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Can I Get My Fees, Please?

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals says the answer may be up to the trial judge.  In  a Fair Housing Act suit, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court properly relied on its own knowledge of customary rates charged by attorneys and its own experience concerning reasonable and proper fees in making an award of attorney fees.

After the plaintiff won a similar state case, the parties settled their federal dispute.  The plaintiff asked the court to grant its motion for attorneys’ fees.  The court awarded fees, but substantially less than the amount sought.  The trial judge believed the plaintiff should have settled the case earlier and wasted time and money with unnecessary arguments.  The plaintiff appealed.

The Ninth Circuit concluded that under Lohman v. Duryea Borough, 574 F.3d 163 (3d Cir. 2009), the district court properly considered settlement discussions for the purpose of deciding a litigant’s “success,” and therefore what would constitute a reasonable award.  The Ninth Circuit believed the trial court was in the best position to discern what work was unnecessary and could not find any abuse of discretion in deducting the hours spent on unnecessary motions and arguments.

Many lawyers and clients want to make every conceivable argument to increase the chance of prevailing.  This is often a wise decision, but lawyers need to be mindful that if a court determines a particular argument or motion was unnecessary or a waste of time, the client may end up footing the bill without hope of recouping those costs from the other side.  I’m a firm believer in ensuring my clients are an integral part of putting together the strategy for the case.  Ingram v. Oroudjian is a good reminder that attorneys and clients need to pick their battles carefully, or at least be mindful of the resources that are being spent.

The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego
95 South Market Street, Suite 520
San Jose, CA 95113
Tel. 408-293-6341
Original article by Robert E. Nuddleman, former associate of The Law Office of Phillip J. Griego.
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