Wednesday, September 17, 2008

NRDC v. Winter (Department of Navy)

Sep 16: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit, Case No. 07-55294. Defendant-Appellant, Donald C. Winter (the Navy), appealed the district court’s decision to award attorneys’ fees to Plaintiffs pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. § 2412. The Navy claimed that: (1) the amount of the award for some of the attorneys working on the case should not have been enhanced above the statutory rate; (2) the limited extent of Plaintiffs’ success merited a reduction in fees; and, (3) the award of appellate fees was improper because the fee application was filed in the district court, not in the court of appeals.

The Appeals Court said, "We conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion on the second and third issues. However, because we conclude that the standard used by the district court to determine the first issue constitutes an error of
law, we vacate the district court’s order awarding fees and remand for additional fact finding and recalculation of fees in accordance with this opinion."

The Appeals Court summarized, "In Love v. Reilly, 924 F.2d 1492 (9th Cir. 1991), we consolidated into a three-part test the relevant law governing what must be proven in order to be awarded enhanced attorneys’ fees: (1) 'the attorney must possess distinctive knowledge and skills developed through a practice specialty;' (2) 'those distinctive skills must be needed in the litigation;' and (3) 'those skills must not be available elsewhere at the statutory rate.' Id. at 1496. . .we remand this case to the district court for reconsideration consistent with this opinion to determine whether the Plaintiffs have met their burden of proof under the third prong of Love. If not, the district court should recalculate fees for the Plaintiffs as required. On remand, the district court should also recalculate fees for the junior Irell attorneys at the statutory rate, plus a cost of living increase."

Access the complete opinion (
click here).

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