The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana issued an order on April 17, 2020 (Civil Action No. 20-236 Section M (5)) in the case of Joya v. Gonzalez fixing the fees due to Mr. Orellana Joya, the petitioner father who secured a return order of his child to Honduras. In the return order, the court awarded Mr. Joya fees, pursuant to the International Child Abduction Remedies Act (22 USC 9001, et. seq.). In its subsequent order, the court set forth the amount of the fees to be paid and its analysis in calculating the fee award.
When calculating the fees due to a prevailing parent in a 1980 Convention return proceeding, the court uses the “lodestar” calculation, determining the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. The amount of fees can then be adjusted upward or downward. The party requesting the fee award bears the burden of establishing the reasonableness of the fees and costs and must submit adequate documentation to verify that reasonableness.
In this case, Mr. Joya submitted evidence that his attorneys and paralegals logged over 200 hours, but were only asking for payment on 180.95 hours, writing off paralegal and some attorney time. The lawyers also reduced one of their hourly rates from $250 to $235. Mr. Joya therefore requested fees of $31,654.50 (out of over $45,000 billed) and costs of $2,582.40.
Courts typically look for attorney fee affidavits, billing statements, and the courts can employ their own judgment as to what rates prevail in the community for similar services of comparably skilled attorneys.
The court has the discretion to reduce the number of hours or award a percentage of the total worked, and will do so if the petitioner provides incomplete documentation that is insufficient to meet his or her burden.
In that the respondent mother has not yet complied with the court’s order to return the minor child to Honduras, there remains an open question as to the amount of costs associated with the child’s repatriation, and Mr. Joya may submit a supplemental motion to recover those costs once they are ascertained.