9th Circuit: If Attorney Fees are Reduced More Than 30% the District Court Must Explain Why

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit recently addressed another attorney fee dispute in a Longshore claim.  The Claimant submitted a fee petition for $22,585.00, which included 60.9 total hours of work at a $500.00 hourly rate for senior counsel and $300.00 for an associate.  The district court awarded $14,268.50 based on a blended hourly rate of $400.00 for 35 hours of work.  The Claimant appealed.

The Ninth Circuit noted that the district court was required to consider some or all of the twelve Kerr factors in awarding fees:

The Kerr factors are (1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the question involved; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of other employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the “undesirability” of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

The district court considered two factors, finding that there was a large disparity between the fees being claimed and the amount at stake in litigation ($3,220.20), and that Claimant was not primarily responsible for the litigation becoming more protracted than anticipated.

The Ninth Circuit looked to circuit precedence for the rule that when attorney fees are reduced by more than 30 percent, the judge is required to outline the specific reasons why such a reduction was necessary.  The Court found the district court’s explanation was insufficient in light of the large reduction in fees.  The district court’s decision was vacated and the claim was remanded for a more specific explanation of the reduction.

Carter v. Caleb Brett, LLC, — F.3d —- (9th Cir.  2014).