ELECTRONIC PRIVACY INFORMATION CENTER v. FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATION
MEMORANDUM AND OPINION regarding Plaintiff's 15 Motion for Attorneys Fees. Signed by Judge Tanya S. Chutkan on 11/05/2014.(lctsc3)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
Civil Action No. 2013 -cv- 00442 (TSC)
Plaintiff Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”) moves this Court for an
award of fees and costs arising out of the instant Freedom of Information Act Complaint.
For the reasons that follow, the Court grants in part and denies in part EPIC’s Motion
(ECF No. 15).
EPIC filed its Complaint for Injunctive Relief (ECF No. 1) on April 8, 2013,
seeking to compel the FBI’s compliance with two Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”)
requests for the release of certain records related to the FBI’s Next Generation
Identification (“NGI”) program.
On September 20, 2012, more than six months prior to filing this suit, EPIC
transmitted its first FOIA request (“First Request”) to the FBI. (Ex. A (ECF No. 16-2) to
Hardy Decl., itself Ex. 1 to Def.’s Mot.). On September 21, 2012, one day after it
submitted its First Request, EPIC submitted another FOIA request (“Second Request”) to
the FBI regarding the NGI system. (Hardy Decl. Ex. G).
The FBI acknowledged receipt of EPIC’s First and Second Requests by separate
letters dated September 26, 2012 (Hardy Decl. ¶¶ 8, 17; Id. Exs. B, H).
Two days later, the FBI informed EPIC that it had “located approximately 7,380
pages which are potentially responsive to the FOIA [request]” and invited EPIC to narrow
the scope of the Second Request. (Id. ¶ 19). Following a discussion with the FBI’s
Records/Information Dissemination Section, on October 19, EPIC provided the FBI with a
narrowed Revised Second Request. (Id. ¶ 21; Id. Ex K).
After receiving no substantive response from the FBI regarding its FOIA requests,
EPIC then filed this suit. EPIC asserts that following the submission of its Revised
Second Request in October 2012 through the date on which it filed its Complaint almost 6
months later, “FBI had not contacted EPIC again regarding the status of any of the
requests, nor had the FBI disclosed a single agency record in response to any of its
requests.” (Mot. 5). The FBI represents that during that time, it conducted initial searches
and gathered potentially responsive records but was unable to complete its processing “due
to its backlog of prior pending requests and limited resources.” (Hardy Decl. ¶¶ 9, 13, 23,
On May 30, 2013, the Court issued an Order (ECF No. 8) requiring the parties to
file, on or before June 26, 2013, a joint proposed briefing schedule for the filing of
By letter dated June 6, 2013, the FBI released 592 pages of material to EPIC in
response to its First Request. (Hardy Decl. ¶ 15). Because the FBI determined that “the
contract had been public at one point, no redactions were necessary.” (Id.).
In response to the Court’s May 30, 2013 Order, on June 26, 2013 the parties filed a
Joint Proposed Briefing Schedule. (ECF No. 9). In addition to proposing a dispositive
motion briefing schedule, the parties also stipulated that “Defendant will produce to
Plaintiff all non-exempt responsive materials on or before August 30, 2013, with an
interim production on or before July 31, 2013.” (Id.). The Court then issued an Order on
June 28, 2013 implementing the parties’ proposed dispositive motion briefing schedule
and the parties’ proposal regarding production, ordering “that the defendant shall produce
to the plaintiff all non-exempt responsive materials on or before August 30, 2013, with an
interim production on or before July 31, 2013.” (ECF No. 10 (emphasis added)).
By letter dated July 31, 2013, the FBI made its first interim release to EPIC in
response to the Second Request. (Hardy Decl. ¶ 27; Id. Ex. N). By letter dated August 30,
2013, the FBI made its second release. (Id. ¶ 28; Id. Ex. O).
The parties filed a Joint Status Report on December 4, 2013 (ECF No. 14), in which
they informed the Court that no underlying legal issues remained and requested a briefing
schedule to resolve the issue of attorneys’ fees.
EPIC requests an award of $15,851.50, representing attorney fees of $15,501.50 and
costs of $350, for its prosecution of the instant civil suit and an additional $6,272.50 in
fees for preparation of its Reply, for a total award of $22,124.00. The FBI responds that
EPIC’s request for fees should be denied entirely or substantially reduced. The FBI
concedes that EPIC is entitled to costs of $350.00 for filing the Complaint.
a. Eligibility for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs Under FOIA
The Freedom of Information Act provides that courts “may assess against the
United States reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred in any
case . . . in which the complainant has substantially prevailed.” 5 U.S.C. §
552(a)(4)(E)(i). This language divides the attorneys’ fee inquiry into two prongs, which
this Circuit has long described as fee “eligibility” and fee “entitlement.” Brayton v. Office
of the U.S. Trade Representative, 641 F.3d 521, 524 (D.C. Cir. 2011) (citing Judicial
Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, 470 F.3d 363, 368–69 (D.C. Cir. 2006)). The
eligibility prong asks whether a plaintiff has “substantially prevailed” and thus “may”
receive fees. Id. (citing Judicial Watch v. Dep’t of Commerce, 470 F.3d at 368). “If so,
the court proceeds to the entitlement prong and considers a variety of factors to determine
whether the plaintiff should receive fees.” Id. (emphasis added) (citing Judicial Watch v.
Dept’ of Commerce, 470 F.3d at 369).
A party has “substantially prevailed” by obtaining relief through either “a judicial
order, or an enforceable written agreement or consent decree” or “a voluntary or unilateral
change in position by the agency, if the complainant’s claim is not insubstantial.” 5
U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E)(ii)(I) and (II). EPIC argues that it substantially prevailed under the
former provision by obtaining the FBI’s production of 2,462 pages 1 of responsive
documents pursuant to the Court’s June 28, 2013 Order.
