Judge Rya Zobel, of the District of Massachusetts court, awarded $678,435.00 in attorney fees and expenses to a wine association after an almost five-year suit against a Massachusetts state agency. In Family Winemakers of California v. Jenkins, plaintiffs challenged a Massachusetts state statute which banned large wineries from directly shipping to the state’s consumers.
Requested Fees and Hours
Plaintiffs sought $1,524,017.00 in attorney fees and $96,339.00 in expenses. This is calculated from 4,058.5 claimed hours of work and attorney rates as high as $559.58 per hour. Defendants argued they should only be compensated a total of $362,446.00.
Court Found Fee Requests Excessive
Judge Zobel ruled that several fee requests were excessive because an unreasonable amount of time was spent on various stages of litigation. Four types of work, in particular, were found to be unreasonable: lawyer conferencing time, work on the summary judgment motion, preparing for the 1st Circuit oral argument and preparing the fee motion. Plaintiffs claimed 2,247.96 hours for these four categories of work. However, they were awarded on only 52% of the claimed hours, or 1,179.48 hours. The remaining fee requests were cut by 24%, ultimately awarding plaintiffs 2,555.49 of the 4,058.5 claimed hours.
Plaintiff’s lead lawyer charged a $559.58 hourly rate, which the court considered to be reasonable given her expertise in wine law. However, her blended rate was reduced by 10% to $503.62 because her hourly rate exceeds the rate at which the majority of her work was invoiced.
Objectionable Charges Not Rewarded
The court did not allow fee requests for items the court considered unreasonable billing. Such items include paralegal time spent on clerical tasks, overtime, meal costs and travel time. Additionally, postage, telephone, and document related cost requests were reduced by 25%.