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District Court Applies a 10% Fee Reduction for Block-Billing, Vague Entries and Clerical Tasks

In Guadagno v. Astrue*, a recent case from the Western District of New York, the plaintiff moved for an award of attorneys’ fees in connection with her claim that she was denied social security benefits. The defendant opposed the motion, arguing that the hours expended and hourly billing rates were excessive and unreasonable. Although it found that the hourly rates of $179.57 and $181.62 were reasonable, the court applied an across-the-board reduction to the fee request to account for the insufficiency of the plaintiff’s attorneys’ time records.

After reviewing the billing records, the court found that the plaintiff’s attorneys engaged in block-billing, which is a billing method used by attorneys where several tasks are lumped together in one time entry. Block-billed entries make it difficult, if not impossible, for a court to determine whether the number of hours spent on certain tasks were reasonable. As this decision notes, courts are permitted to apply across-the-board reductions where the requested fees contain block-billed time entries. The court also found the time records to be confusing and “impossible to decipher.” For example, one attorney billed 2.2 hours for “TT Mr.xyZ. Ofc. – Je: he’ll today send copy of LJ decision Conf. @ St.JNC, sign docs, copies.” Not only was it difficult for the court to determine what tasks were performed, it was also “impossible for the court to determine whether it was reasonable to spend 2.2 hours on these tasks.” In addition, the court assumed that “open &copy/print 7/26 2x EmsF Ct-wdny” reflected time spent by the attorney printing and copying. The court found that many tasks contained in the billing entries appeared to be time spent performing clerical tasks, which are typically included in an attorney’s overhead costs and should not be billed to the client.

Based on the above findings, the court applied a 10% across-the-board reduction to the plaintiff’s fee request.

*Guadagno v. Astrue, 2011 WL 3902749 (W.D.N.Y. Sept. 6, 2011).

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