This Circuit offers ample relevant authority. In Judicial Watch, Inc. v. FBI, 522
F.3d 364 (D.C. Cir. 2008), the Court held that the plaintiff prevailed because “the parties
had stipulated that the defendant agency would produce the requested records by a date
certain and the trial court approved the parties’ joint stipulation.” Id. at 368 (quotation
omitted). The D.C. Circuit found Judicial Watch v. FBI factually indistinguishable from
Davy v. CIA, 456 F.3d 162 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (“Davy I”), which similarly held that the
plaintiff prevailed on the basis of a joint stipulation, approved by the district court, that
the defendant would provide “all responsive documents, if any” by dates certain. Davy I,
456 F.3d at 164. In Judicial Watch v. FBI, as in Davy I, the Court emphasized that
“[p]rior to the parties’ joint stipulation and order, . . . ‘[the defendant] was not under any
judicial direction to produce documents by specific dates; the . . . order changed that by
requiring the [defendant] to produce all responsive documents by the specified dates.’”
Judicial Watch v. FBI, 522 F.3d at 367–68 (quoting Davy I, 456 F.3d at 166); Id. at 370
(“As we have held time and again, orders like these [directing the government to release
information sought pursuant to FOIA], even when voluntarily agreed to by the government, are
sufficient to make plaintiffs eligible for attorneys’ fees under FOIA.”); see also Campaign for
Responsible Transportation v. FDA, 511 F.3d 187, 197 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (court order
requiring recalcitrant agency to release documents pursuant to FOIA sufficient to render
plaintiff a prevailing party; agreement of defendant to terms mandated by court order is
The FBI produced 517 pages on July 31, 2013, 1,406 pages on August 30, 2013, and 539 pages on November 1, 2013
(the latter in response to the non-consecutive pagination issue, see p. 20 and n.13, infra).
irrelevant); Edmonds v. FBI, 417 F.3d 1319, 1324; 1326–27 (D.C. Cir. 2005) (plaintiff
prevails by obtaining an order providing judicial direction to produce all nonexempt
documents by a date certain; plaintiff may be considered prevailing party by succeeding
on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the plaintiff
sought in bringing suit).
In determining fee eligibility, one particularly relevant factor is whether there has
been an award of some relief on the merits of a claim and a “judicially sanctioned change
in the legal relationship of the parties.” Davy I, 456 F.3d at 165–66; see also Judicial
Watch v. FBI, 522 F.3d at 370 (holding Judicial Watch was awarded some relief by a court
when it obtained, pursuant to court orders, the two videotapes it sought).
This principle was recently applied in Judicial Watch, Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice,
774 F. Supp. 2d 225 (D.D.C. 2011). There, the parties filed a joint stipulation, approved
by the court, declaring that the DOJ would complete production of all responsive
documents by a date certain. Judicial Watch asserted that the Court’s adoption of the
stipulation constituted a judicial award of relief on the merits; the DOJ countered that the
minute order was merely procedural. The Court found the DOJ’s argument unavailing
under Judicial Watch v. FBI, Davy I, Campaign for Responsible Transportation, and
Edmonds and held that the minute order “fits squarely within the holdings of these cases.”
Id. at 229. The Court found the minute order “functionally indistinguishable from that in
Davy[ I], where the stipulation, approved by the district court, stated that the defendant
would provide ‘all responsive documents, if any,’ by certain dates.” Id. (quoting Davy I,
456 F.3d at 164).
In light of the well-established precedent in this Circuit, the Court finds that EPIC
is eligible for attorneys’ fees and costs because it substantially prevailed by obtaining
production of responsive documents pursuant to the Court’s June 28, 2013 Order, which
approved the parties’ stipulated production date. Compliance with this Order constituted
both some relief on the merits of EPIC’s claim and a judicially sanctioned change in the
parties’ legal relationship. That the FBI consented to the terms mandated by the Court’s
Order is immaterial.
The FBI’s arguments to the contrary are quickly dispatched. First, the FBI argues
that the nature of the order in Davy I is distinguishable from the Court’s June 28, 2013
Order here because “[t]he order at issue in Davy I was not a routine scheduling order.”
(Opp’n 8). While the order at issue in Davy I was not a “routine scheduling order,”
neither is the Court’s June 28, 2013 Order in this case; in addition to addressing
scheduling matters, it ordered the FBI to produce all non-exempt responsive documents by
a date certain. As in Davy I, this was “functionally a settlement enforced through a
consent decree” that altered the parties’ legal relationship. Davy I, 456 F.3d at 166. 2
Next, the FBI argues that the purpose of the Court’s May 30, 2013 request was simply to
set a briefing schedule. This assertion is somewhat undercut by the fact that the parties
chose to include the stipulated production schedule in their response. Regardless, the
purpose of the Court’s request is irrelevant because it is the Court’s Order approving the
parties’ production stipulation that is determinative under the controlling law. Lastly, the
FBI argues that unlike the agency in Davy I, it had already produced some records
Indeed, the production provision of the Court’s Order here is strikingly similar to those discussed in
Judicial Watch v. FBI, Judicial Watch v. Dep’t of Justice, Davy I, Campaign for Responsible
Transportation, and Edmonds.
responsive to EPIC’s First Request prior to issuance of the Court’s Order and therefore the
Order should not be treated as having provided EPIC with the relief it sought. However,
the law merely requires that the plaintiff “substantially prevails,” 5 U.S.C. §
552(a)(4)(E)(ii), and achieves some of the benefit the plaintiff sought in bringing suit.
See, e.g. Edmonds, 417 F.3d at 1326–27; Davy I, 456 F.3d at 165–66; Judicial Watch v.
