A new case out of the Eastern District in California shows the kind of cuts courts can make to attorney’s fees based on the experience of the attorney and the complexity of the task. Moore v. Watkins, 2015 WL 5923404, (E.D. Cal. Oct. 9, 2015) is an appeal of a default judgment entered in an ADA case asking for $6,183.74 in fees.
In this case, the Court found that although the rate requested was reasonable, the number of hours billed was excessive given the complexity of the case and the attorney’s experience in litigating these types of actions. The billing attorney had handled over 500 of the same type of cases, and a review of the complaint showed that boilerplate language was used that should not have taken as much time as was billed. This practice is known as recycling work product – billing full time to complete a task that has been done identically across numerous cases. In addition to reducing the hours for the recycled work product, the Court also reduced the fees based on several billing entries for .1 hour that were minor and possibly clerical tasks. Tasks that were cut included assessing magistrate jurisdiction, reviewing the minute order assigning the judge, and reviewing the minute order vacating the hearing date. Although these tasks may have been appropriate if they were all billed together, none of them would have taken a full .1 to complete. Billing each one at the minimum increment constitutes overbilling. This case highlights the need to scrutinize bills for excessive billing of small increments for minor tasks, and the latitude courts have in deciding what constitutes reasonable fees.