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D.L. v. District of Columbia

We filed an amicus brief on behalf of Public Citizen and twelve other public-interest legal organizations in this appeal from a district court decision awarding attorneys’ fees to prevailing plaintiffs in a complex federal litigation based on the hourly rates set forth in the USAO-ALM Matrix, rather than the LSI Laffey Matrix. The rates used by the district court do not reflect prevailing rates for complex federal litigation in the District of Columbia because they are based on a survey of billing rates in a four-state region for all types of legal services.

We argued that the district court’s use of the USAO-ALM Matrix contravenes the statutory mandate that attorneys’ fees be based on the prevailing market rate in the community for complex federal litigation and, if affirmed, will impede access to justice through the courts in a wide range of subject matters. We urged the Court to endorse an appropriate fee matrix for determining presumptively reasonable rates because nonprofit legal organizations that do not bill their clients lack a readily-available source of billing-rate information. Finally, we explained that the Court should clarify that reasonable hourly rates are based on billing rates—as opposed to collection rates as suggested by the district court—and any adjustments to account for billing judgment should be made on the side of the lodestar equation that considers the reasonable number of hours worked.

On May 21, 2019, the Court issued an opinion rejecting the USAO Matrix because it is not focused on fees for attorneys practicing complex federal litigation in the District of Columbia. Rather, the USAO Matrix incorporates rates for non-litigators outside the District. Thus, the Court of Appeals found that the district court abused its discretion in determining that the hourly rates in the USAO’s matrix are “reasonable,” held that plaintiffs met their preliminary burden of justifying the rates sought based on the LSI Laffey Matrix, and found that defendant’s reliance on the USAO Matrix was insufficient to satisfy its rebuttal burden. The Court of Appeals further held that a growing number of district court decisions finding the USAO Matrix superior to the LSI Laffey Matrix repeat the same fundamental error as the district court in this case, because none find that the USAO Matrix is based on rates for complex federal litigators in the District.