FBI, 522 F.3d at 370. 3 Here, EPIC has done both. For all of the foregoing reasons, the
Court finds that EPIC is eligible pursuant to FOIA to recover attorneys’ fees and costs for
b. Entitlement to Attorneys’ Fees and Costs Under FOIA
Having resolved EPIC’s eligibility, the Court next addresses whether EPIC is
entitled to attorneys’ fees and costs under FOIA. To determine whether a “prevailing”
FOIA plaintiff is entitled to fees award, the district court must assess four factors: “(1)
the public benefit derived from the case; (2) the commercial benefit to the plaintiff; (3) the
nature of the plaintiff’s interest in the records; and (4) the reasonableness of the agency’s
withholding.” Davy I, 456 F.3d at 166 (quoting Tax Analysts v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 965
F.2d 1092, 1093 (D.C. Cir. 1992)); see also Morley v. CIA, 719 F.3d 689, 690 (D.C. Cir.
2013) (reaffirming the four-factor Davy I test). In applying these factors, “[n]o one factor
is dispositive.” Davy v. CIA, 550 F.3d 1155, 1159 (D.C. Cir. 2008) (“Davy II”). “The
sifting of those criteria over the facts of a case is a matter of district court discretion.”
Tax Analysts, 965 F.2d at 1094. Having considered all of the relevant factors, the Court
concludes that EPIC is entitled to recover fees and costs.
While the FBI did produce some documents prior to the Court’s June 28, 2013 Order, it did not produce any
responsive documents until after EPIC filed its Complaint in this matter.
i. Public Benefit Factor
The public benefit factor weighs in favor of granting attorneys’ fees “where the
complainant’s victory is likely to add to the fund of public information that citizens may
use in making vital political choices.” Cotton v. Heyman, 63 F.3d 1115, 1120 (D.C. Cir.
1995) (quoting Fenster v. Brown, 617 F.2d 740, 744 (D.C. Cir. 1979)) (internal quotation
marks omitted). This first factor requires consideration of both the effect of the litigation
for which fees are requested and the public value of the information sought. See
Chesapeake Bay Found. v. USDA, 108 F.3d 375, 377 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Cotton, 63 F.3d at
1120; Tax Analysts, 965 F.2d at 1093–94.
EPIC contends that the material it sought regarding the NGI system is precisely the
sort of valuable public information contemplated in Cotton. EPIC, which describes itself
as “a public interest and research organization incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation
. . . [that] conducts oversight of Government activities and policies and analyzes their
impact on civil liberties and privacy interests,” 4 has already published the FBI records it
received on its website and to the approximately 8,000 recipients of its bi-weekly
newsletter. (Mot. 9). EPIC quotes from a New York Times opinion piece, written by one
of EPIC’s counsel, regarding the surveillance implications of facial scanning technology
and referencing the materials sought in this matter. (Mot. 9–10). 5 In addition, EPIC cites
(Compl. ¶ 4). EPIC also claims that it focuses “public attention on emerging privacy and civil liberties issues.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/30/opinion/the-face-scan-arrives.html. In its Opposition, the FBI questions whether
“EPIC could rely on its own opinion article to establish media interest . . . .” (Opp’n 12). Although this piece was
written by one of EPIC’s counsel, it appeared in The Opinion Pages in section A of the print edition of the New York
Times. McCall, supra. Publication of an opinion piece about the facial recognition technology implicated by the NGI
system in a newspaper of such significant circulation indicates a genuine level of national public interest in the system.
numerous articles regarding facial recognition technology and the NGI system. (Mot. 9–
11; Reply 5–6). 6
The dissemination of the material sought by EPIC, and the NGI system itself, are
fairly within the public interest. The FBI’s own website proclaims that its current
fingerprint identification system is the largest in the world. 7 The implications of
expanding this system to include multimodal biometric data and interoperability with
existing and future technology (Mot. 1–2) are of significant public interest, whether in the
form of EPIC’s concerns regarding liberty interests and privacy rights, the FBI’s concerns
with more effectively combatting terrorism and crime, or otherwise. The NGI contracts
and technical specifications that EPIC received are likely to expand public knowledge of
the NGI system and inform debate regarding how the system and its data are used, both
now and during implementation. There can be little dispute that the general public has a
genuine, tangible interest in a system designed to store and manipulate significant
quantities of its own biometric data, particularly given the great numbers of people from
whom such data will be gathered.
The FBI contends that few of the articles cited by EPIC mention the specific
records obtained in this case and that the records obtained have not already benefitted the
public. This argument focuses the public benefit factor too narrowly. The relevant
inquiry is whether EPIC’s success “is likely to add to the fund of public information that
In its Motion, EPIC cites to articles discussing facial recognition technology and privacy concerns from The
Economist, CIO.com, Network World, CNN, Salon, the Center for Investigative Reporting, and the Providence Journal.
(Mot. 10–11). EPIC cites articles from additional sources in its Reply. (Reply 5–6).
(Mot. 2 n.2) (citing Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System, FBI.GOV, http://www.fbi.gov/aboutus/cjis/fingerprints_biometrics/iafis/iafis (last visited Nov. 3, 2014)).
citizens may use in making vital political choices.” Cotton, 63 F.3d at 1120; see also
Morley, 719 F.3d at 690 (quoting Davy II, 550 F.3d at 1162 n.3 for the proposition that
“[i]t would also be inconsistent with congressional intent to disqualify plaintiffs who
obtain information that, while arguably not of immediate public interest, nevertheless
enables further research ultimately of great value and interest.”). The Court finds that the
information EPIC sought meets these criteria.
Second, the FBI argues that because the contract EPIC sought by its First Request
had already been made public, its release to EPIC did not benefit the public. Pertinent to
the Court’s public benefit factor analysis is “the extent to which the information released
is already in the public domain.” Nw. Coal. for Alternatives to Pesticides v. Browner, 965
F. Supp. 59, 64 (D.D.C. 1997). However, the FBI has not explained how and to what
extent the contract was already publicly disseminated; it merely states that “the contract
had been made public at one point” and that “material was already in the public domain”
(Hardy Decl. ¶ 15; see also Opp’n 11). Without further information, the Court is unable to
weigh the extent of the contract’s previous public dissemination. Cf. Campbell v. U.S.
