Attorney Fees

Judge Denies $2.7M Fee Request for $12K Win, Says Amount Was 'Grossly Inflated'

A federal judge has denied a $2.7 million fee request by four law firms that obtained only $12,500 for their client in a civil rights suit.

U.S. District Judge Joanna Seybert of the Eastern District of New York noted the fee application was more than 200 times the award to the client, the New York Law Journal reports. The amount was “outrageously excessive” and “grossly inflated,” Seybert wrote in her opinion (PDF).

The bulk of the fees would have gone to Chadbourne & Parke, the story says. The plaintiff, Robert Toussie, had claimed his civil rights were violated when Suffolk County, N.Y., refused to allow him to buy land at several auctions. Toussie had sought more than $35 million in damages. The $12,500 award was for civil rights violations at just one auction when Toussie’s high bids were rejected and police escorted Toussie and his wife from the site.

The law firms had claimed the case was “extremely complex” and they had sought fees only for the claims where they prevailed, the story says. They submitted 400 pages of billing records.

Seybert was not persuaded. The lawyers, she said, erred by “seeking fees related to claims on which plaintiffs obviously did not prevail, misrepresenting the total number of hours billed, and providing extraordinarily vague descriptions of billable hours in block time entries such that the court cannot even begin to determine how many hours were actually spent on Toussie’s successful claims.”

Fees sought for unrelated claims included a request to be paid for a motion to consolidate lawsuits over the various auctions, Seybert said. She also criticized the lawyers’ claimed hourly billing rates of $375 to $905, saying the amount is far beyond rates awarded in the area.

A Chadbourne lawyer did not respond to a request for comment by the New York Law Journal. An appeal is planned.

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