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In re Brown

Court of Appeals of The District of Columbia

July 3, 2019

IN RE Vivian N. BROWN; Rosenau LLP, Appellant

         Submitted February 8, 2018

Page 166

          Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia (INT-480-14), (Hon. Kaye K. Christian, Trial Judge)

         Emily Wheldon, with whom Patrick C. Horrell, Washington, was on the brief, for appellant.

         Before Easterly and McLeese, Associate Judges, and Nebeker, Senior Judge.

          OPINION

         Easterly, Associate Judge:

         This is an appeal from the April 7, 2016, denial of Rosenau LLP’s Consent Motion for Reconsideration and/or to Alter Judgment in relation to its petition for attorney’s 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 firm’s petition for fees, we reverse.

Page 167

          I. Facts

         Rosenau LLP represented Jennifer Brown, the daughter of Vivian N. Brown, in her successful attempt to be appointed her mother’s 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. Brown’s 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 estate’s 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 firm’s petition were bundled such that certain related and unrelated tasks were billed together (block or bundled billing).

          The 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 person’s 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.

          II. Analysis

         Persons 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 ward’s 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 attorney’s 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.

          The trial court found that Rosenau LLP’s 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 ...


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