Dep’t of Justice, 164 F.3d 20, 36 (D.C. Cir. 1998) ( “[s]uch an explanation is necessary
because the mere fact that the material is in the public domain does not justify denying a
fee waiver; only material that has met a threshold level of public dissemination will not
further public understanding within the meaning of the fee waiver provisions.”).
Moreover, EPIC sought and obtained a significant amount of information in addition to the
contract, none of which the FBI contends was already public. For all of the above reasons,
the Court finds that the public interest factor weighs in EPIC’s favor.
ii. Commercial Benefit and Nature of Interest Factors
The “commercial benefit” and “plaintiff’s interest” factors are closely related and
often evaluated together. Tax Analysts, 965 F.2d at 1095 (“FOIA was fundamentally
designed to inform the public and not to benefit private litigants” and “when a litigant
seeks disclosure for a commercial benefit or out of other personal motives, an award of
attorney’s fees is generally inappropriate.”) (internal quotations omitted); see also U.S.
Dep’t of Def. v. Fed. Labor Relations Auth., 510 U.S. 487, 495–96 (1994) (describing
FOIA’s core purpose of contributing to the public understanding of government operations
or activities). EPIC, which describes itself as a not-for-profit public interest and research
organization, contends that its interests in the records obtained in this case are entirely
public-oriented and that it has derived no commercial benefit from its FOIA request or
from this suit. The Court finds this argument, to which the FBI did not respond,
persuasive. Accordingly, the commercial benefit and nature of interest factors weigh in
favor of EPIC’s fees request.
iii. Reasonableness of Agency Withholding Factor
The fourth factor directs the Court to consider whether the agency’s withholding
“had a reasonable basis in law” and whether the agency was “recalcitrant in its opposition
to a valid claim or otherwise engaged in obdurate behavior.” Tax Analysts, 965 F.2d at
1096 (internal quotation omitted). “If the Government’s position is correct as a matter of
law, that will be dispositive. If the Government’s position is founded on a colorable basis
in law, that will be weighed along with other relevant considerations in the entitlement
calculus.” Davy II, 550 F.3d at 1162 (quoting Chesapeake Bay Found., Inc. v. U.S. Dep’t
of Agric., 11 F.3d 211, 216 (D.C. Cir. 1993)); see also Cotton, 63 F.3d at 1121
(government need only have a colorable basis in law for court to consider the reasonable
basis in law factor in determining a FOIA plaintiff’s entitlement to attorneys’ fees). “The
question is not whether [the plaintiff] has affirmatively shown that the agency was
unreasonable, but rather whether the agency has shown that it had any colorable or
reasonable basis for not disclosing the material until after [the plaintiff] filed suit.” Davy
II, 550 F.3d at 1163.
EPIC contends that the FBI had no reasonable legal basis for failing to disclose the
requested records and that the FBI’s delay in responding to EPIC’s FOIA requests violated
the statutory deadline, 8 thus forcing EPIC to file this action. In response, the FBI
concedes that it “was not able to process the request within the 20 working days prescribed
by FOIA” (Opp’n 16) but claims that it did not simply ignore EPIC’s requests, and offers
various explanations for its delays.
The FBI admits it did not timely process EPIC’s FOIA requests but claims that it
did not simply ignore them. The FBI explains that it began its internal process in response
to EPIC’s First and Second Requests “within days” of receiving them, explains in some
detail its responsive internal efforts, and states that the NGI program office did not begin
the process of delivering the responsive documents to the FBI’s Record/Information
Dissemination Section until “early January” of 2013, over three months after EPIC
transmitted its requests. (Hardy Decl. ¶¶ 9; 13; 15; 23; 26). The FBI claims that it was
FOIA requires that each agency upon whom a request is made shall “determine within 20 days (excepting Saturdays,
Sundays, and legal public holidays) after the receipt of any such request whether to comply with such request and shall
immediately notify the person making such request of such determination and the reasons therefore, and of the right of
such person to appeal to the head of the agency any adverse determination . . . .” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(6)(A).
unable to timely review and process the documents due to a backlog of prior FOIA
requests, court-imposed deadlines in other FOIA cases, and its limited resources, including
$700 million in budget cuts during the relevant time period due to a sequester and a
continuing resolution. (Opp’n 16–17).
In support of its argument that its delay was not unreasonable, the FBI cites Simon
v. United States, 587 F. Supp. 1029, 1032 (D.D.C. 1994) and Read v. Fed. Aviation
Admin., 252 F. Supp. 2d 1108, 1112 (W.D. Wash. 2003) for the proposition that, while an
agency’s failure to meet deadlines is not to be condoned, it does not by itself weigh in
favor of a fees award. The FBI’s reliance on these cases is misplaced. As EPIC correctly
points out, the Court in Simon found that when none of the first three factors of the
entitlement analysis favored the plaintiff, an agency’s failure to meet deadlines, absent any
evidence of bad faith, did not “in and of itself” warrant an award of fees. Simon, 587. F.
Supp. at 1032. In those circumstances, the Court declined to impose a fee award simply to
“sanction sluggish agency response.” Id. Here, the Court finds that the first three
entitlement factors favor EPIC; the Court therefore does not consider whether the FBI’s
delay “in and of itself” warrants a fee award.
The FBI also relies on United Am. Fin., Inc. v. Potter, 770 F. Supp. 2d 252 (D.D.C.
2011), which is similarly inapplicable to the facts in this case. In that case, none of the
first three entitlement factors favored the plaintiff. The Court found that the fourth factor
weighed in the defendant agency’s favor when, even though its legal theory ultimately
failed, it “articulated a reasonable legal position and did not exhibit the kind of stubborn
opposition to the valid claims that FOIA seeks to discourage.” Id. at 258. Here, not only
do the first three factors favor EPIC, but, unlike the agency in Potter, the FBI has not
articulated a colorable or reasonable position grounded in law for its delay in responding
to EPIC’s FOIA requests.
