United States District Court, D. Hawaii
ORDER DISMISSING THE ACTION AND SUBMITTING
C. KAY SR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Court enters this order dismissing the action, to clarify the
apparent confusion in the record, and to submit comments on
the established role of magistrate judges in the
determination of attorney's fees for prevailing
Court feels it necessary to submit the following comments
solely to emphasize the important role of magistrate judges
in establishing a prevailing hourly rate in attorney's
fees disputes. The Court notes that the Ninth Circuit panel
in this case apparently misread the Court's decision
which relied essentially on the Magistrate Judge's
conclusion of the hourly rates for the Plaintiff's
Ninth Circuit has earlier acknowledged and approved of the
significant role that judges perform in the determination of
prevailing hourly rates for attorneys given their extensive
knowledge of the rates in the subject community based on
their constant experience in handling such attorney's
Ingram v. Oroudjian, 647 F.3d 925 (9th Cir. 2011)
the court held “[t]his court has never addressed
whether it is proper for a district court to rely on its own
familiarity with the legal market. Other circuit courts have
held that judges are justified in relying on their own
knowledge of customary rates and their experience concerning
reasonable and proper fees” and “[w]e agree. We
conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion
either by relying, in part, on its own knowledge and
experience, or by setting an hourly rate of $350 for
Appellants' lawyers.” Id. at 928.
Sam K. ex rel. Diane C. v. Hawaii Department of
Education, 788 F.3d 1033 (9th Cir. 2015), the court
held, in affirming this Court's decision determining
attorney's fees, “[d]istrict courts may also use
their ‘own knowledge of customary rates and their
experience concerning reasonable and proper fees.'”
Id. at 1041 (citing Ingram, 647 F.3d at
928). Notably, the Ninth Circuit in Sam K. favorably
cited a D.C. Circuit decision where the district court
accepted the recommendation of “the magistrate
judge [who] noted the court's familiarity with the
prevailing rates in the community and cited specific fee
awards in other cases in the district.” Id. at
1041 (emphasis added). That is exactly what occurred in this
case. In concurring in part, the judge who authored the
Roberts decision stated “I agree with the
majority that the district court acted within its discretion
in determining a reasonable hourly rate for the calculation
of attorney's fees in this case.” Id. at
the Roberts decision, while mentioning in passing
that the district court adopted the magistrate judge's
recommendation that Holcomb and Beck (the attorneys seeking
fees here) receive hourly rates of $200 and $150,
respectively, 938 F.3d at 1023, is thereafter devoid of any
discussion or acknowledgement that it is appropriate for a
district judge to rely extensively on a magistrate
judge's knowledge and experience in establishing
prevailing hourly rates for attorneys in their community.
Instead, the panel found “the district court's
wholesale rejection of the relevant attorney declarations
submitted by plaintiffs and the court's singular
reliance on the hourly rates previously awarded to
plaintiffs in unrelated cases departed from the correct legal
standard.” Roberts v. City of Honolulu, 938
F.3d 1020, 1025 (9th Cir. 2019) (emphasis added).
Accordingly, the panel left the impression that a district
court is not authorized to place reliance on the magistrate
judge's determination of the appropriate prevailing
hourly rate based on its own knowledge and experience in
constantly handling attorney's fees requests. And as a
result, the panel likewise concluded that this Court had not
applied the correct legal standard.
noted, this Court in its 2016 Order adopted the Magistrate
Judge's determination of the appropriate hourly rates
(“The Court therefore ADOPTS the Magistrate Judge's
recommendation that Mr. Holcomb receive an hourly rate of
$200.00, and that Mr. Beck receive an hourly rate of $150.00,
” 2016 Order at *7). This Court further specified, in
adopting the Magistrate Judge's recommendation, that the
Magistrate Judge declared he had “. . . tak[en] into
consideration ‘the Court's experience with
attorneys' fee motions, the information provided
by counsel, and the Court's knowledge of the
prevailing rates in the community, '” and
accordingly, based on that experience and knowledge of
prevailing rates, “the Magistrate Judge reduced
counsel's rates to $200.00 for Mr. Holcomb and $150.00
for Mr. Beck.” 2016 Order at *5 (emphasis added). Mr.
Holcomb is an attorney with eleven years of experience, and
Mr. Beck is an attorney with seven years of experience. 2016
Order at *4.
