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U.S. Supreme Court

Supreme Court Allows Market Rate Recovery in Paralegal Fee Dispute

Posted Jun 2, 2008 9:44 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that a litigant may be compensated for the market rate of paralegals in a contract dispute with the federal government, SCOTUSblog reports.

At issue was whether prevailing parties under the Equal Access to Justice Act may recover paralegal fees at market rates or whether they are limited to actual costs to the law firm that employed them.

A government contract appeals board had ruled a successful litigant was entitled to collect only the paralegal cost to its law firm rather than the rate billed. The litigant, Richlin Security Service Co., had sought almost $52,000 in paralegal fees but was awarded only $10,587.

The opinion (PDF posted by SCOTUSblog) is Richlin Security Service Co. v. Chertoff.

“We find the government’s fractured interpretation of the statute unpersuasive,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote.

“We find it hard to believe that Congress, without even mentioning paralegals, intended to make an exception of them by calculating their cost from the perspective of their employer rather than the litigant. It seems more plausible that Congress intended all ‘fees and other expenses’ to be recoverable at the litigant’s ‘reasonable cost,’ subject to the proviso that ‘reasonable cost’ would be deemed to be ‘prevailing market rates’ when such rates could be determined.”

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