fees awarded by the courts or through settlement to attorneys with comparable qualifications handling similar cases.” Id.

         Catholic Charities argues that the Court should apply rates in line with those set forth in the highest experience level of the LSI Laffey Matrix; specifically, an hourly rate of $789 per hour for the period from June 1, 2014, through May 31, 2015; $796 per hour for the period from June 1, 2015, through May 31, 2016; and $820[6] per hour for the period from June 1, 2016, through May 31, 2017. See Pl.'s Mem., Ex. A (Cleveland Decl.) ¶¶ 10-11; see also id. at 11-12.

         Contending that these rates are “unreasonable” and “ha[ve] not been justified” by Catholic Charities, Def.'s Resp. at 7, the defendant proposes that the Court apply the rates set forth in the highest experience level of the USAO Matrix, specifically, $520[7] per hour for the period from June 1, 2014, through May 31, 2015; $568 per hour for the period from June 1, 2015, through May 31, 2016; and $581 per hour for the period from June 1, 2016, through May 31, 2017, id. at 9; see also id., Ex. 3 (USAO Attorney's Fees Matrix: 2015-2017), id., Ex. 2 (Laffey Matrix: 2014-2015).[8]

         The District of Columbia Circuit's decision in Salazar provides the most recent guidance as to how courts should determine whether a fee applicant has submitted sufficient evidence to support the application of the LSI Laffey Matrix rates. In Salazar, a Medicaid class action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Circuit upheld the district court's conclusion that the LSI Laffey Matrix rates were presumptively reasonable, based on what the Circuit deemed a “great deal of evidence regarding prevailing market rates for complex federal litigation” submitted by the plaintiff, including an affidavit from Dr. Michael Kavanaugh, the economist who developed the LSI Laffey Matrix; “billing rates tables demonstrating the difference between average national law firm rates and the [ ] update[s] to the Laffey Matrix”; and a “2012 National Law Journal Rates Survey [that] showed that the rates for partners in Washington, D.C. on the high-end of the market far exceeded the rates in the LSI update.” 809 F.3d at 64-65. The Circuit concluded that “[w]ith these numbers and submissions in the record, the district court's point that ‘the LSI-adjusted matrix is probably a conservative estimate of the actual cost of legal services in this area, ' does not appear illogical.” Id. at 65 (emphasis removed). Importantly, it further concluded that the defendant had failed to “rebut[] this logic with any relevant arguments.” Id.

         In affirming the district court, the Circuit distinguished its prior decision in Eley, an Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (“IDEA”) case. Id. at 64. In Eley, the Circuit had found that “the LSI Laffey Matrix, [Dr.] Kavanaugh's declaration explaining the LSI Laffey Matrix[, ] and [the plaintiff's] lawyer's verified statement averring that [the lawyer] charged his paying clients the rates in the LSI Laffey Matrix” provided an insufficient basis for applying the LSI Laffey Matrix because the plaintiff failed to provide “evidence that her ‘requested rates [were] in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services, ' i.e., IDEA litigation.” 793 F.3d at 104 (emphasis removed) (citation omitted). The Circuit reasoned in Salazar that its rejection of the LSI Laffey Matrix rates in Eley was “based on evidence submitted by the [defendant] tending to show that, in the particular context of IDEA claims, there is a submarket in which attorneys' hourly fees are generally lower than the rates in either of the Laffey Matrices.” Salazar, 809 F.3d at 64 (citing Eley, 793 F.3d at 105). By contrast, the defendant in Salazar “identifie[d] no such submarket, instead acquiescing in the notion that the litigation at issue qualifie[d] as complex federal litigation (as to which the Laffey Matrices apply), ” id., and ultimately failing to rebut the plaintiff's evidence with any “relevant arguments, ” id. at 65 (rejecting the defendant's argument that the “prolonged litigation [wa]s depleting public funds”).

         Other members of this Court have interpreted Eley and Salazar as accepting two ways in which a plaintiff may demonstrate that the rates in its preferred matrix are presumptively reasonable. First, a plaintiff may show that the “proceedings qualify as ‘complex federal litigation, ' to which Laffey rates presumptively apply.” Flood v. District of Columbia, 172 F.Supp.3d 197, 210 (D.D.C. 2016). And once a plaintiff has made this threshold showing, the issue then becomes which version of the Laffey Matrix applies, and a plaintiff must show that its desired version properly reflects the prevailing rates for complex federal litigation. See DL, __ F.Supp.3d at __, 2017 WL 3705067, at *8. Second, a plaintiff may show that the rates “customarily charged” by District practitioners in similar cases “are comparable to those provided” in its preferred matrix. See Flood, 172 F.Supp.3d at 210 (in an IDEA case, the plaintiff must show rates customarily charged by IDEA practitioners); see also DL, __ F.Supp.3d at __, 2017 WL 3705067, at *10 (same). Under either approach, however, a defendant may rebut a plaintiff's showing with specific countervailing evidence. See Covington, 57 F.3d at 1110. For the reasons explained below, the Court concludes that, under either approach, the evidence submitted by the parties demonstrates that the rates provided by the USAO Matrix are reasonable to apply in this case.

         a. Prevailing Rates for Complex Federal Litigation

         Here, the defendant “acquiesc[es] in the notion that the litigation at issue qualifies as complex federal litigation (as to which the Laffey Matrices apply)[, ] . . . [because it] argues that one Laffey Matrix should apply instead of the other.” Salazar, 809 F.3d at 64; see Def.'s Resp. at 9. And, the defendant does not argue or present evidence to suggest that FOIA litigation is a “submarket” of complex federal litigation. See Salazar, 809 F.3d at 64. Thus, according to Salazar, the “issue is whether [Catholic Charities has] submitted sufficient evidence for the . . . Court to conclude that the LSI Laffey Matrix applies, ” and if so, whether the defendant has rebutted that evidence. See id.; see also DL, __ F.Supp.3d at __, 2017 WL 3705067, at *9.

         In support of its position that the LSI Laffey Matrix rates more accurately reflect the relevant prevailing rate, Catholic Charities has submitted evidence from several of the categories identified by the Circuit in Salazar and Covington. See Salazar, 809 F.3d at 65; Covington, 57 F.3d at 1109. Its submissions, largely comprised of exhibits submitted by the plaintiffs in DL, include: (1) declarations from Dr. Kavanaugh, an economist and the developer of the LSI Laffey Matrix, in which he concludes that “the LSI Laffey Matrix is a better reflection of the prevailing market rates for complex federal litigation in Washington, D.C., than the USAO Matrix, ” Pl.'s Reply, Ex. B (Second Declaration of Dr. Michael Kavanaugh in Support of Plaintiffs' 2016 Fee Application, DL v. District of Columbia, Civ. Action No. 05-1437 (RCL) (D.D.C. Apr. 26, 2017) (“Kavanaugh Decl.”)) ¶ 2; (2) market data that it argues demonstrate that the LSI Laffey Matrix rates are more in line with, and even underestimate, the prevailing market rate for complex federal litigation, see Pl.'s Reply, Ex. A (Affidavit of Carolyn Smith Pravlik (Aug. 23, 2017) (“Pravlik Aff.”)) ¶¶ 15-17, 19; id., Ex. C (Valeo Rates); id., Ex. D (Collection of exhibits submitted by the plaintiffs in DL, Civ. Action No. 05-1437 (RCL) (“DL Plaintiffs' Exhibits”))[9]; (3) affidavits and declarations from District practitioners attesting that their billing rates are in line with the LSI Laffey Matrix rates and ...


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