United States: Fee Recovery - Know The Rules In Hawai`i's Federal Court

Last Updated: February 10 2015
Article by Kee M. Campbell and Louise K.Y. Ing

We have previously posted ( Fee Factors: Litigating Attorneys' Fee Awards in Hawaii's Federal Court and Fee Factors, Part 2) about the below-market rates awarded in the United States District Court for the District of Hawai`i. In light of these low rates, practitioners seeking adequate compensation must ensure that their fee applications conform to the Local Rules. Courts in this district often employ percentage reductions to reduce fees, and these reductions can be significant. The key is to know the rules as you bill time, so that the time entries themselves clearly convey the nature of the work done and the value added to the case.

For instance, judges have imposed up to 30% reductions when faced with non-conforming fee applications. Natalie M. ex rel. David M. v. Dep't of Educ., Hawaii, 2007 WL 2110510, at *7 (D. Haw. July 19, 2007) (adopting special master's recommendation to reduce fees by 30%); see also I.T. ex rel. Renee T. v. Dep't of Educ., Hawaii, 2013 WL 419016, at *5 (D. Haw. 2013) ("The Court agrees with the magistrate judge that a 20% reduction of time that was block-billed is an adequate reduction."); Aaron P. v. Dep't of Educ., Hawaii, 2013 WL 4791444, at *14 (D. Haw. Sept. 5, 2013) (imposing percentage reduction for excessive time and inadequate descriptions).

District courts in Hawai`i have imposed percentage reductions and entry-by-entry reductions because of: (1) block billing (rather than breaking down time by task); (2) failure accurately to describe time entries according to the Local Rules; (3) excessive or duplicative time; (4) and clerical work. As described by the Local Rules for the District Court of Hawai`i and the relevant case law:

  • Fee applications must include an adequate description of services rendered: (a) entries for teleconferences require an identification of all participants and the reason for the call; (b) legal research entries must include "an identification of the specific issue researched, and if possible, should identify the pleading or document for which the research was necessary;" and (c) entries describing the preparation of pleadings must include an identification of the pleading, and the activities associated with the preparation. LR 54.3(d)(2). Entries such as "work on opening brief" have been rejected by the District Court. J.T. v. Dep't of Educ., Hawaii, 2012 WL 5383404, at *1 (D. Haw. Oct. 31, 2012), rev'd on other grounds, 2013 WL 418687 (D. Haw. Jan. 31, 2013).
  • District Courts may impose a percentage reduction for block billing because the lack of a time breakdown by task makes it difficult for the Court to ascertain the reasonableness of the request. See Shahata v. W Steak Waikiki, LLC, 2010 WL 5559320, at *7 (D. Haw. Nov. 29, 2010).
  • District Courts do not allow billing for duplicative time (e.g., multiple attorneys at the same meeting) or excessive time. Id. at *6. If it is important that more than one lawyer attend a meeting or hearing, the timesheets or fee motion should provide the reasons for the second lawyer's attendance and their reporting of time incurred for that meeting or hearing should match if both attended the event for the same amount of time.
  • District Courts do not allow billing for clerical work, which includes: "filing court documents or confirming that court documents have been filed; organizing and maintaining files and binders for intra-office use; delivering or transmitting documents; preparing memoranda for office files; bates stamping or other labeling of documents; organizing documents for production; coordinating service of documents; and formatting or printing documents; reviewing court-generated notices; notifying clients of court hearings; communications with court staff; scheduling; and corresponding regarding deadlines." Dep't of Educ. Hawaii v. C.B., 2012 WL 7475406, at *10 (D. Haw. Sept. 28, 2012).

At the same Federal Bar Association-Hawaii Chapter talk/session referred to previously, a District of Hawai`i judge and magistrate judge pointed out that they devote a good deal of time to reviewing fee and cost motions in detail. Submitting a targeted and sufficiently detailed fee and cost motion which follows the foregoing "dos" and "don'ts" is the best way to maximize a fee and cost award and minimize the chances of a percentage reduction.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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