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Thursday, January 7, 2016

D.C. Circuit affirms fee award rates calculated with the Legal Services Index (LSI) update to the Laffey Matrix.

Civil rights litigation can be brought by individuals who do not have the funds to pay for lawyers because of the fee-shifting provisions of 42 U.S.C. 1988.  Section 1988 provides that a court may award attorneys’ fees at market rates when the plaintiffs win the case.  The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has long held that the relevant market rates for attorney fee awards under Section 1988 are the rates for complex federal litigation in Washington, D.C.  Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Hodel Inc., 857 F.2d 1516, 1524 (D.C. Cir. 1988)(en banc).

Counsel for the Salazar plaintiff class sought an award of fees under the Laffey matrix.  The Laffey matrix is a schedule of hourly rates for lawyers handling complex federal litigation that was developed in Laffey v. Northwest Airlines Inc., 572 F. Supp. 354 (D.D.C. 1983), affirmed in part and reversed in part on other grounds, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1984), overruled in part on other grounds, Save Our Cumberland Mountains v. Hodel Inc., supra, 857 F.2d at 1525. 

For years, the Salazar class and the District of Columbia have been engaged in litigation over whether the fees awarded to class counsel should be based on the Legal Services Index (LSI) Update of the Laffey Matrix or the CPI Update of the matrix used by the United States Attorney’s Office (USAO).  The class presented substantial evidence that the LSI-Updated Laffey Matrix produced hourly rates that were below, but more closely aligned with, market rates than the USAO Laffey Matrix.  The District maintained that the LSI was national, not local like the CPI, its rates compared to those of large firms, not the small firm representing the class, and that the USAO Matrix was used in the vast majority of fees decisions in the District of Columbia.

In four decisions, Judge Gladys Kessler awarded fees based on the LSI-Updated Laffey Matrix; each time finding that the LSI was the preferred index for legal services and that the LSI-Updated Matrix was a conservative estimate of the cost of legal services in the District of Columbia.  Although the District abandoned an earlier appeal, it pursued an appeal of the third and fourth decisions.  

The D.C. Circuit affirmed Judge Kessler’s award of attorneys’ fees using the LSI-Updated Laffey Matrix.  Salazar v. District of Columbia, 809 F.3d 58 (DC Cir. 2015).  The D.C. Circuit agreed with Judge Kessler that the evidence presented by plaintiffs demonstrates that the LSI-Updated Laffey Matrix “’is probably a conservative estimate of the actual cost of legal services in this area’” (emphasis in original).  809 F.3d at 65.  It concluded that “[t]he District, neither below nor on appeal, rebuts this logic with relevant arguments.”  Id., at 65.  The Court noted that the fact that other courts have applied the USAO Laffey Matrix “is not compelling.” Id., at 65, n. 1.

The D.C. Circuit also reiterated its prior en banc holding that fees should not be calculated any differently when the losing defendant is the government.  809 F.3d at 65.  

Use the links below for the decision and Joint Appendix materials:

D.C. Circuit Decision
Joint Appendix Volume 1 (pages 1-591)
Joint Appendix Volume 2 (pages 592-1221)
Joint Appendix Volume 3 (pages 1222-1798)
Joint Appendix Volume 4 (pages 1799 -2396)

Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP, which represents the Salazar class, has made the evidence supporting the LSI-Updated Laffey Matrix available on its website at this link.  

The Salazar case is a class action brought on behalf of adults and children, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 1983, to enforce various provisions of the Medicaid Act. The class is currently monitoring the District’s compliance with the consent decree entered in 1997 and amended in 1999.  The class periodically files fee applications.  Click here for more information regarding the case.

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