Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Federally-registered lobbyists sued the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative, alleging that federal policy barring registered lobbyists from serving on the Industry Trade Advisory Committees “attaches an unconstitutional condition on the exercise of the First Amendment right to petition [the government],” and “draws an unconstitutional distinction between those who exercise their right to petition the government and those who do not.” The D.C. Circuit remanded after dismissal. Before the district court ruled on remand, the Office of Management and Budget revised the ban to apply only to lobbyists who serve on advisory committees in an individual capacity and the Department of Commerce issued an amended “Request for Nominations for the Industry Trade Advisory Committees.” The parties stipulated to dismissal, with lobbyists stating their intention to seek attorneys’ fees. The court denied that application under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412, reasoning that the remand did not ensure the lobbyists would enjoy a substantive victory, so they were not “prevailing parties.” The D.C. Circuit affirmed, noting that its earlier remand specified that dismissal might still be appropriate depending on the court’s analysis of whether the government’s interest in imposing the lobbyist ban “outweighs any impingement on Appellants’ constitutional rights.” View "Autor v. Pritzker" on Justia Law

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), intended “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education,” 20 U.S.C. 1400(d)(1)(A), permits parents and legal guardians to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs if they prevail in certain statutorily prescribed proceedings. In calculating a fee award, courts consider the “number of hours reasonably expended in litigation” and the “reasonable hourly rate,” determined in part by reference to the prevailing market rate for attorneys’ services. The plaintiffs, having prevailed in IDEA proceedings, sought attorneys’ fees and costs related to those proceedings and an award of “fees-on-fees” for work done in connection with their pursuit of fees for the IDEA proceedings. The district court granted both requests, but did not award the full amounts requested. The D.C. Circuit reversed in part, agreeing that the district court erred in excluding certain hours spent at “settlement conferences.” The court upheld determinations that the IDEA matters were not “complex federal litigation” to which the Laffey Matrix should apply and to apply the same rate to the initial fee and fees-on-fees awards. Plaintiffs forfeited claims raised for the first time on appeal: that their affidavits independently demonstrated a prevailing IDEA market rate that aligns with the Laffey Matrix and that the rates awarded were insufficient to attract competent counsel. View "Reed v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Seed Company Limited, a Japanese company, is led by Shigeru Tamai. Tamai invented a dispenser of correctional tape enabling users to correct printed documents by rolling white tape over errors. Seed and Tamai applied for patents but the application was denied because of legal counsel’s noncompliance with Patent Office regulations when filing a motion related to the application. As a result of the error, another inventor obtained the patent for the same invention. Seed and Tamai filed a legal malpractice suit against counsel. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment for defendants. The court concluded that the statute of limitations had elapsed with respect to the malpractice claims against one group of defendants - those who ceased working on behalf of Seed and Tamai when the law firm engaged in the representation split into two firms. With regard to the remaining defendants - those who continued to represent Seed and Tamai after the breakup of the firm - the court found that the statute of limitations poses no bar to the malpractice action. On the merits of the claims against those defendants, the court concluded that there is a genuine dispute of material fact about whether the alleged error is one of professional judgment, and whether defendants exercised reasonable care in making the judgment. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded as to this issue. View "Seed Co. Ltd. v. Westerman" on Justia Law
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Petitioner moved for one of the three judges of the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, Judge William B. Pollard III, to disqualify himself. Judge Pollard is a civilian who serves as a part-time judge on the court. He also maintains a private law practice. Petitioner contends that this arrangement is unlawful and requires Judge Pollard’s disqualification. Petitioner seeks a writ of mandamus ordering Judge Pollard's disqualification. Petitioner argued that Judge Pollard’s disqualification is compelled by the Rules of Practice of the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review; petitioner raises another related argument under the appearance of impartiality standard incorporated into the Rules of Practice; Judge Pollard must disqualify himself because the Judge’s part-time private practice of law violates 18 U.S.C. 203(a), a criminal statute; and Judge Pollard has violated 28 U.S.C. 454, which states that any justice or judge appointed under the authority of the United States who engages in the practice of law is guilty of a high misdemeanor. Although the court concluded that petitioner's arguments carry some force, he has not shown a "clear and indisputable" right to relief at this time. Therefore, the court denied the petition. The court noted that if the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review decides against petitioner in his pending appeal, he may renew his arguments about Judge Pollard on direct appeal to this court. View "In re: Omar Khadr" on Justia Law

