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Judge Cuts Billing Rates to Reflect Denver’s Prevailing Market

September 1, 2023 | Posted in : Expenses / Costs, Fee Award, Fee Award Factors, Fee Data / Fee Analytics, Fee Reduction, Fee Request, Hourly Rates, Practice Area: Insurance Coverage Litigation, Trial / Jury / Verdict

A recent Law 360 story by Thy Vo, “Colo. Judge Cuts Condo Developer’s Atty Fee Award to $2.3M”, reports that a Colorado federal judge has pared down a condominium developer's attorney fee award to $2.3 million after it secured a verdict against its insurer in a construction coverage dispute, with the judge finding that the developer requested hourly rates higher than the prevailing rate in Denver's legal market.

U.S. District Judge Charlotte N. Sweeney on cut Curtis Park Group LLC's fee award from the $2.77 million requested by the developer down to $2.35 million, writing in her order that the requested rates, ranging from $350 to $1,175 an hour, were "excessive" compared with similar legal services in the region.  "At bottom, Curtis Park's repeated emphasis on its counsel's status as an AmLaw 100 firm does not make its requested hourly rates reasonable," Judge Sweeney wrote.

But the judge declined to cut into the developer's fee award as steeply as defendant Allied World Specialty Insurance Co. insisted, finding it would be "inappropriate" given the "excellent skills, experience and reputations" of Curtis Park's attorneys from Haynes and Boone LLP.  "Moreover, even though this insurance dispute case did not rise to the level of a 'niche practice,' it certainly was a complex insurance dispute with high stakes, as both parties have acknowledged," Judge Sweeney wrote in her order.

The fee award comes after a jury in April found that more than $2.5 million in covered benefits related to Curtis Park's condo project in Denver was improperly delayed or denied by Allied World's bad faith conduct.  Curtis Park sued the insurer in federal court in February 2020, alleging Allied World improperly denied coverage for losses resulting from an unexpected amount of "downward deflection" in a concrete podium deck beneath four of the development's five buildings.

Judge Sweeney's order also cut the amount of travel time Curtis Park's attorneys could recover in half, citing decisions by other courts.  But the judge rejected other claims by Allied World that the developer's fees should be reduced even further.  "Allied World fails to persuade, based on the case file and evidentiary record, that Curtis Park impermissibly 'hid' Pat Casey's involvement at various stages of litigation," Judge Sweeney said.  "And notably, as Allied World states, Curtis Park does not seek to recover fees for Mr. Casey's time."