Vermont Attorney General Bill Sorrell expected Entergy, a Louisiana energy company, to make an application for attorneys’ fees in a successful litigation, but found the request to be high for a number of reasons. Sorrell claims, “they threw a lot of legal horsepower at us, they went into the record extensively and they charged New York City rates.” In challenging the fee request, Sorrell states that his office will look into the hourly rates charged by Entergy’s lawyers, as well as whether the amount of time spent on the case was reasonable. Sorrell expects “a lot of lawyering” to go into reviewing the attorneys’ fee request and points out that disputes of this type and magnitude often result in a mediation process and the retention of legal fee experts.
The case involved Entergy’s motion in the U.S. District Court to recover $4.6 million in legal fees for a case it brought against the state of Vermont. Entergy Corp. succeeded in having two state laws struck down as unconstitutional. The laws would have required Entergy to seek approval from the Vermont Legislature to continue operating its nuclear power plant. Since Entergy’s claim was also rendered a win under the Commerce Clause it is entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees.
It is important to note that the lack of monetary damages involved in the matter itself does not preclude the State from having to pay Entergy its legal fees. In fact, such provisions are inherent to constitutional cases in order to attract attorneys to matters when there is no money involved. The question at this point is whether the fees requested can pass judicial scrutiny.