IN RE Vivian N. BROWN; Rosenau LLP, Appellant
February 8, 2018
from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia
(INT-480-14), (Hon. Kaye K. Christian, Trial Judge)
Wheldon, with whom Patrick C. Horrell, Washington, was on the
brief, for appellant.
Easterly and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Nebeker, Senior
an appeal from the April 7, 2016, denial of Rosenau LLPs
Consent Motion for Reconsideration and/or to Alter Judgment
in relation to its petition for attorneys fees under Super.
Ct. Prob. R. 308(a), (b)(1), and pursuant to D.C. Code § §
21-2047, -2060 (2016 Supp.). Because we conclude the trial
court applied an erroneous legal standard in evaluating the
firms petition for fees, we reverse.
LLP represented Jennifer Brown, the daughter of Vivian N.
Brown, in her successful attempt to be appointed her mothers
guardian. In 2015, Rosenau LLP petitioned the court under
Super. Ct. Prob. R. 308 and D.C. Code § § 21-2047, -2060, for
an interim award of fees from Vivian N. Browns assets in the
amount of $25,358.18. The firm attached timesheets listing
its attorneys entries of time worked on the case, including
brief descriptions of the work and the rate at which that
time was charged. This first petition was denied without
prejudice by the trial court (the Hon. Natalia M. Combs
Greene) after the estates conservator responded, inter alia,
that more than one Rosenau attorney was billing for some of
the same work in the petition. The court noted that, in
addition to double billing, some of the tasks in the firms
petition were bundled such that certain related and unrelated
tasks were billed together (block or bundled billing).
firm subsequently filed an amended petition in which it
lowered the amount requested, corrected the double billing,
and "earnest[ly] attempt[ed]" to separate unrelated
bundled tasks. The trial court (the Hon. Kaye K. Christian),
however, denied payment of the full amount requested. The
court ruled that each "fee petition billing entr[y]
regarding meetings, telephone conferences, or other written
correspondence" must list "the subject matter of
the correspondence, the person with whom Petitioner is
corresponding, and said persons relevance to the
well[-]being of the ward." The court concluded that more
than 70 entries were deficient on this basis. The court also
ruled that " block-billing, aggregate or blended
time claims [are] forbidden because time records lumping
together multiple tasks[ ] make it impossible to evaluate
their reasonableness" (internal quotation marks and
alterations omitted). The court concluded that an additional
17 entries were deficient on this basis. In all, the court
disallowed entries from the amended petition totaling
$11,325.41 out of $22,412.95 in fees requested. The court
then granted the remainder of the requested fees and costs
without engaging in any additional analysis. The firm filed a
consent motion for reconsideration, which the court denied.
This appeal followed.
who provide services in connection with a guardianship
proceeding are entitled to compensation pursuant to D.C. Code
§ 21-2060(a), which "is implemented by Super. Ct. Prob.
R. 308." In re Estate of Grealis, 902 A.2d 821,
824 (D.C. 2006). Fee awards are not limited to attorneys;
rather, any "visitor, attorney, examiner, conservator,
special conservator, guardian ad litem, or guardian" is
"entitled to compensation" for their services as
approved by the court. D.C. Code § 21-2060(a). Obtaining fees
from a wards estate is a two-step process: The person
seeking fees must file a petition setting forth "the
character and summary of the service rendered" "in
reasonable detail"; the trial court must then determine
whether the fees requested are reasonable. Super. Ct. Prob.
R. 308(a), (b)(1). We review the denial of attorneys fees
under Rule 308 for abuse of discretion, In re Estate of
McDaniel, 953 A.2d 1021, 1023-24 (D.C. 2008), and review
the underlying legal principles de novo, Grealis,
902 A.2d at 824 n.5.
trial court found that Rosenau LLPs fee petition failed to
meet the threshold requirement of Rule 308(b)(1) in that it
lacked the requisite detail and impermissibly relied on block
billing. Although it may be prudent for individuals seeking
compensation under Rule 308 to set ...