Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Attorney’s Fees: Is Travel Time Compensable? — Circuit Split

Hines v. DeWitt, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 59344 (S.D. Ohio May 4, 2016):

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Joseph Hines's petitions for attorneys' fees and costs. (Fee Petition of Goldstein Firm, Doc. 108; Fee Petition of Fieger Firm, Doc. 109). Overbilling began at the beginning when three attorneys met with Hines, charging an aggregate rate peaking at $1550 per hour when all three attorneys were present. Because Hines's petitions for attorneys' fees and costs are replete with similar examples, the fee award will be reduced to a more reasonable [*2]  amount.

I. Background

In his Amended Complaint, Hines asserted claims against five City of Columbus police officers, alleging, among other things, that they used excessive force when they arrested him. The Court granted summary judgment on some of the claims against some of the officers, and the case ultimately went to trial with three officers remaining as defendants. After a five-day trial, the jury returned a verdict against one of the officers--Defendant Thomas DeWitt--on one of Hines's excessive-force claims. The jury awarded Hines compensatory damages of $30,000 but awarded no punitive damages. Hines's last written settlement offer was $5,000,000; Defendants' last written settlement offer was $10,000.

Hines petitions for fees and costs totaling $91,342.05 to the law firm of David A. Goldstein Co., L.P.A. (the "Goldstein Firm"), located in Columbus, Ohio, and $211,600.43 to the law firm of Fieger, Fieger, Kenney & Harrington, P.C. (the "Fieger Firm"), located in Detroit, Michigan, for a total of $302,942.48, more than ten times the jury's damages award. Hines also petitions for pre- and post-judgment interest. Defendant opposes the fee petitions, and he requests, among other things, [*3]  a reduction in "the attorney's fees request . . . by at least 50%." (Def.'s Mem. in Opp'n at 7, Doc. 110).


ii. Travel billed at full hourly [*18]  rate

There is no clear rule in the Sixth Circuit as to whether and to what degree travel time is compensable. Disabled Patriots of Am., Inc. v. Beverly Terrace, Ltd., No. 1:06-CV-3063, 2008 WL 4426344, at *4 (N.D. Ohio Sept. 25, 2008). What is clear is that whether travel time should be billed at the usual rate--or compensated at all--is "within the discretion given the district court." Perotti v. Seiter, 935 F.2d 761, 764 (6th Cir. 1991). Other circuits are split on the subject. Compare Johnson v. Credit Int'l, Inc., 257 F. App'x 8, 10 (9th Cir. 2007) (vacating the denial of fees and costs for travel and remanding for further consideration); with Interfaith Cmty. Org. v. Honeywell Int'l, Inc., 426 F.3d 694, 710 (3d Cir. 2005), as amended (Nov. 10, 2005) ("[U]nder normal circumstances, a party that hires counsel from outside the forum of the litigation may not be compensated for travel time . . . ."). Other courts only allow travel expenses when "local counsel could not have rendered the service involved and thereby obviated the necessity of employing an attorney who incurs costs traveling from home to the work site." Anderson v. Wilson, 357 F. Supp. 2d 991, 1000 (E.D. Ky. 2005) (quoting In re Segal, 145 F.3d 1348, 1353 (D.C. Cir. 1998)) (internal quotation marks omitted).

In the exercise of the Court's discretion, out-of-forum counsel's travel time will be disallowed. His time entries for "Travel" that include conference calls that are otherwise billable are permitted. Following Anderson, because local counsel, Mr. Goldstein, could have tried [*19]  this case--he did most of the work in discovery and examined witnesses at trial--out-of-forum counsel was unnecessary. Therefore, the Court will not allow Mr. Harrington's time billed for travel to and from Columbus. (Reduction of 17.5 hours from Mr. Harrington's time).

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