Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Ninth Circuit Rules (Again) That Fee Reimbursements Cannot be Arbitrarily Reduced

By Michael FullerThe Underdog Lawyer ®


Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of longshoreman Rick Carter by reversing the trial court's reduction of his attorney fee reimbursement.

Judges Cannot Arbitrarily Reduce Fee Reimbursements

Carter previously filed a lawsuit under the Longshore Act and was compensated over $3,000 for his injuries.



The Act entitled Carter to recoup the reasonable amount of attorney fees he spent prosecuting his lawsuit.

Carter requested a $22,000 fee reimbursement and the trial court awarded him $14,000.

Judges Must "Show Their Work"

The Ninth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court abused its discretion by failing to adequately explain why it reduced Carter's fee reimbursement.


The Court reasoned that its prior opinions (Costa, Moreno, etc.) require trial court judges to specifically state reasons and show their work before significantly reducing a fee reimbursement.

Commentary

The Carter opinion shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone.

The Ninth Circuit has made this rule clear on a half dozen occasions in the past decade. Read its opinions in:

Gonzalez (2013)
Costa (2012)
Evon (2012)
Lyon (2011)
Moreno (2008)
Camacho (2005)

It's unclear why some district court opinions continue to drastically reduce consumer reimbursement awards without explaining why.

Two types of laws regulate Wall Street and Corporate America: criminal laws and consumer protection laws. Congress funds the Department of Justice to enforce criminal laws.


Congress allows everyday Americans to enforce consumer protection laws directly, with the help of private attorneys. To fund these private attorneys, consumer protection laws generally provide for attorney fee reimbursement.

Thoughtless reductions of consumer fee reimbursements work to discourage top class attorneys from representing consumers.

Our Appellate Courts and Congress understand that most Americans can't afford to hire attorneys to enforce their rights. After Carter, hopefully more trial courts will too.