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Natural Resources Defense Council v. Winter

ELR Citation: 38 ELR 20242
Nos. No. 07-55294, (9th Cir., 09/16/2008) attorneys fees remanded

The Ninth Circuit remanded a lower court's award of enhanced attorney fees in favor of an environmental group that sued the U.S. Navy for violating certain environmental laws in connection with its use of mid-frequency active sonar in waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. The group used attorneys from a law firm as well as from its own organization. In determining the fee, the district court applied an enhanced hourly rate above the statutory cap of $125 per hour, finding that counsel brought distinctive skills unavailable at the statutory rate. Although the senior law firm attorneys possessed distinctive knowledge and skills needful to the litigation, the group never demonstrated that no other suitable counsel could be obtained at the statutory rate. On remand, the group must demonstrate their entitlement to higher fees. In addition, the group never established that the junior law firm attorneys had distinctive skills that were needed in the litigation. On remand, the court must recalculate fees for the junior law firm attorneys at the statutory rate.

[Prior decision in this litigation can be found at 37 ELR 20229 and 20283 and 38 ELR 20012, 20057, and 20063.]