The parties child was ordered returned to Spain. Petitioner sought reimbursement of fees and costs. The Respondent did not respond to Petitioner’s request for fees and costs under ICARA, so she did not meet her burden to show that an award of fees was clearly inappropriate under the statute. Therefore, the only issue before the court was the calculation of the amount of fees based on the evidence Petitioner presented and the reasonableness of the costs. The Fifth Circuit uses the lodestar method of calculating attorney fees (i.e., the reasonable number of hours expended multiplied by the reasonable hourly rate). It can be adjusted by any of 12 factors set forth in caselaw.
Petitioner’s attorneys sought recovery of $70,023.75 for 199 hours of work performed by 2 attorneys and 2 non-attorney support staff. While the court noted that 199 hours seems like a lot, the Respondent’s refusal to abide by the court’s return order, and her filing of motions for new trials, motions for stays, and appeals, added to the hours.
The court did discount the hours in the billing statements, including 21.25 hours expended for the Texas custody proceeding. The court found that some hours were inadequately documented. Entries such as “Email to [Client]” or “Meeting with [Client]” are not sufficiently elaborate, and needed more detail on the subject of the emails and meetings. The bills had “block” billing, which is difficult to determine what action related to what amount of time for any entry. The court therefore did an across-the-board reduction of 20% of the lawyers’ hours. Third, the court found that some of the entries reflected non-compensable clerical work (preparing notebooks, making logistical arrangements for interpreters, copying, scanning, etc.). Therefore, the court reduced the hours for some additional time related to this clerical work.
For the hourly rates, Petitioner’s lawyers charged $325/hour (for an 8-year licensed attorney) and $525/hour (for a 25-year licensed attorney). The court ultimately concluded these rates were reasonable for the district in which this particular court sits, but prefaced that finding with the fact that Respondent did not contest the rates. The court did indicate that the lawyers didn’t submit much in terms of evidence that these rates are what are traditionally charged in this district for these cases by lawyers of their background, skill, etc. Therefore, all the court really had at its disposal was some past court opinions in other similar cases. The court accepted the non-attorney billers’ rates. Therefore, using the lodestar method, the court found that Petitioner was entitled to a fee award of $48,594.00. There court did not adjust the amount based on the 12 factors that permit an adjustment.
The court awarded costs for filing fees (for the Hague matter, but not the custody matter) and interpreters. Costs for “copying” without further understanding of what was copied and why is insufficient for an award of those costs. He was awarded reimbursement of his airfare for all the trials and returning the child to Spain. He was awarded most of his hotel stays (but for a stay that started 12 days before a court appearance, which the court discounted as not being reasonable and necessary). The court also looked at 57 separate uber trips. There were some that the court discounted, mostly because the court was unsure of their purpose or connection to the proceedings. There were quite a few to the mall or restaurants or the grocery store, and the court did acknowledge those trips were part of the fact that he was in a foreign country for the proceedings, and had he been at home in Spain, he would not have needed to make those trips.