The Court recognized Plaintiff’s former attorneys, Swick & Shapiro, P.C., billed at reasonable rates for the nature of the case and skill required in Smith v. Loundon County Pub. Sch., 2017 WL 176510 (E.D. Va. Jan. 17, 2017). However, the former attorneys failed to reduce their fees in relation to Plaintiff only prevailing on one of her three claims. The Court found the attorneys reduced arbitrary amounts from their billing simply claiming “lost claim time” with no further explanation and which only amounted to ~10 and ~22% of their total billing, respectively. In addition, the remaining time entries contained block billed and various vague entries, prompting the Court, for those reasons, to reduce the overall billed time by Swick & Shapiro by 50%. The Court next recognized the firm’s work in the case provided assistance in Plaintiff’s current counsel’s preparation, but ultimately, since Plaintiff only prevailed on one claim, it required “a substantial reduction for ‘lack of litigation success,’” and the Court took an additional 2/3 reduction. Finally, an attorney who billed for Plaintiff’s representation before the EEOC received nothing of her requested $8,400 since the Court found it troublesome the attorney billed nearly all time to the nearest hour and, based on the time sheets, it was impossible to determine how much time billed was actually expended on the one successful claim.
Over the last decade, the Courts have routinely found block billing to be inadequate and have been reducing attorney fees because of it. The Courts’ reasoning for the reductions is because block billing hinders their ability to determine the amount of time spent on each fee, and the reasonableness of those fees, since many unrelated tasks are “lumped” together. In 2012, the Court in Project Vote stated that while block billing is not prohibited it does not provide a “sufficient breakdown to meet [the applicant’s] burden to support its fee request.” 887 F. Supp. 2d 704, 716 (E.D. Va. 2012). That Court stated it was not their role to spend their time dissecting blocked billed entries to determine if the time and fees were reasonable. In 1988, the Court in EEEOC v. Nutri/System, Inc. stated that entries should be “described with reasonable particularity” to allow the Court to determine what is a reasonable time spent on a task. 685 F. Supp. 568, 573 (E.D. Va. 1988).
In December of 2016, the Court in Griffin v. Areva, Inc. found several instances of block billing of multiple unrelated tasks by Troutman Sanders. 2016 WL 7736953 (W.D. Va. Dec. 15, 2016). The Court stated it was unable to distinguish time spent on each task and, therefore, it was unable to determine the reasonableness of the time billed. The Court cited some precedent where courts have found block billing “consistently warranted” a reduction in fees. Those Courts reduced a percentage of the total fees requested.
The defendants argued that they had already reduced their fees that could be “deemed duplicative and unnecessary” which ended up being their saving grace. Because the Court in Griffin v. Areva stated the defendants had already reduced their fees and Troutman Sanders fee submission, which was “not replete with block billing,” they would not reduce the attorney fees further.