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Student Pub. Interest Research Group of N.J. v. AT&T Bell Labs.

Citation: 17 ELR 20103
No. No. 84-1087, 643 F. Supp. 961/24 ERC 1997/(D.N.J., 10/06/1986) Attorneys fees awarded

The court holds that market rates, not the normal billing rates of plaintiffs' public interest law firm, apply to the lodestar calculation in plaintiffs' application for attorneys fees under § 505(d) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (FWPCA). The court first holds that plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys fees under FWPCA § 505(d), since they achieved total success on the issue of liability and settled on terms that required defendants to pay $75,000 to the federal government in civil penalties. The court then holds that the market rate for attorneys of comparable experience in the same city as plaintiffs' counsel is the appropriate rate by which to calculate the lodestar. Plaintiffs' counsel has a normal billing rate of one-third to one-half the market rates in Washington, D.C., where the firm is located. The firm, although a for-profit enterprise, engages exclusively in public interest work. It uniformly charges clients rates far lower than the market rates; it charges no fee and has no fee arrangement with clients in FWPCA citizen suits. The court observes that its conclusion is also consistent with case law arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, the attorneys fees provision of the Civil Rights Act. At least one circuit has ruled that all the jurisprudence surrounding the calculation of attorneys fees under § 1988 applies equally to the Clean Air Act, which has an identical attorneys fees provision to the one at issue in this case.

The court holds that the number of hours claimed by counsel and the hourly rates based on market rates in Washington are reasonable. The court declines, however, to make an upward adjustment in the lodestar based on the quality of the firm's work or the contingent nature of success. Although the work done by plaintiffs' counsel was excellent, upward adjustment based on quality of representation is rarely justified, and there was little risk in developing the case. The court also holds plaintiffs' counsel is entitled to reimbursement for its copying and telephone expenses, allows compensation for work performed for plaintiffs' counsel by another public interest law firm, and approves fees for time spent preparing the attorneys fee application.

[The decision on the merits in this litigation appears at 15 ELR 21051.]

Counsel for Plaintiffs
Karen H. Edgecombe, Carolyn Smith Pravlik
Terris, Edgecombe, Hecker & Wayne
1121 12th St. NW, Washington DC 20005
(202) 682-2100

Michael Gordon
Gordon & Gordon
80 Main St., West Orange NJ 07052
(201) 736-0094

Counsel for Defendant
Steven A. Tasher
Donovan, Leisure, Newton & Irvine
1850 K St. NW, Washington DC 20006
(202) 862-4700