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Oahu Publications, Inc. v. Abercrombie

Intermediate Court of Appeals of Hawaii

October 18, 2013

OAHU PUBLICATIONS, INC., doing business as Honolulu Star-Advertiser, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
NEIL ABERCROMBIE, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Hawai'i, Defendant-Appellant, and DOE GOVERNMENTAL AGENCIES 1-10, Defendants

NOT FOR PUBLICATION IN WEST'S HAWAII REPORTS AND PACIFIC REPORTER

APPEAL FROM THE CIRCUIT COURT OF THE FIRST CIRCUIT (CIVIL NO. 11-1-1871-08 KKS)

Charleen M. Aina and Robyn B. Chun, Deputy Attorneys General, for Defendant-Appellant.

Diane D. Hastert, Robert H. Thomas, and Mark M. Murakami, (Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert) for Plaintiff-Appellee.

By: Fujise, Presiding Judge and Leonard, J.

SUMMARY DISPOSITION ORDER

Defendant-Appellant Neil Abercrombie, in his official capacity as Governor of the State of Hawai'i (Gov. Abercrombie), timely appeals from the February 8, 2013 second amended judgment entered by the Circuit Court of the First Circuit (Circuit Court)[1] that found in favor of Plaintiff-Appellee Oahu Publications, Inc. (Oahu Publications) on all counts in Oahu Publications's complaint and awarded attorneys' fees and costs to Oahu Publications.

As his sole point of error, Gov. Abercrombie challenges the Circuit Court's award of attorneys' fees and costs to Oahu Publications on the basis that the number of attorneys' hours and photocopying costs claimed were unreasonable. Based on our review of the record, the point raised, the arguments of the parties and the applicable authority, we resolve Gov. Abercrombie's appeal as follows.

Oahu Publications brought this suit for judicial enforcement under Hawaii Revised Statutes (HRS) § 92F-15 (1993) of the Uniform Information Practices Act (UIPA). The award of attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $69, 027.06 was made pursuant to HRS § 92F-15(d).

[The appellate] court reviews the denial and granting of attorney's fees under the abuse of discretion standard. The same standard applies to [the appellate] court's review of the amount of a trial court's award of attorney's fees. An abuse of discretion occurs if the trial court has clearly exceeded the bounds of reason or has disregarded rules or principles of law or practice to the substantial detriment of a party litigant.

Chun v. Bd. of Trs. of Emps.' Ret. Sys. of State of Hawai'i, 10 6 Hawai'i 416, 431, 106 P.3d 339, 354 (2005) (Chun II) (quoting Chun v. Bd. of Trs. of Emps.' Ret. Sys. of State of Hawai'i, 92 Hawai'i 432, 439, 992 P.2d 127, 134 (2000)) (citations, internal quotation marks, brackets in original, and ellipses omitted). Thus, Gov. Abercrombie carries the burden of demonstrating on appeal that the Circuit Court "clearly exceeded the bounds of reason" in its award of attorneys' fees and costs. Chun II, 106 Hawai'i at 431, 106 P.3d at 354 (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).

A. Whether the Circuit Court Lacked Sufficient Information to Determine the Reasonableness of the Number of Hours Spent on the Case.

HRS § 92F-15(d) requires the court to "assess against the agency reasonable attorney's fees and all other expenses reasonably incurred in the litigation." When reviewing the trial court's decision for abuse, "the question is whether the trial court's award of attorneys' fees and costs was reasonably supported by the record." Kamaka v. Goodsill Anderson Quinn & Stifel, 117 Hawai'i 92, 122-23, 176 P.3d 91, 121-22 (2008).

Gov. Abercrombie first argues that the "Description portion of 56 of the 173 entries on the 'billables'/invoices . . . were redacted, and essentially blank[, ]" and that as a result, the fees awarded must be reduced by the amount of these hours "because the circuit court had insufficient information with which to determine whether that time was 'reasonably expended.'"

However, despite the redactions, the general nature of the services rendered, e.g., "legal research, " "review and revise memo re UIPA and case strategy, " or "continued drafting of complaint, " and the time spent on the service still appear on these invoices. Together with its knowledge of the nature of the case, the quality of the documents filed, and performance in court by Oahu Publications's attorneys, the Circuit Court, who presided over all proceedings in this case, had a substantial basis upon which to determine that the fees requested were reasonable. Thus, we cannot conclude that the Circuit Court "clearly exceeded the bounds of reason or has disregarded rules or principles of law or practice to the substantial detriment of a party ...


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