A recent Law 360 story by Dorothy Atkins, “Judge Oks $4.7M Atty Award, Citing Opponent’s Legal Bill,” reports that a California federal judge reduced a $50.4 million antitrust judgment against a Chinese telescope maker by $3.1 million, but awarded the rival plaintiff's counsel $4.7 million in fees and costs, pointing to the fact that Sheppard Mullin's defense bill was roughly twice the amount. In a 29-page order, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila said Sheppard Mullin Richter & Hampton LLP has billed Ningbo Sunny Electronic Co. Ltd. more than $9 million to defend against Orion Telescopes & Binoculars's price-fixing claims. That is approximately double the amount that Orion's counsel at BraunHagey & Borden LLP seeks in its post-trial fee bid, the judge said.
"The court finds that this disparity in billing between the two firms is strong evidence that BHB's bills and costs are reasonable," the order says. The ruling is the latest in an antitrust lawsuit that the California-based Orion filed against Ningbo Sunny and other telescope makers in 2016, alleging that they conspired to fix the consumer telescope market.
After a six-week trial, a jury in November hit Ningbo Sunny with $16.8 million in antitrust damages, which were later trebled for a total judgment of $50.4 million, payable to Orion. But in post-trial motions, Ningbo Sunny asked Judge Davila for a new trial or alternatively to slash damages from the judgment by more than $12 million to account for settlements from other companies and profits from its supply agreements.
Meanwhile, Orion's counsel asked Judge Davila to award nearly $5 million in attorneys' fees and costs and to sanction Ningbo Sunny and its chairman, Peter Ni, for falsely stating under oath that Ningbo Sunny wouldn't transfer assets to China while post-trial motions were pending. After a hearing on the motions in March, Judge Davila hit Ningbo Sunny and Ni with sanctions. The judge also denied Ningbo Sunny's request for a new trial and its alternative request for judgment as a matter of law.
Additionally, the judge wouldn't alter the judgment based on Orion's purported profits from supply agreements, concluding that Ningbo Sunny relied on an inadmissible expert report and "failed to carry its burden" to prove Orion made millions off of its supply agreements. However, Judge Davila agreed in part with Ningbo Sunny's arguments that the judgment should be altered due to certain settlements and assets it required, and deducted $3.1 million from the $50.4 million judgment.
Additionally, the judge awarded Orion $4.7 million in attorney fees and costs for an amended judgement totaling $52 million. The judge said BraunHagey & Borden's hourly rates, which range from $425 to $795, are reasonable and in line with rates that have been approved in other cases, particularly since this case was complex and hard-fought.
The judge also rejected Ningbo Sunny's arguments that the fee bid should be rejected altogether since the firm didn't submit its billing records for review. "The court finds that significant difference in bills between the two law firms indicates that the claimed hours are reasonable under the circumstances, so the court may rely on Hagey's declaration — which was made and signed under penalty of perjury — without reviewing contemporaneous billing records," the order says.