Small Firms vs. Large Firms Distinguished in Awarding Fees

Heller v. District of Columbia, No. 2003-CV-0213 (D.D.C. Dec. 29, 2011)

U.S. District Judge Sullivan, in the gun control litigation, just issued a lengthy decision on the plaintiffs' attorney fee petition. Plaintiffs sought the "enhanced Laffey rates" and over $3 million in fees and expenses; the District of Columbia argued that only the regular Laffey matrix was justified, and that around 840k in fees were warranted. The fee petition was high because of the multiple appeals, including to the Supreme Court. After a lengthy discussion of the two versions of the Laffey matrix, Judge Sullivan concludes that the enhanced matrix is not warranted for small firms, because the enhanced matrix is based on market rates for large firms that have much higher overhead and where the partners are paid higher compensation than at smaller firms.

Judge Sullivan also expressed significant concern with the fact that three of the lead attorneys did not have contemporaneous time records, but instead "reconstructed" their time. Also, one attorney's time records were too vague, warranting a further reduction. Also, no lodestar enhancement was warranted, notwithstanding the path-breaking nature of this litigation on issues of first impression.

The result is a fee award of about $1.13 million, much closer to the District's position.

The opinion is available on-line at: https://ecf.dcd. 86.

– submitted by Alan R. Kabat

Newsletter Volume: 
Newsletter - January/February 2012