November 29, 2023
A recent Law 360 story by Beverly Bank, “’Vague’ Billing Justifies 10% Cut in Atty Fees, Judge Says”, reports that a federal magistrate judge recommended slashing an Iron Workers' benefits funds' request for attorney fees in a case over an employer's unpaid contributions, saying there are "vague" billing entries from the plaintiffs' counsel as part of a $2.2 million judgment.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Kimberly G. Altman issued a report and recommendation, suggesting the district court cut a nearly $111,000 attorney fee request from Iron Workers Local No. 25's benefit funds by 10%. The attorney fees dispute is connected with U.S. District Judge Nancy G. Edmunds' order, requiring Next Century Rebar LLC to pay more than $2.2 million in unpaid contributions with interest and liquidated damages. The company filed a notice of appeal to the Sixth Circuit.
"Portions of the trustees' itemized hourly work are described insufficiently to prove that the work 'was performed with reasonable diligence and efficiency,'" Judge Altman said. The judge said many of the funds' billing entries linked to an audit are "vague," necessitating a drop in proposed attorney fees from around $110,900 to roughly $99,800. Judge Altman did not disturb the funds' request for more than $18,200 in costs.
The judge pointed to billing entries connected with an audit, saying some entries about the correspondence and emails with the auditor "provide the court with little information as to the necessity of the work." The benefit funds requested around $110,900 in October, saying the plaintiffs' counsel spent 388.8 attorney hours in pursuing the case.
Next Century Rebar called billing entries linked to the attorney fees request "excessive, duplicative, and vague" as part of the company's Oct. 30 response. The company challenged the funds' bid for fees over review of the audit. "Excessive review of the audit is ongoing throughout the time entries of multiple persons without any detail or reason for the excessive amount of time spent reviewing, re-reviewing, and again revisiting the audit report," Next Century Rebar said.
The company said the funds were seeking fees for clerical work that could have been undertaken by a legal clerk or assistant to the plaintiffs' attorneys. Judge Altman found that some of Next Century Rebar's complaints about the clerical work entries were valid and warranted lower attorney fees. "Next Century has highlighted instances where parts or all of the described work was clerical in nature and could have been handled by paralegals or other staff at much lower rates," the judge said.
The judge took on arguments from Next Century that the request related to audit costs of about $13,000 was "outrageous," saying the company didn't raise evidence to back up this claim. Judge Altman said an affidavit "from an attorney that worked closely on this case and on the review of the audit" corroborated the cost of the audit.