A recent Bloomberg Law story by Maya Earls, “Judge Slams Hourly Rates, Awards $1 Attorneys’ Fee in Wage Suit,” reports that a federal judge in Arkansas rejected a request for more than $30,000 in attorneys’ fees in an overtime pay dispute and awarded Sanford Law Firm $1 instead, saying the higher amount isn’t fair, proper, or just under the circumstances. Sanford Law Firm represented a plaintiff in a Fair Labor Standards Act collective action filed against Eden Isle Corp. The plaintiff accepted a $4,000 outstanding offer of judgment and later sought about $30,681 in lawyers’ fees and $1,225 in costs.
Sanford’s hourly rates “appear to be entirely arbitrary and unreliable,” according to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Arkansas. The firm requested between $240 and $383 an hour for attorneys, but other cases litigated by the firm during the same time period had lower hourly rates, the court said. The more reasonable hourly rates are between $125 and $250 an hour, according to the ruling.
This case involved 13 timekeepers, ten of whom were lawyers. Eden Isle noted that a large amount of time attributed to the lead lawyer was spent on in-house conferences and communication. This is too much oversight for a lawyer who has been practicing for 11 years and focused her practice on employment law, the court said. “As has been pointed out time and again, the random involvement of all of the lawyers and the constant oversight by the senior attorney are inefficient, unnecessary, and unreasonable,” wrote Judge Billy Roy Wilson.
Sanford sought more than $3,600 for work on a motion for summary judgment, but the motion was granted for Eden Isle before the plaintiff accepted the outstanding offer of judgment. Wilson criticized the “frivolous request,” writing that this isn’t the first time the firm sought reimbursement for unsuccessful issues.
“Although plaintiff was, technically, the prevailing party, his ‘success’ was paltry, at best,” wrote Wilson. The court cited other billing issues, such as duplicative billing and excessive time, that resulted in a petition that was “excessive and unreliable.” Wilson reduced the costs from $1,241 to $416 because the $825 cost for a private process server isn’t recoverable. The plaintiff will challenge the judge’s findings in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, according to a notice filed.