Fee Dispute Hotline
(312) 907-7275

Assisting with High-Stakes Attorney Fee Disputes

The NALFA

News Blog

Category: Billing Judgment

Block Billing Reduces Fee Award in Personal Injury Case

May 14, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Mike Curley, “After ‘Block Billing’ and ‘Paper Dump,’, Attys Net Only $786K” reports that an Arizona federal judge has awarded $786,472 to attorneys representing a man who suffered additional injuries after a fall when his insurer delayed approving surgery, down from the requested $1.04 million as a result of "block billing," a "paper dump" and other failures in their request for fees.  U.S. District Judge Susan M. Brnovich also denied Greg Jarman's request for $74,000 in expenses from American Family Insurance Co. in its entirety, saying he failed to itemize the costs and the court will not "do the hard work for him" in separating out items like clothes for one attorney and a hotel room for another.

Jarman's request for fees comes after a jury in September awarded him $4.5 million over delays in care for injuries stemming from an on-the-job fall in 2015.  The court later reduced the verdict to $2.8 million.  Jarman, who had worked at electrical company Efficient Electric Inc. for more than 10 years before his injury, experienced a severe fall on July 25, 2015, according to court documents, and a couple of weeks later he went to the hospital and was diagnosed with a shoulder sprain and put on limited activity.  Jarman's neurologist on Oct. 6 of that year recommended cervical decompression surgery, after his orthopedic surgeon called his case "urgent."

American Family wanted its own doctor, Dr. John Beghin, to examine Jarman before approving the surgery, and he agreed on Nov. 5, 2015, that surgery was necessary.  The surgery was performed five days later, and Jarman said the delay caused cognitive injuries.  In the order, Judge Brnovich reduced the total fee for several reasons, starting with Jarman's failure to comply with court rules requiring his counsel to confer with American Family's on the fees before submitting his request.

While the judge did not accept American Family's argument that Jarman isn't entitled to fees at all, she did reduce them still further, saying that there is a particularly egregious case of block billing in this case, with one of the attorneys attributing hundreds of hours of work to single line items, leaving the court unable to determine how much time was spent on specific tasks.

The request also does not contain an affidavit as to the tasks that support staff at the firms took on during the case, so the court is unable to determine if the rates for their work are reasonable, the judge wrote, adding some entries from support staff are clerical in nature.  Jarman also failed to produce evidence that his attorneys' fee rates are reasonable, the judge wrote, further warranting a reduction to the fee.  The attorney fees request also includes entry for work done relating only to dismissed defendants, the judge added

Lieff Cabraser Can’t Freeze $1M Fee Reduction During Appeal

March 14, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Brian Dowling, “Lieff Cabraser Can’t Freeze $1M State St. Fee Cut Amid Appeal,” reports that Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein LLP failed to persuade a Massachusetts federal judge to freeze $1.1 million of its fee slated for repayment in the wake of an overbilling scandal connected to a $300 million settlement with State Street Corp.  The firm, one of three ordered to repay seven-figure sums to the settlement fund, had sought to keep the money in escrow as it asks the First Circuit to review Senior U.S. District Judge Mark L. Wolf's reallocations of the fee award.

Denying Lieff Cabraser's motion in a 57-page order, Judge Wolf said the firm isn't likely to succeed on appeal and also faces no threat of irreparable harm if the money isn't frozen.  Instead of facing the tough odds of potentially having to recoup distributed settlement funds from the class, Lieff Cabraser would get any increase ordered by the First Circuit from its co-counsel, Labaton Sucharow LLP and Thornton Law Firm LLP.

Labaton Sucharow and Thornton received the bulk of the blame for improprieties and overbilling practices and repaid much higher sums to the settlement fund when Judge Wolf slashed the fee award from $75 million to $60 million in February 2020.  The two firms did not appeal the reallocation but supported Lieff Cabraser's request for a stay, Judge Wolf noted.

"The repeated, egregious misconduct of Labaton and Thornton alone caused the court to decide that it was most appropriate to award $60,000,000," Judge Wolf said. "If the court had allocated an additional $1,140,000 to Lieff, it would have reduced the awards to Labaton and Thornton by that amount."

Judge Wolf disputed Lieff Cabraser's arguments that the court violated noticing requirements in sanctioning it with the lower fee award.  There was no sanction, Judge Wolf said, just the court taking into account "proven misconduct of Labaton and Thornton in deciding to make a new fee award."  The court explained that its review of the attorney overbilling referred to Lieff Cabraser's conduct as "deficient" rather than as "misconduct" delineating that the firm's shortcomings were not critical to the new lower fee award.

The underlying suit, filed in 2011, alleged that Boston-based State Street swindled millions of dollars a year from its clients on their indirect foreign exchange trades over the course of a decade. State Street settled the claims in 2016 for $300 million.  Judge Wolf approved the initial $75 million fee in 2016 but vacated that order after allegations of double-billing surfaced in a 2016 Boston Globe report.  He appointed retired U.S. District Judge Gerald Rosen as a special master to investigate the fee.  The firms admitted to overstating their billing but contended the $75 million fee was still proper.