The FBI’s explanation for its delay in producing the requested documents is not
unreasonable; the Court is well aware that compliance with FOIA requests can require
significant agency time and resources. However, after EPIC narrowed the scope of its
Second Request—at the behest of the FBI—the FBI had no further contact with EPIC for
six months, until after EPIC filed this lawsuit. The FBI has not advanced any colorable
legal reason why, after indicating that it possessed responsive documents and asking for a
revised request, it simply ceased all communication with EPIC in October 2012, until
EPIC sought recourse in this Court in April 2013. 9 However, while the FBI has not met its
burden of showing a reasonable or colorable basis in law for not timely processing EPIC’s
requests, there is also no evidence that the FBI acted recalcitrantly or obdurately. On
balance, therefore, the Court finds the fourth factor neutral in its analysis.
In sum, given that the first three factors favor an award of fees and the fourth is
neutral, the Court finds that EPIC is entitled to recover attorneys’ fees pursuant to FOIA.
THE REASONABLENESS OF EPIC’S REQUESTED ATTORNEYS’ FEES
FOIA provides that a plaintiff who substantially prevails may be awarded
“reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs.” 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(E)(i). EPIC
requests an award of $15,851.50, comprised of $15,501.50 in attorneys’ fees and $350 in
As noted supra, the FBI did not make its first document production until June 6, 2013.
costs, plus $6,272.50 in fees for preparation of its Reply. Having found EPIC eligible for
and entitled to fees, the Court must now evaluate the reasonableness of EPIC’s request.
The usual method of calculating reasonable fees is to “multiply the hours
reasonably expended in the litigation by a reasonable hourly fee, producing the ‘lodestar’
amount.” Bd. of Trs. of Hotel & Rest. Emps. Local 25 v. JPR, Inc., 136 F.3d 794, 801
(D.C. Cir. 1998). A reasonable hourly fee, in turn, is determined “according to the
prevailing market rates in the relevant community, regardless of whether plaintiff is
represented by private or non-profit counsel.” Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 (1984).
The second element of the lodestar calculation—reasonable hourly fees—requires
consideration “of at least three elements: the attorneys’ billing practices, the attorneys’
skill, experience, and reputation; and the prevailing market rates in the relevant
community.” Covington v. District of Columbia, 57 F.3d 1101, 1107 (D.C. Cir. 1995).
Public interest or government attorneys who do not have customary billing rates may rely
upon the “Laffey Matrix,” 10 a schedule of fees based on years of experience developed in
Laffey v. Northwest Airlines, Inc., 572 F. Supp. 354 (D.D.C. 1983), rev’d on other
grounds, 746 F.2d 4 (D.C. Cir. 1984); see Covington, 57 F.3d at 1105–11 (noting value of
Laffey Matrix and affirming fee award calculated using it).
Once the Court determines the proper lodestar amount, it has discretion to adjust
that amount on the basis of various other factors. See Weisburg v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice,
The Laffey Matrix that EPIC attached as Exhibit 8 to its Motion is an older version for 2003–2012. The Court relies
upon the updated 2003–2014 Matrix available on the Department of Justice website at
http://www.justice.gov/usao/dc/divisions/Laffey_Matrix%202014.pdf (last visited Nov. 3, 2014).
745 F.2d 1476, 1499–1500 (D.C. Cir. 1984); 11 Nat’l Ass’n of Concerned Veterans v. Sec’y
of Def., 675 F.2d 1319, 1328–29 (D.C. Cir. 1982). “The burden of justifying any
deviation from the ‘lodestar’ rests on the party proposing the deviation.” Copeland v.
Marshall, 641 F.2d 880, 892 (D.C. Cir. 1980) (en banc). “When the Government seeks to
rebut a rate or calculation or hours billed, it must provide—just as plaintiff must provide
specific evidence in his application for attorney’s fees—‘equally specific countervailing
evidence.’” Piper v. U.S. Dep’t of Justice, 339 F. Supp. 2d 13, 24 (D.D.C. 2004) (quoting
Nat’l Ass’n of Concerned Veterans, 675 F.2d at 1326).
EPIC submitted detailed billing records showing dates, times, and the nature of the
activities performed, records which its counsel attests were contemporaneously recorded
and accurately reflect the work done by each attorney. (Mot. 14). 12 The FBI does not
challenge EPIC’s use of the Laffey Matrix or the lodestar method, nor does it challenge the
sufficiency of the information within EPIC’s billing records. Rather, it challenges EPIC’s
ability to recover for specific work performed, the number of hours billed, the hourly rates
EPIC seeks for its three most junior attorneys, and EPICs request for fees-on-fees. The
Court addresses each challenge in turn.
a. Time Spent Drafting, Reviewing, Discussing, and Filing the Complaint
The FBI contends that EPIC’s bill of 21.4 hours and $6,315.50 for time spent by
three attorneys drafting, reviewing, discussing, and filing the Complaint “is excessive for
In Weisburg, the various factors to be considered on remand in calculating the lodestar fee included whether any time
billed was nonproductive, expended on issues on which the plaintiff did not ultimately prevail, or excessive.
In support of its Motion, EPIC attaches a Bill of Litigation Fees and Costs (ECF No. 15-2, Ex. 1); a Case Billing
Record for all of the work performed on the case (ECF No. 15-3, Ex. 2); separate Case Billing Records for each
attorney who worked on the case (ECF Nos. 15-4–15-8, Exs. 3–7); a copy of the Laffey Matrix for 2003–2012 (ECF No.
