Van Skike v. OWCP, et al., No. 07-73886 (9th Cir. 03/02/09).
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals vacated and remanded the Benefits Review Board's lowered calculation of attorney's fees.
What it means: In Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act cases, hourly rates for attorney's fees should be reasonably based on prevailing market rates in the relevant community rather than on the complexity of the issues.
An attorney who prevailed on every contested claim in a Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act benefits case appealed the board's decision to lower his hourly rate for attorney's fees. The attorney argued that a market rate of $350 per hour was appropriate for his services, based on his general experience, his use of a fee expert in determining a reasonable hourly rate, the awards he won in similar matters, and the governing attorney's fees matrix. However, the board lowered his hourly rate to $235 to $250 per hour based on the calculations of fees rendered in other LHWC cases.
The 9th Circuit disagreed with the board's narrow method of calculation. It stated that the board erroneously relied on the fee determinations in other LHWCA cases rather than looking at the current market rates and conditions.
The court explained that under the LHWCA, the reasonable hourly rate for attorney's fees is generally determined based upon the prevailing rate in the relevant community, rather than on the complexity of the issues. Although the complexity of the issues is relevant, it should be reflected in the "reasonable number of hours" the attorney claims for working on the matter, rather than in his hourly rate.
The court vacated the board's decision and remanded the case with instructions to recalculate the attorney's fees according to its methodology.
April 2, 2009
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