Court notes that in the District of Hawaii most motions for
attorney's fees are handled by the magistrate judges.
LR54.2. Consequently, they have more involved experience and
knowledge of the reasonable prevailing attorney's fee
rates in Hawaii than the District Judges because they handle
virtually all of the motions for attorney's
fees-including the vast majority for which there are no
objections filed to the magistrate judge's reasonable
attorney's fees determination.
Magistrate Judge, in his Findings and Recommendations dated
March 24, 2016, also noted pertinent attorney fees awarded to
Plaintiff's attorneys as well as other attorneys in other
civil rights cases all within the previous two
years, namely: De-Occupy Honolulu v. City & Cty.
of Honolulu, Civ. No. 12-00668 JMS, 2015 WL 1013834 (D.
Haw. Mar. 9, 2015) (awarding Plaintiff's attorney Mr.
Holcomb $200 per hour and awarding $185 per hour to an
attorney with nine years of experience); York v.
Jordan, Civ. No. 13-00311 DKW-RLP, 2015 WL 728227 (D.
Haw. Jan. 30, 2015) (awarding $200 per hour to an attorney
with fifteen years of experience and $140 per hour to an
attorney with six years of experience); Hawaii Def.
Found. v. City & Cty. of Honolulu, Civ. No. 12-00469
JMS, 2014 WL 2804448 (D. Haw. June 19, 2014) (awarding
Plaintiff's attorneys Mr. Holcomb $200 per hour and Mr.
Beck $150 per hour).
Court noted that “Plaintiff asserts that the
declarations show that the rates requested for Mr. Holcomb
and Mr. Beck are lower than the rates counsel with similar
years of experience charge clients, and that the requested
rates are therefore reasonable. [citation.] Addressing this
argument, the Magistrate Judge noted that ‘the fees
stated in the attorneys' declarations vary significantly
without explanation.'” 2016 Order at *5. And no
adequate explanation of the variation was provided to this
Court. This Court further stated it was not persuaded by
Plaintiff's submission of the Laffey matrix, a grid of
inflation-adjusted hourly rates for attorneys in the
Washington, D.C. area. 2016 Order at *6; see Haw. Def.
Found., 2014 WL 2804448, at *3 (citing Laffey v. Nw.
Airlines, Inc., 572 F.Supp. 354 (D.D.C. 1983)).
to Plaintiff's assertion, the Court found, “There
is no evidence that rates awarded by this district have
remained unchanged for anywhere near the past ten years, a
practice that occurred in Sacramento about which the Ninth
Circuit expressed concern in Moreno. [citation.]
This district awarded Mr. Beck an hourly rate of $150.00 as
recently as 2014, see Hawaii Defense Foundation,
2014 WL 2804448, at *5, and awarded Mr. Holcomb an hourly
rate of $200.00 just last year, see De-Occupy
Honolulu, 2015 WL 1013834, at *11. The Court feels such
rates continue to ensure that future counsel will be
attracted to civil rights cases such as this one.” 2016
Order at *7.
the Ninth Circuit in Sam K. found no evidence that
this Court “followed a policy to ‘hold the
line'” to limit the awards to an unfair rate.
Sam K., 788 F.3d at 1041. The Ninth Circuit noted
“[t]hat other attorneys may think that a given rate is
‘reasonable' does not necessarily say what the
prevailing market rates actually are. That is especially true
when the opinion[s] are expressed by attorneys whose own
professional interests might motivate them to favor higher
rates.” Sam K., 788 F.3d at 1041. The Ninth
Circuit panel further proclaimed, “It was telling,
however, that none of the declarations stated that any of the
attorneys had actually been paid fees at that $375 rate for
work of this type, or that any attorney of similar training
and experience had.” Id. Likewise, in this
case none of the submitted declarations represented the
subject attorneys had been paid at such rates or that such
rates had been approved by the Hawaii Federal District Courts
or otherwise met the criteria specified by the Sam
Court further found that the issues presented in this case
were neither novel nor complex, with the case being settled
(with the exception of attorney's fees) after Plaintiff
filed only one pleading, the complaint. 2016 Order at *6. The
Court ended its five-page analysis of the hourly rates
requested by plaintiff's attorneys with the following
finding in adopting the Magistrate Judge's
recommendation: “For all of the foregoing reasons, the
Court finds that the hourly rates requested for Mr. Holcomb
and Mr. Beck are unreasonable, and that the Magistrate Judge