Judge Rosen in 2018 recommended the firms disgorge just over $10 million, but Judge Wolf's 160-page order in late February ruled that the cuts should be even deeper and took the firms to task in the process.  Also before Judge Wolf is a legal fight between Thornton and its liability insurer over whether the company, Continental Casualty, can avoid covering the firm's attorney fees stemming from the court-ordered overbilling probe.

Judge Wants Skadden Affidavit on Fees and Billing Practices

March 4, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Jeff Montgomery, “Chancery Wants Skadden Affidavit in TransPerfect Fee Fight,” reports that Delaware's chancellor ordered Skadden to submit an affidavit attesting to the accuracy and reasonableness of custodian fees recently charged to TransPerfect Global Inc., saying it was in the interest of ending billing battles stemming from a rancorous court-ordered sale of the business.  Chancellor Andre G. Bouchard gave Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom LLP and custodian Robert B. Pincus a week to submit the information after a half-day argument on three pending issues in the case.  Among them was a motion by Pincus for a discharge from his custodian's role with indemnification and nondisparagement protections, among other terms, opposed by TransPerfect and co-founder Philip R. Shawe.

Also at issue were claims by TransPerfect that Skadden had charged excessive and unsupportable fees on a range of matters, including "fees on fees" billings for Pincus' and Skadden's defense against fee claims, as well as a TransPerfect motion to block Pincus and Skadden from recovering fees for a contempt action.  While taking the overall issues, including Pincus' discharge, under advisement, the chancellor also directed Skadden to provide support in its affidavit for more than $200,000 in billings for what were alleged by TransPerfect to be "the administrative work" of sending a bill.

"Is it typical? I'm not aware of it happening," the chancellor said.  "I'm talking about [billing for] the actual generation of an invoice and, if you will, running that bill.  Give it thought.  If it's your position that it's ordinary and that it would be billed to a client ordinarily and permissibly, so attest" in the affidavit.  "If you want to carve that out. It might be prudent to do so."

Pincus was appointed custodian of TransPerfect after its two co-founders, Shawe and Elizabeth Elting, had a falling-out and could not agree on how to manage the company.  In May 2018, the Delaware Supreme Court affirmed the chancellor's February 2018 ruling that allowed Shawe to buy Elting's 50% stake in the company.  Chancellor Bouchard had also determined that Pincus' impartiality wasn't compromised by threats of litigation made against him by Elting or by Shawe's alleged interference in the sale process.

During the arguments, Jennifer C. Voss of Skadden, counsel to Pincus, said the expenses had been prompted by TransPerfect's and Shawe's actions, and were handled with the same diligence and efficiency as that given to all of Skadden's clients, at rates consistent with its practice.  "Mr. Shawe is an adjudicated serial litigator," Voss told the court while arguing for Pincus' discharge.  "Now, years out from closing [on the TransPerfect sale], he has filed a barrage of baseless, unprovoked attacks against Mr. Pincus and Skadden.  These attacks are meant to coerce Mr. Pincus. He has not succeeded, but they're also meant to harass him and his advisers."

Voss said TransPerfect and Shawe "weaponized access to billing statements" for a "punitive and protracted campaign of fee warfare," despite Pincus' right to recover costs as custodian and for litigation in disputes with TransPerfect and Shawe in the years after the sale.  Much of the dispute related to the custodian's authority to bill TransPerfect for the costs of responses to or defenses for challenges raised by the company and Shawe.

During the hearing, David B. Goldstein of Rabinowitz Boudin Standard Krinsky & Lieberman PC, counsel to Shawe, described the billing arrangements as a "fee merry-go-round," with filings by TransPerfect and Shawe generating billings from the custodian, objections to the bills and new bills for addressing the objections.  "The sale of TransPerfect Global closed almost three years ago," Goldstein said.  "At that point, TransPerfect had already been ordered to pay Skadden almost $13 million, and another $31 million to [Pincus'] handpicked advisers."

Fee and other disputes since then have pushed the total to $14 million for Skadden and $45 million for advisers, Goldstein said, with additional billings pending.  "Our position is these fees are really excessive," Goldstein said, arguing that the process appeared to have become a "billing frenzy" without end.  "I'm not telling the court or suggesting that Skadden should get zero," he said.  But "if they got nothing else, they would have gotten far more than a reasonable amount of fees."

Voss disputed TransPerfect's calculations of the billings and costs of the case, and said expenses had been driven by TransPerfect's and Shawe's frivolous arguments, haphazard and mistaken filings, and pressures for expedited court proceedings.  One billing alone, Voss noted, was answered with 100 pages of objections.

