Courts Must Show Their Work When Calculating Attorney Fee

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In Barnard v. Theobald the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the district court abused its discretion when it reduced the amount of attorney’s fee by 40 percent without explaining why a 40 percent reduction is appropriate.

This case arose from a civil rights action, in which the plaintiff sued several police officers for their alleged use of excessive force. After seven days of trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff and awarded him over $2 million in compensatory damages.

After the verdict, the plaintiff filed a motion for $315,505 in attorney’s fees and $61,408.80 in costs. The district court granted the plaintiff the full amount of the costs, but reduced the attorney’s fee by 40 percent, reasoning that the damages sought were excessive. The court noted that the case was not overly complicated and discovery was already closed when the lawyer took on the case.

The Ninth Circuit opined that while the district court explained why it thought the award was excessive, it failed to justify why a 40 percent reduction is appropriate.

The Ninth Circuit has long held that district courts must show their work when calculating attorney’s fee. Padgett v. Loventhal (9th Cir. 2013). Thus, the court concluded that it must vacate the fee award and remand the case back to the trial court for a more complete explanation.

Brian Fu also contributed to this article.