United States District Court, District of Columbia
E. BOASBERG UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the parties to this Freedom of Information Act litigation may
have declared an armistice concerning the release of
documents and the refunding of search fees, no final peace
treaty has been signed. Indeed, the new battleground is
attorney fees. While the Government does not contest
Plaintiff Debbie Coffey's eligibility or entitlement to
such fees - or the hourly rate sought - it believes that the
number of hours listed is both insufficiently detailed and
excessive. As the Court concurs in part, it will grant
Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney Fees, but reduce the
amount sought from $125, 541 to $69, 019.
the prior Opinion details the full background of this suit,
see Coffey v. Bureau of Land Mgmt., 249 F.Supp.3d
488, 491-94 (D.D.C. 2017), the Court will recount here only
the facts relevant to the pending Motion. Plaintiff filed her
Complaint in March 2016, alleging that the Bureau of Land
Management had not adequately responded to her FOIA requests
for information related to its Wild Horse and Burro Program.
See ECF No. 1. In subsequently ruling on the
parties' cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court
determined in April 2017 that BLM had not conducted a
sufficient search for documents. Coffey, 249
F.Supp.3d at 499- 500. The Court later issued a Minute Order
on May 5 of that year requiring Defendant to “conduct a
new search and release any non-exempt responsive records on
or before June 28, 2017, ” which deadline was
subsequently extended to July 26, 2017. See Minute
Order of June 29, 2017. Five months later, after Coffey had
reviewed the records ultimately released, the parties
submitted a Joint Status Report indicating that “all
substantive issues of this FOIA action have been fully
resolved.” ECF No. 28 at 1. That left only the question
of fees. Plaintiff seeks a total of $125, 541, which includes
fees for the underlying litigation, as well as “fees on
fees” for the briefing of her fee petition.
Court has previously explained the legal standard at play in
FOIA fee litigation:
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
complainant has substantially prevailed.” 5 U.S.C.
§ 552(a)(4)(E)(i); see Brayton v. Office of the U.S.
Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2011).
“This language naturally divides the attorney-fee
inquiry into two prongs, which our case law has long
described as fee ‘eligibility' and fee
‘entitlement.'” Brayton, 641 F.3d at
524 (citing Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep't of
Commerce, 470 F.3d 363, 368-69 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). The
Court, therefore, first decides whether [Plaintiff] AIC has
“substantially prevailed” and is therefore
“eligible” to receive fees. See id.;
Judicial Watch, 470 F.3d at 368; Negley v.
FBI, 818 F.Supp.2d 69, 73 (D.D.C. Oct. 11, 2011). If so,
the Court must then “consider a variety of
factors” to determine whether it is
“entitled” to fees. Brayton, 641 F.3d at
524-25; Judicial Watch, 470 F.3d at 369; Davy v.
CIA, 550 F.3d 1155, 1158 (D.C. Cir. 2008). Put another
way, the Court will first determine whether AIC may
receive fees; if so, it will then decide whether it
should receive them. See Brayton, 641 F.3d
at 524. Finally, upon determining that AIC is both eligible
and entitled to fees, the Court must “analyze whether
the amount of the fee request is reasonable.” Elec.
Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland Sec. (EPIC
I), 811 F.Supp.2d 216, 237 (D.D.C. 2011).
Am. Immigration Council v. U.S. Dep't of Homeland
Security, 82 F.Supp.3d 396, 402 (D.D.C. 2015).
for the reader, the Court need spend little time on most of
these issues, as the parties do not dispute them. More
specifically, BLM concedes that Coffey is both eligible and
entitled to obtain fees here. See Opp. at 1. In
moving next to the amount sought, the Court acknowledges that
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 and Rest. Emps. Local 25 v. JPR, Inc., 136
F.3d 794, 801 (D.C. Cir. 1998) (citing Pennsylvania v.
Delaware Valley Citizens' Council for Clean Air, 478
U.S. 546, 564 (1986)). Once again, amity prevails on the
issue of the appropriate hourly fee, as the Government does
not challenge the rates Coffey submits. See ECF No.
35 (Notice) at 1. What is left? The question of time. Or, to
put it less philosophically, the propriety of the number of
asserting that Plaintiff has overreached here, BLM cites
several specific points, concluding with a broader argument
that much of the time spent was excessive. The Court, too,
will start with the specific and move to the general.
first complains of insufficiently detailed time records and,
more specifically, several examples of block billing.
See Opp. at 10-11. While block billing is certainly
disfavored, the three selected entries deal with minimal time
periods (.2, .2, and .6 hours) and typically conflate but two
tasks; as a result, the Court “declines . . . to engage
in the kind of nitpicking invited by [such] smaller-scale
objections.” AIC, 82 F.Supp.3d at 411
(citation and internal quotation marks omitted).
next points to certain entries that do not seem appropriate -
for example, ones that describe tasks that relate to filings
that occurred earlier than the entry - and thus call into
question the contemporaneity of counsel's timekeeping.
See Opp. at 12-13. In the Second Supplemental
Declaration of C. Peter Sorensen, attached to Plaintiff's
Reply, Coffey's counsel acknowledges some inadvertent
errors and deducts them from a recalculation of the fees
sought. See ECF No. 37-1 at 3-5. In fact, the amount
claimed for the litigation and the initial fees Motion
dropped by about $9, 000 from approximately $115, 000 to
$106, 000. The Court does not infer from these isolated
mistakes that counsel's timekeeping was generally not
related note, the Government contends that counsel cannot
recover fees for tasks related to timekeeping itself.
See Opp. at 14 (citing EPIC v. U.S. Dep't of
Homeland Security, 218 F.Supp.3d 27, 52 (D.D.C. 2016)
(“EPIC had an ongoing duty throughout the litigation to
maintain an accurate record of its time, which means these
activities were either duplicative of work already performed
or enlarged because it was performed so late in the
litigation.”)). As Coffey never responds, the Court
could treat the point as conceded. Even absent such
concession, the Court agrees that a reduction in the
timekeeping entries is ...