SAN DIEGO (CN) – Donald Trump’s profit-seeking business college must pay $798,000 in legal fees to a former student, for filing an anti-SLAPP suit, a federal judge ruled.
Tarla Makaeff sued Trump University and Donald Trump in 2010, in a proposed class action alleging deceptive business practices. Makaeff claimed she shelled out $60,000 for a real estate program that consisted of seminars that were little better than infomercials.
Trump University countersued , accusing Makaeff of defaming it in online postings and elsewhere.
Makaeff moved to strike the counterclaim under California’s anti-SLAPP law.
U.S. District Judge Irma Gonzalez denied the motion, but the 9th Circuit reversed in 2013.
After the district court granted Makaeff’s motion to strike in June 2014, she asked for $1.3 million in attorneys’ fees and costs. Her attorneys claimed they’d spent 2,226 hours on the case, a number Trump’s attorneys disputed.
The case is no longer a class action and Donald Trump himself no longer is a defendant.
U.S. District Judge Gonzalo Curiel on April 9 awarded Makaeff $798,779.24 in fees and costs.
Makaeff’s attorneys sought hourly rates of $250 to $440 for associates and $600 to $825 for partners, citing a 2007 survey in the National Law Journal and their experience handling class actions.
Trump’s attorneys called these rates unreasonable and pushed for a blended hourly rate of $300 on the grounds that Makaeff’s attorneys had no anti-SLAPP litigation experience and assigned too many partners to a “simple motion.”
Curiel found the rate requests for associates and partners reasonable, but denied Makaeff’s request for staff attorney and paralegal fees because she did not provide enough evidence to support the requested hourly rates or give enough background information to enable the court to determine an appropriate prevailing rate.
Trump University argued that the hours submitted by Makaeff’s attorneys should be reduced because they often lumped together multiple tasks, duplicated hours by appointing more than one partner to a task and committed staffing improprieties.
Curiel scaled back the number of hours expended on most of the plaintiffs’ 25 proceedings by 20 percent, others by 50 percent and some he declined entirely, reducing the fees award by $542,920.85 to $790,083.40.
The judge also cut $513.46 in requested costs for an award of $8,695.81.
Curiel denied Makaeff’s motion to apply an upward multiplier to offset any reduction in fees because he said she “has not met her burden that a contingency fee enhancement is appropriate here.”
The Trump Organization told Courthouse News it will appeal.
“Despite Trump University being rated as ‘excellent’ by 98% of its students and having an ‘A’ rating with the BBB [Better Business Bureau], Tarla Makaeff engaged in a campaign to defame it in her quest to obtain an unjustified refund. As a result, we believe that the court’s most recent ruling was in error and plan to appeal,” Trump’s assistant general counsel Jill Martin said.
Makaeff was represented by Aaron M. Olsen and Amber Lee Yeck with Zeldes, Haeggquist & Eck.
Makaeff’s counsel did not return requests for comment by the close of business hours Friday.
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