$4.8M Fee Award to Fenwick in Patent Litigation

March 3, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Hailey Konnath, “Fenwick Lands $4.6M in Fees in Amazon-PersonalWeb IP Fight, reports that the Fenwick & West LLP team representing Amazon in PersonalWeb's failed patent infringement dispute with the online retail giant will come away with a hefty $4.6 million in attorney fees plus an additional $203,000 in court costs, a California federal judge ruled.  Software developer PersonalWeb Technologies LLC took Amazon and several of its customers to court over its cloud-based storage system, which PersonalWeb claimed infringed several of its patents.  But Amazon prevailed in the dispute, with the court ruling that the claims were barred because they were the same allegations the developer previously brought and lost against Amazon.

U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman approved Amazon's request for attorney fees in October, slamming the litigation as "objectively baseless."  The judge declined to determine the amount at that time, but deemed the case "exceptional."  Amazon had asked for $6.4 million in fees and court costs, a bill that PersonalWeb challenged.  Judge Freeman held that Amazon's attorneys were entitled to $4.62 million of that for their more than 9,260 hours of work on the case.

Notably, the judge reduced Amazon's requested case management fees; its fees for investigating and responding to PersonalWeb's claims; and work on its own suit against PersonalWeb, among a few other areas.  "The time that Amazon spent on the declaratory judgment complaint cannot solely be traced to PersonalWeb's misconduct," Judge Freeman said.

She also chopped about $100,000 from Amazon's court costs request, saying that some of its costs entries are redacted and that it was seeking costs for experts who didn't do work that was within the scope of an "exceptional case."  Judge Freeman rejected PersonalWeb's contention that Amazon's fee request should see a 50% to 75% cut, saying the 75% reduction in particular "borders on ridiculous."  PersonalWeb had argued that Fenwick had engaged in "unreasonable billing," misallocation of resources and bringing too many attorneys to depositions.

But Fenwick's records indicate that only one or two attorneys attended depositions, the judge said.  "And although the court is often skeptical of the value of incessant meetings involving multiple attorneys, PersonalWeb's expert has done nothing more than provide stock criticism of the meeting and conference hours without identifying any specific irregularities," the judge said.

Gibson Dunn Awarded Attorney Fees in NYC Rental Ordinance

March 2, 2021

A recent Law 360 story by Justin Wise, “Gibson Dunn Gets $600K Fee Award in HomeAway-NY Dispute,” reports that a New York federal judge awarded Gibson Dunn & Crutcher LLP lawyers roughly $600,000 in attorney fees and costs for their representation of a vacation rental company in its successful fight against a New York City rental ordinance law.  Gibson Dunn represented HomeAway.com Inc. in challenging a 2018 city ordinance intended to facilitate the enforcement of regulations on short-term rentals. U.S. District Judge Paul Engelmayer said HomeAway.com was clearly a prevailing party in the litigation, which had been consolidated with a similar suit brought by Airbnb, despite the case being dismissed as moot in 2020 after the city narrowed provisions in the law.

Judge Engelmayer ruled the company was successful in its challenge of the original ordinance and that a judgment in favor of attorney fees and costs against the defendant was merited.  "HomeAway's claim to have won durable relief here is especially convincing," he wrote, noting that "a legally infirm ordinance no longer recognizably exists" because of it and Airbnb's claims that its original scope was unconstitutional.  Judge Engelmayer, however, significantly reduced HomeAway's $1.4 million request, ruling that roughly $568,000 in attorney fees and about $27,000 in costs was appropriate.

The ordinance at the heart of the dispute would have required businesses like HomeAway and Airbnb to provide volumes of data on its customers every month, including material on property owners, booking transactions and the duration of stays.  Both short-term rental companies sought to block enforcement of the law in August 2018, and their cases were subsequently consolidated in the Southern District of New York.  Judge Engelmayer in January 2019 issued a preliminary injunction, ruling the parties were likely to succeed on their argument that the ordinance violated their Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Judge Engelmayer said the work of HomeAway's counsel and Airbnb's counsel overlapped considerably throughout the litigation, which factored into the decision to reduce the original fees and costs request.  He noted it would have been unreasonable to ask the city to shoulder the costs of each case "to the extent there was duplication."  Judge Engelmayer also said Gibson Dunn's "top-heavy legal staffing" warranted a reduced judgment.

A majority of the hours billed by Gibson Dunn were logged by partners, according to court documents.  And while Engelmayer acknowledged more seasoned lawyers would be expected to take on the pre-discovery phase of this litigation, he said document and discovery deposition is generally expected to have lower billing rates.

New York City spokesman Nick Paolucci told Law360 that the original fee request was excessive and that the city is "pleased the award was reduced by over 60%." He said the award would be paid using taxpayer money.  New York had previously argued that the $1.5 million legal request amid a "financial crisis for our city defies the spirit of the law entitling prevailing parties in civil rights cases to pursue reasonable legal fees."  Under its settlement agreement with the city, Airbnb agreed to bear its attorney fees and costs.