Jury Verdict Was $50,000; District Court Awarded $579,400 in Fees Out of Requested $748,522.50.
When you are challenging an attorney’s fees award as too high in a civil case, you are running up a steep hill in order to surmount the deferential abuse of discretion review standard. Avila v. LAPD, Case No. 12-55931 (9th Cir. July 10, 2013) (published) demonstrates this well.
There, a jury awarded an L.A. police officer $50,000 in a Fair Labor Standards Act anti-retaliation case, a verdict affirmed over a respectful dissent which felt there was jury instructional error. The district court also awarded $50,000 in liquidated damages and $579,400 in attorney’s fees under FLSA’s fee shifting provision (29 U.S.C. § 216(b)).
On appeal, the defense challenged the fee award as too high, but could not overcome the abuse of discretion standard. The district court discounted the requested $748,522.50 in fees by reducing lead counsel’s hourly rate, eliminating administrative/clerical/duplicative work, decreasing the request by 30% for vague billing entries, and decreasing 10% of the time for work specific to failed claims. Given this careful reasoning by the district judge, no error was found by the Ninth Circuit majority.