15-9, Ex. 8); and Affidavits of each attorney who worked on the case in support of the work performed (ECF Nos. 1014).
what should have been a simple complaint describing the FOIA requests and its
correspondence with FBI regarding the requests and asserting boilerplate claims regarding
failure to respond.” (Opp’n 18). It asks that the Court permit EPIC to recover only six to
eight hours for drafting the Complaint, although it offers no explanation of how it arrived
at these particular numbers. (Id. at 19). The Court notes that the time EPIC spent
preparing the Complaint was incurred only because of the FBI’s admitted failure to
comply with the law. See, e.g. Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S Dep’t of Homeland Security,
999 F. Supp. 2d 61, 74 (D.D.C. 2013) (“If FOIA’s statutory requirements as applied to this
case were so ‘simple’ and ‘straightforward,’ DHS might have been better served by
complying with them—rather than by ignoring statutory deadlines and meeting their legal
obligations only upon being served with a complaint in federal court.”); L.A. Gay &
Lesbian Cmty. Servs. Ctr. v. IRS, 559 F. Supp. 2d 1055, 1061 (C.D. Cal. 2008)
(“Reminding the Court of the waste of resources engendered by Defendant’s failure to
comply with its obligations hardly persuades the Court to reduce the fee award.”)
The FBI argues that the 25 paragraphs in EPIC’s Complaint regarding the NGI
program and facial recognition technology in general “are completely irrelevant and
unnecessary.” (Id. at 19). The paragraphs that the FBI complains of (¶¶ 7–32) comprise a
small part of the Complaint’s 73 total paragraphs. Further, the facts alleged in those
paragraphs regarding the NGI program and facial recognition technology inform the
reasons for EPIC’s FOIA requests and are particularly relevant to the Court’s evaluation of
EPIC’s fees request.
For the reasons set forth above, the Court rejects the FBI’s arguments to reduce the
time EPIC’s counsel spent drafting, reviewing, discussing, and filing the Complaint.
b. Recovery of Fees for Reviewing Documents and Other Work Performed
After the June 28, 2013 Order
The FBI argues that EPIC is not entitled to reimbursement for any work performed
after entry of the Court’s June 28, 2013 Order, which ordered production, because EPIC
did not subsequently obtain any additional relief from the Court after EPIC reviewed the
The FBI claims that because FOIA provides district courts with jurisdiction only to
“enjoin the agency from withholding agency records and to order the production of any
agency records improperly withheld” (5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)(B)), a party may only obtain
fees insofar as such fees relate to an agency’s withholding of documents. The FBI,
however, has cited to no authority that limits FOIA fee recovery solely to fees related to
withholding. Rather, FOIA simply provides that a court may assess “reasonable attorney
fees and other litigation costs reasonably incurred in any case under this section in which
the complainant has substantially prevailed.” 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(E)(i) (emphasis added).
The proper statutory inquiry, therefore, is whether the fees requested were reasonably
incurred in litigating the case.
The Court finds it reasonable that EPIC’s counsel reviewed the 2,462 pages of
documents the FBI produced during this case to ensure the agency’s compliance with
FOIA and the Court’s June 28, 2013 Order. While EPIC did not subsequently challenge
any of the FBI’s redactions or seek further Court-ordered relief after the FBI finally
produced the requested documents, it needed to review the documents before making those
decisions. Such review took place during this litigation and before the parties stipulated
that the underlying matter was settled. For these reasons, the Court finds that the time
EPIC spent reviewing the FBI’s document production, including the time spent resolving a
non-sequential document issue, 13 was reasonably incurred in litigating this case. See Elec.
Priv. Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Security, 811 F. Supp. 2d 216, 240 (D.D.C.
2011) (“It would seem critical to the prosecution of a FOIA lawsuit for a plaintiff to
review an agency’s disclosure for sufficiency and proper withholding during the course of
its FOIA litigation.”).
c. The Amount of Hours Claimed for Work Performed After Obtaining the
June 28, 2013 Order
The FBI takes issue with some of the time EPIC billed for particular work
performed after the Court’s June 28, 2013 Order, claiming it was unnecessary and
unproductive. (Opp’n 22–24). First, the FBI disputes EPIC’s December 3, 2013 billing
entries (4.5 hours of work for a total of $1,336.50). (Opp’n 22). In response, EPIC points
out that the parties were then under a Court-imposed motions briefing schedule; the FBI’s
deadline had passed and the FBI had not communicated with EPIC or the Court regarding
the lapsed deadline. (Reply 12). EPIC’s billing records reflect work related to the lapsed
deadline and a teleconference between counsel for both parties on December 3, 2013,
regarding the FBI’s missed deadline and next steps. The next day—December 4, 2013—
the parties filed their Joint Status Report indicating they had settled the merits and only
the fee issue remained. There is no indication in the record that the parties had settled the
In order to resolve a non-sequential document issue (explained at Opp’n 5–6), the FBI voluntarily produced a draft
document that is fairly construed as outside of the FBI’s obligations under EPIC’s FOIA requests. However, the FBI
produced the document during this litigation to assure EPIC that production was complete, and EPIC may therefore
fairly and reasonably recover fees related to it.
merits until after EPIC’s efforts on Dec. 3, 2013, 14 and no indication that the FBI
explained the lapsed deadline to EPIC until EPIC reached out to the agency that day. “The
district court must disallow claims for ‘excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary’
charges.” Okla. Aerotronics, Inc. v. United States, 943 F.2d 1344, 1347 (D.C. Cir. 1991)
(quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 434 (1983)). Determination of how much to
trim from a claim for fees is committed to the court’s discretion. Id. (citing Pierce v.
Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 571 (1988)). The Court finds that the work EPIC performed
on December 3, 2013 was not “excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary” and that it
was reasonable under the circumstances, and is therefore recoverable.
Second, the FBI takes issue with EPIC’s billing entries for October 7, 2013 (3.5
hours of work for a total of $1,117.50) regarding the FBI’s Motion for a Stay (ECF No.
12). EPIC undertook this work after the FBI inquired whether EPIC would consent to a
request to stay the briefing schedule given a lapse in appropriations funding. (Opp’n 22).
