Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Ronald M. Yonemoto v. Attorneys' Fees and Costs Department of Veterans Affairs

June 1, 2012

RONALD M. YONEMOTO
PLAINTIFF,
v.
ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS DEPARTMENT OF VETERANS AFFAIRS DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barry M. Kurren United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR

ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS

Before the Court is Plaintiff Ronald M. Yonemoto's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Doc. # 88.) After careful consideration of the motion, the supporting and opposing memoranda, the attached documentation, and the arguments of counsel, the Court GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion for fees and costs. Specifically, the Court finds that Plaintiff is entitled to $152,181.06 in attorneys' fees and costs.

BACKGROUND

The procedural history of this case, summarized as follows, is taken from the Ninth Circuit's most recent opinion. (Doc. # 85.) Plaintiff Ronald M. Yonemoto is an employee of the Veterans Health Administration, which is a component of the Department of Veterans Affairs ("the VA"). Between 2005 and 2006, Plaintiff submitted eights requests under the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA"). In response, the VA produced numerous records, but withheld some records in part and redacted others.

On July 11, 2006, Plaintiff filed suit alleging violations of FOIA and the Privacy Act. The parties and the Court agreed to a "test case" of five disputed emails, and the Court granted the VA's motion for summary judgment. (Doc. # 26.) Thereafter, Yonemoto was granted permission to take an interlocutory appeal pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) in August 2007. Shortly before oral argument, the VA produced the emails at issue to Yonemoto in response to a discovery request in a related Equal Opportunity Commission ("EEOC") case concerning whether the VA discriminated against Yonemoto. The Ninth Circuit issued a memorandum opinion holding that Plaintiff's appeal was moot, and remanding the matter to this Court to determine whether Plaintiff's entire claim was moot. (Doc. # 35.)

On remand, the parties narrowed their dispute to 205 emails. With respect to 190 of those emails, the VA allowed Yonemoto to view them in his capacity as a VA employee. Yonemoto withdrew his request for 33 of those emails, and rejected the VA's offer to allow him to view 157 emails (the "157 emails") only in his capacity as an employee.

The parties filed cross-motions for summary judgment. At issue were the redacted portions of the 157 emails which Yonemoto had viewed in full, and 15 emails that the VA had redacted, but Yonemoto had not seen in full. Three of the 15 disputed emails were duplicates, which left 12 emails that Yonemoto had not seen in full.

On December 22, 2009, this Court issued an order granting the VA's motion for summary judgment and denying Yonemoto's motion for summary judgment (Doc. # 64), concluding that: 1) the VA's offer to produce the 157 emails to Yonemoto in his capacity as an employee mooted his claim to those emails; 2) the redacted portions of the 12 remaining emails were properly withheld under Exemptions 2, 5, and 6 of FOIA; and 3) Yonemoto could not obtain those emails under the Privacy Act.

Yonemoto appealed, and the Ninth Circuit reversed this Court's summary judgment order. Yonemoto v. Dep't of Veterans Affairs, __ F.3d __, 2012 WL 130339 (9th Cir. Jan. 18, 2012); (Doc. # 85). The Ninth Circuit: 1) held that the VA's offer of the 157 emails to Yonemoto did not moot his claim to those emails because the VA's offer was subject to restrictions; 2) affirmed the withholding of some portions of the 12 disputed emails because they were protected by Exemption 6 of FOIA; and 3) vacated this Court's order regarding the remaining emails because the record lacked a sufficient basis to evaluate the claimed exemption to disclosure under FOIA. Yonemoto, Slip. Op. at 366-87.

On remand, the VA produced the 157 emails and provided Yonemoto with a Vaughn index for the remaining disputed emails. (See Doc. # 84.) The Court allowed Yonemoto to file a motion to compel regarding the remaining undisclosed emails by January 17, 2012. (Id.) Yonemoto did not file a motion to compel, and instead filed the instant motion for attorneys' fees under 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E).*fn1

DISCUSSION

FOIA provides that a "court may assess against the United States reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred in any case under this section in which the complainant has substantially prevailed." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E)(i). A party substantially prevails if the complainant has obtained relief through "a voluntary or unilateral change in position by the agency, if the complainant's claim is not insubstantial." 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E)(ii)(II). In assessing a motion for attorneys' fees under FOIA, the Court must determine: 1) whether the plaintiff substantially prevailed in the action; and 2) if so, whether the movant is entitled to attorneys' fees. Church of Scientology of California v. U.S. Postal Service, 700 F.2d 486, 489 (9th Cir. 1983). If the Court finds that fees are warranted, the Court must also assess the reasonableness of the request for attorneys' fees. See American Small Business League v. U.S. Small Business Admin., Civ. No. 08-00829 MHP, 2009 WL 1011632, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 15, 2009). As discussed below, the Court concludes that: 1) Plaintiff is eligible for fees with respect to hours resulting in the production of the 157 emails and the unredacted portions of the remaining 12 emails; 2) Plaintiff is entitled to fees for producing those emails; and 3) Plaintiff's request for fees is reduced to $134,512.89.

I. Plaintiff Is Eligible For an Award of Attorneys' Fees Regarding All Documents Produced After the First Appeal.

Defendant asserts that Plaintiff is not eligible for attorneys' fees for the documents produced in the EEOC proceedings. (Mem. in Op. at 9.) The Court agrees, and concludes that Plaintiff is only entitled to attorneys' fees for ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.