$1M in Fees for 4 Months of Work Doesn’t Add Up

     (CN) – A federal judge balked at an “outlandish, excessive, and inequitable” request for $900,000 in attorneys’ fees, billing for hearings that “simply did not happen.”
     Four firms sought the award for their representation of a class led by Benjamin Mostaed and William Perkins who opposed the proposed merger of Massey Energy and Alpha Natural Resources in February 2011.
     When the merger went through four months later with 99 percent approval from Massey shareholders, the plaintiffs announced that they would drop their case. That development did not stop counsel from subsequently demanding $900,000 in attorneys’ fees and an incentive award of $2,000 to each plaintiff.
     In a supporting memorandum, the lawyers described their estimates as “conservative[]” and “modest.”
     U.S. District Judge John Gibney Jr. used different adjectives in rejecting the motion Monday.
     “First, the amount of money requested is simply shocking,” Gibney wrote.
     “At an early stage, the plaintiffs announced that they would dismiss the case,” he added. “In essence, they came to the battlefield, pitched their tents, and then retreated to safety. For these efforts, they seek nearly one million dollars in fees.”
     In addition, “the plaintiffs did not secure any of the relief they requested in their complaint: all the relief requested had the goal of stopping the acquisition unless they got more money for their shares. The only time the court decided anything in the plaintiffs’ favor was when it granted them leave to file an amended complaint, which is no victory of any kind.” (Italics in original.)
     By contrast, the lawyers had said that their “vigorous and skillful prosecution of this action” brought about “much of the relief” that the class sought “without the need for judicial intervention.”
     Gibney also slammed the attorneys for submitting time records that were “anything but comprehensible.”
     One of the firms representing the plaintiffs, Finkelstein Thompson, submitted 17 pages of time entries, “but not in chronological order.”
     Another firm, Johnson & Weaver, submitted a declaration stating that it spent 130.9 hours on various short motions.
     “The firm does not elucidate why such simple tasks took the equivalent of over three weeks’ work,” Gibney wrote. “Nor does the firm state which attorneys worked on the various matters and how their time was allocated among the tasks.”
     Gibney also noted that “the lawyers attempt, furthermore, to collect fees for things that simply did not happen.”
     “As an example, they seek payment for ‘confirmatory’ discovery and an approval hearing,” the 26-page ruling states. “Neither of these events occurred in the case.”
     Gibney further criticized a bill for 52.3 hours to attend a pretrial conference in Richmond and a hearing in Delaware for a preliminary injunction.
     “The pretrial conference took – at most – an hour; the Delaware hearing took four hours,” he wrote. “Yet counsel inflates these efforts into a 52.3 hour event. … These requests are unsupportable and must be denied.”
     “In sum, the plaintiffs’ lawyers effectively ask the court to bless their claimed time without any scrutiny,” Gibney added. “The court cannot do so.”
     In addition to Washington-based Finkelstein Thompson and San Diego-based Johnson & Weaver, the plaintiffs were represented by the Briscoe Law Firm and Powers Taylor, both of Dallas.

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