EPIC contends that the funding lapse constituted a novel litigation obstacle that it needed
to resolve. EPIC claims that it had apparently “received notification from the Third
Circuit that it expected all government agencies to meet their litigation deadlines” despite
the lapse, so EPIC researched and discussed whether this Circuit had the same
expectations. (Reply 12). The Court finds EPIC’s explanation reasonable under the
circumstances and declines to strike the October 7, 2013 billing entries, with the exception
of time spent on a triple-billed conference call to opposing counsel as explained below.
EPIC’s Billing Record shows the last entries prior to December 3, 2013 were on November 18, 2013, when both
parties’ counsel discussed “proposed settlement.” (Mot. Ex. 2 (emphasis added)).
The FBI challenges EPIC’s instances of “triple-billing” telephone conference
calls—that is, billing three attorneys’ time for one call. (Opp’n 23–24). EPIC contends
that this practice was an efficient allocation of its time and resources that allowed its
counsel to stay informed about the suit’s progress and allocate work efficiently. “[T]he
Court will pay particularly close attention when many lawyers bill for a single task.”
Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Security, 982 F. Supp. 2d 56, 60
(D.D.C. 2013); cf. Copeland, 641 F.2d at 891 (“[W]here three attorneys are present at a
hearing when one would suffice, compensation should be denied for the excess time.”)
While the time EPIC billed for the triple-billed calls is minimal compared to the total time
expended in this matter, the Court agrees with the FBI that it was unnecessary for EPIC to
bill for three attorneys on a single telephone call. EPIC’s billing records present seven
instances of triple-billed telephone conference calls. The Court reduces the amount EPIC
may recover for each triple-billed telephone conference call to the time of one junior
attorney at the lowest Laffey attorney rate of $245, a total reduction of $851.00, as
Dec. 13, 2013 Billing Record (ECF No. 15-3)
Sept. 3, 2013
Sept. 23, 2013
Oct. 7, 2013
Nov. 5, 2013
Nov. 18, 2013
Dec. 3, 2013
Dec. 11, 2013
Total amount requested
for multi-attorney teleconferences:
Total recoverable amount
for multi-attorney teleconferences:
for multi-attorney teleconferences:
d. The Hourly Rate for Work Done by Attorneys Julie Horwitz, Jeramie
Scott, and David Brody
The FBI contends that EPIC improperly categorized attorneys Julie Horwitz,
Jeramie Scott, and David Brody within the Laffey Matrix when determining their
reasonable hourly rates. The FBI argues that because these three attorneys had all been
admitted to practice law for less than one year while they worked on this case, they are not
entitled to the lowest Laffey Matrix hourly attorney rate of $245 because the Laffey
category for attorneys with “1–3 years” of experience does not include attorneys with less
than one year of experience. 15
Each of the three attorneys graduated from law school in 2012. (ECF No. 15-10,
Horwitz Aff.; ECF No. 15-13, Scott Aff.; ECF No. 15-14, Brody Aff.). Ms. Horwitz was
admitted to the Maryland Bar on December 12, 2012, and Mr. Brody was admitted to the
California State Bar on January 27, 2013. (ECF No. 16-6, Opp’n Ex. 4; ECF No. 16-7,
Opp’n Ex. 5). The FBI alleges that Mr. Scott was admitted to the New York State Bar in
Briefly, the Court addresses footnote 24 of the FBI’s Opposition, where the FBI questions whether attorneys who are
admitted to practice but not in the District of Columbia may recover attorneys’ fees from this Court. The first two cases
the FBI cites (Dickens v. Friendship-Edison P.C.S., 724 F. Supp. 2d 113 (D.D.C. 2010) and Baker v. D.C. Public
Schools, 815 F. Supp. 2d 102 (D.D.C. 2011)) are Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act cases and
therefore arise in a different statutory context. In Elec. Priv. Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Security, 982 F. Supp.
2d 56, 64 (D.D.C. 2013), a FOIA case, this Court refused to reduce fees for attorneys who were licensed to practice law
but not members of the District of Columbia Bar or the Bar of this Court “because the attorneys’ efforts would not then
be properly rewarded.” Id.
May of 2013 and in support attaches a page from the New York State Unified Court
System website (ECF No. 16-5, Opp’n Ex. 3), but this Exhibit simply states Mr. Scott was
admitted in 2013 with no indicated month or date of admission. Mr. Scott’s Affidavit
(ECF No. 15-13), offered by EPIC, states that he is a “member in good standing of the Bar
of New York” but provides no date of admission. Neither party, therefore, has shown
when in 2013 Mr. Scott became licensed to practice law.
The Court first addresses Ms. Horwitz’s and Mr. Brody’s recoverable rates. Both
were licensed attorneys in their first year of practice while working on this case. In categorizing
legal staff under the Laffey Matrix, this Court has drawn a distinction between persons who are
licensed to practice law and those who are not. See, e.g., Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dep’t of
Homeland Sec., 811 F. Supp. 2d at 238 (Laffey’s “paralegal/law clerk” rate applied to plaintiff’s
attorney for work she performed in that litigation prior to her admittance to the bar); Blackman v.
District of Columbia, 677 F.Supp.2d 169, 175 (D.D.C. 2010) (finding law firm’s normal paralegal
rate appropriate for reimbursement for services of non-barred summer associate, just as for any
other non-lawyer such as paralegals, law students, or recent graduates who have not yet been
licensed to practice law); see also Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Security, 982
F. Supp. 2d at 61 (“Even though Laffey rates are based on years after graduation, . . . this Court, too,
holds that that calculation does not kick in until the graduate is admitted to a bar, and work by
graduates who have not yet been admitted to any bar shall be compensated at the paralegal/law
clerk rate.”). The Laffey Matrix does not provide a category for licensed attorneys below
“1–3 years” of experience. For this reason, the Court in its discretion finds that Ms.
Horwitz and Mr. Brody most fairly qualify as attorneys in the “1–3 years” experience
category of the Laffey Matrix, and therefore their reasonable hourly fee is $245. 16
Mr. Scott presents a different situation. The Court is unable to determine from the
record before it when in 2013 Mr. Scott was admitted to the New York State Bar. EPIC’s
December 13, 2013 Case Billing Record (ECF No. 15-3, Mot. Ex. 2) indicates that Mr.
