Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

United States v. Metropolitan Dist. Comm'n

ELR Citation: 18 ELR 21233
Nos. No. 87-1956, 847 F.2d 12/27 ERC 2087/(1st Cir., 05/19/1988) Attorney fees award aff'd

The court holds that the district court reasonably chose not to use the traditional approach to calculate hours spent in awarding attorney fees under §505(d) of the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to an environmental group that had achieved some success in a suit against the state agencies that operated the port of Boston Harbor. The court first holds that the environmental group's appeal was timely, since it was filed within 60 days of the district court's final order. Although the district court issued an order announcing the amount of the award over three months before the appeal was filed, the judgment did not become final until the district court issued an order allocating the payment between the two state agencies. The court holds that the district court reasonably decided to forego the traditional approach of calculating the number of hours spent, under which courts determine the number of hours actually spent and subtract duplicative or excessive hours. The court instead chose to identify specific tasks, allocate to each task a reasonable amount of time, and then set a compensation rate for a competent lawyer. District courts should have flexibility in determining the number of hours reasonably expanded. While plaintiff succeeded in certain discrete areas, the suit was substantially duplicative of a suit brought by a nearby city, it was stayed for several years, and lost much of its meaning when the Environmental Protection Agency decided to file suit. That plaintiff's counsel would have provided the same level of effort in representing a private corporate client does not preclude the district court from finding that counsel exceeded the bounds of reasonable effort in the context of a fee-shifting statute. The court holds that the district court's decision to significantly reduce the hours claimed by plaintiff was reasonable. The district court rationally divided the work into 12 tasks and made specific findings explaining its rationale for each task. The district court also reasonably reduced the hourly billing rates claimed by plaintiff. The rates selected were within the range of rates charged by the law firm and reflected the district court's rational belief that the rate charged for similar work performed by counsel for the nearby city was the best indicator of a reasonable rate. The district court reasonably assigned different rates to different tasks and adequately explained its findings.

[Related decisions are published at 16 ELR 20621 and 18 ELR 20807.]

Counsel for Plaintiff-Appellant
J. Cleve Livingston, Stephen Gockley
Conservation Law Foundation of New England, Inc.
3 Joy St., Boston MA 02108
(617) 742-2540

Counsel for Defendants-Appellees
Douglas H. Wilkins, Ass't Attorney General
One Ashburton Pl., 20th Fl., Boston MA 02108
(617) 727-2200

Before CAMPBELL, Chief Judge, BREYER and SELYA, Circuit Judges.