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Appellants received less than $6,000 in damages from their employers for unpaid overtime wages after eight years of litigation. In this appeal, appellants challenge the district court's fee award as too low, while the employers challenge it as too high. The court concluded that, while appellants’ fee petition originally was untimely, the court’s entry of an amended judgment created “[a] new period for filing” and cured that untimeliness, notwithstanding the fact that the petition was filed before entry of the new judgment. Therefore, appellants satisfied Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(2)(B)’s dictates, leaving no ground on which to deny appellants’ fee petition in its entirety for lack of timeliness. On the merits, the court concluded that there is no support in the record for the district court’s finding that appellants failed to promptly provide a damages calculation that could have facilitated early settlement. This clear factual error requires remand. Additionally, because the court cannot ascertain whether or how significantly this mistaken factual finding impacted other aspects of the district court’s fee reasonability assessment, the court vacated the entire decision and remanded. View "Radtke v. Caschetta" on Justia Law

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The district court held that NSC, a small nonprofit corporation registered in Virginia, is ineligible for attorney's fees under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 5524(a)(4)(E)(i). In keeping with Kay v. Ehrler, Baker & Hostetler LLP v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, and the decisions of its sister circuits, the court held that a corporation with a legal identity distinct from the attorney who represents it in litigation is eligible to recover attorney’s fees under FOIA. Because NSC is such a corporation, it is not barred by the pro se litigant exception. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "National Security Counselors v. CIA" on Justia Law

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In this 42 U.S.C. Medicaid class action, the District appealed two separate awards of attorneys’ fees and expenses for work performed from 2010 to 2012. The court concluded that the district court acted within its discretion with respect to its determinations about the reasonableness of the attorneys' hours in the fee applications; the court rejected plaintiffs' threshold contention that the District waived its challenge to the LSI Laffey rates and determined that the district court did not abuse its discretion in selection of LSI Laffey rates in light of this court's intervening decision in Eley v. District of Columbia; and the court affirmed the award of fees requiring the District to pay for the time plaintiffs’ counsel spent responding to an appeal involving an effort to obtain information used by one of the District’s contractors because the information was necessary for plaintiffs' counsel to litigate some of the claims underlying the Settlement Order. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Salazar v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law
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The District and the Police Department appealed from the district court's grant of preliminary injunction restraining enforcement of a “good reason” standard in the D.C. Code provision governing the issuance of licenses for the carrying of concealed weapons, D.C. Law 20-279, 3(b). The court noted that the controlling fact in this case is the identity of the judge who decided it in the district court – The Honorable Senior United States District Judge Frederick J. Scullin, Jr., of the Northern District of New York. Although Judge Scullin served under a properly issued designation, that designation was limited to specific and enumerated cases. The court concluded that the present litigation is not one of those cases. The court concluded that, like the designated judge in Frad v. Kelly, Judge Scullin had a limited designation that did not extend beyond the specifications of that designation. Accordingly, the court vacated the order based on jurisdictional grounds. View "Wrenn v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, a law firm, provided legal services to three companies owned and managed by defendants. After defendants failed to pay legal bills, the law firm filed suit and prevailed. The court concluded that the Confession of Judgment entered in Michigan state court had no preclusive effect and therefore did not bar the current suit under principles of res judicata; the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying amendment; the Retention Letter did not incorporate the Promissory Note’s choice-of-law and attorney’s fee clauses; and D.C. law applies to the Retention Letter and does not preclude the law firm from recovering fees incurred while representing itself. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Bode & Grenier, LLP v. Knight" on Justia Law
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The County seeks attorneys' fees from the Government under the Voting Rights Act of 1965's (VRA), 52 U.S.C. 10310(e), fee-shifting provision after the County prevailed in a challenge to the constitutionality of the VRA. The court agreed with the district court that the County is not entitled to attorneys’ fees because its lawsuit did not advance any of the purposes that Congress meant to promote by making fees available. Even though the County has based its argument for fees entirely on Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., the district court considered whether the County might also be entitled to fees under the Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC standard, which would allow a fee award only if the Government’s defense of the coverage formula’s constitutionality was frivolous or without foundation. But since the County has never maintained that it could even theoretically obtain fees under that standard, the court did not resolve whether Christiansburg Garment should sometimes apply in cases like this one. The court concluded that it is enough to resolve this fee dispute by holding that the County is not entitled to fees under the only standard it has urged the court to apply. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's denial of attorneys' fees. View "Shelby County v. Lynch" on Justia Law