Coffey v. Bureau of Land Management

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA DEBBIE COFFEY, Plaintiff, v. Civil Action No. 16-508 (JEB) BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT, Defendant. MEMORANDUM OPINION Although the parties to this Freedom of Information Act litigation may have declared an armistice concerning the release of documents and the refunding of search fees, no final peace treaty has been signed. Indeed, the new battleground is attorney fees. While the Government does not contest Plaintiff Debbie Coffey’s eligibility or entitlement to such fees − or the hourly rate sought − it believes that the number of hours listed is both insufficiently detailed and excessive. As the Court concurs in part, it will grant Plaintiff’s Motion for Attorney Fees, but reduce the amount sought from $125,541 to $69,019. I. Background Since the prior Opinion details the full background of this suit, see Coffey v. Bureau of Land Mgmt., 249 F. Supp. 3d 488, 491-94 (D.D.C. 2017), the Court will recount here only the facts relevant to the pending Motion. Plaintiff filed her Complaint in March 2016, alleging that the Bureau of Land Management had not adequately responded to her FOIA requests for information related to its Wild Horse and Burro Program. See ECF No. 1. In subsequently ruling on the parties’ cross-motions for summary judgment, the Court determined in April 2017 that BLM had not conducted a sufficient search for documents. Coffey, 249 F. Supp. 3d at 499- 1 500. The Court later issued a Minute Order on May 5 of that year requiring Defendant to “conduct a new search and release any non-exempt responsive records on or before June 28, 2017,” which deadline was subsequently extended to July 26, 2017. See Minute Order of June 29, 2017. Five months later, after Coffey had reviewed the records ultimately released, the parties submitted a Joint Status Report indicating that “all substantive issues of this FOIA action have been fully resolved.” ECF No. 28 at 1. That left only the question of fees. Plaintiff seeks a total of $125,541, which includes fees for the underlying litigation, as well as “fees on fees” for the briefing of her fee petition. II. Legal Standard This Court has previously explained the legal standard at play in FOIA fee litigation: FOIA provides that courts “may assess against the United States reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred in any case . . . in which the complainant has substantially prevailed.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E)(i); see Brayton v. Office of the U.S. Trade Rep., 641 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2011). “This language naturally divides the attorney-fee inquiry into two prongs, which our case law has long described as fee ‘eligibility’ and fee ‘entitlement.’” Brayton, 641 F.3d at 524 (citing Judicial Watch, Inc. v. Dep’t of Commerce, 470 F.3d 363, 368-69 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). The Court, therefore, first decides whether [Plaintiff] AIC has “substantially prevailed” and is therefore “eligible” to receive fees. See id.; Judicial Watch, 470 F.3d at 368; Negley v. FBI, 818 F. Supp. 2d 69, 73 ...

Original document
Source: All recent Immigration Decisions In All the U.S. Courts of Appeals