Scott worked on this case between August 27, 2013 and December 11, 2013, but the Court
cannot determine if Mr. Scott was licensed to practice law at any time during that time
period. Because EPIC has not shown that Mr. Scott was a licensed attorney while working
on this case in 2013, the Court adjusts Mr. Scott’s rate for 2013 from $245 to $145, the
applicable Laffey Matrix law clerk and paralegal rate. See, e.g. Elec. Priv. Info. Ctr. v.
U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Security, 982 F. Supp. 2d at 63–64 (reducing fees to Laffey
paralegal/law clerk rate for attorneys who were not a member of any bar while working on
the case). EPIC billed 11.3 hours for Mr. Scott’s work in 2013. Subtracting Mr. Scott’s
total time billed for the triple-billed calls (1.3 hours) for the reasons explained above
leaves Mr. Scott with 10 recoverable hours for 2013. At EPIC’s requested hourly rate of
$245, this amounts to $2,450.00 for Mr. Scott’s work in 2013, net of his fees for
participation in triple-billed calls ($318.50) which the Court previously struck in section
III.c. At Mr. Scott’s reduced hourly rate of $145 for these 10 hours of work, this amounts
The FBI relies on Elec. Privacy Info. Ctr. v. U.S. Dep’t of Homeland Security, 999 F. Supp. 2d 61, 71–72 (D.D.C.
2013) in support of their proposition that admitted attorneys with less than a full year of experience should not be
reimbursed at the “1–3 years” rate. There, the Court in its discretion split the difference between the lowest attorney
hourly rate of $245 and the paralegal and law clerk hourly rate of $145 and awarded fees at $195 for a licensed attorney
within her first year of practice. Id. The Laffey case itself, however, clarifies the issue. Laffey indicates that the
matrix’s years of experience categories correspond to attorneys within the specified years of practice (e.g., the “1–3
years” category encompasses attorneys in their first through third year of practice). Laffey, 572 F. Supp. 354, 371
(D.D.C. 1983). Further, application of fee matrices merely “provide a useful starting point” for the Court’s
determination of reasonable hourly rates when awarding attorneys’ fees, Covington, 57 F.3d at 1105–11, and that
determination is within the Court’s discretion, Copeland, 641 F.2d at 901 (en banc).
to $1,450.00 for his work in 2013 net of separately-struck fees for the triple-billed calls,
for an additional reduction of $1,000.00.
e. EPIC’s Request for Fees on Fees
The FBI argues that because most, if not all, of EPIC’s fees requests are
“unwarranted or unsupported,” the amount of “fees on fees,” or fees for work performed in
defending its fees request, should be reduced accordingly. (Opp’n 25). See Comm’r, INS
v. Jean, 496 U.S. 154, 163 n.10 (1990) (recovery for fees on fees litigation should be
reduced to the extent work was performed defending a particular underlying fee that was
denied). The FBI does not suggest a reduction amount or percentage.
The Court rejects the FBI’s “fees on fees” argument. The Court has reduced
EPIC’s total fee award by $1,851.00, a reduction of only approximately 8.5%. The
Court’s reductions are minor and EPIC did not spend significant time defending the fees
the Court reduced. EPIC devoted only a single paragraph of its Reply brief to defending
its triple-billed calls and did not spend any time defending Mr. Scott’s bar admission date,
as the parties did not address that issue. The Court finds the majority of EPIC’s fee
requests warranted and supported and that EPIC did not spend significant time defending
the reduced fees, and therefore it declines any further reduction for “fees on fees.”
f. Fees for Preparation of the Reply Brief
In its Reply brief, EPIC requests an additional $6,272.50 in attorneys’ fees for 22.1
hours of work incurred in preparing the Reply. (Reply 1; Id. Ex. 1 (ECF No. 17-1)).
Because the FBI has had no opportunity to contest these fees, the Court scrutinizes them
The FBI’s 27-page Opposition is significantly longer that EPIC’s 16-page Motion,
raised numerous objections, and introduced a considerable amount of case law beyond that
which EPIC set forth in its Motion. It is reasonable that EPIC expended 22.1 hours of
work to prepare its 14-page Reply and fully address the FBI’s objections. Consistent with
those for its Motion, EPIC’s billing records for the Reply indicate a reasonable division of
responsibilities between senior and junior attorneys and that the majority of the work was
done by the junior attorneys. In addition, EPIC used the lower 2012–2013 Laffey rates for
the Reply even though the work occurred in January of 2014, when EPIC could have billed
at the higher 2013–2014 Laffey rates. Further, as noted above, the Court in its discretion
declines to reduce any fees on fees and therefore makes no adjustment to the Reply fees on
that basis. For all these reasons, the Court finds that the $6,272.50 in fees EPIC seeks for
the 22.1 hours of work spent preparing its Reply brief are reasonable and recoverable. 17
EPIC seeks to recover the $350 cost for filing its Complaint. The FBI accepts this
amount 18 and FOIA permits recovery of costs against the government. 19 The Court,
therefore, awards EPIC $350 in costs.
EPIC seeks $15,501.50 in fees incurred in litigating this matter and an additional
$6,272.50 in fees incurred in preparing its Reply, for a total of $21,774.00. For the
The Court notes that the work Mr. Scott performed preparing EPIC’s Reply brief occurred in 2014, after he was
licensed sometime in 2013 to practice law. EPIC therefore may recover for Mr. Scott’s work on the Reply at the $245
per hour attorney rate that EPIC seeks.
FOIA permits assessment “against the United States reasonable attorney fees and other litigation costs reasonably
incurred in any case under this section in which the complainant has substantially prevailed.” 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(E)(i).
foregoing reasons, the Court grants in part EPIC’s Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs (ECF
No. 15). The Court reduces the total fees EPIC seeks by $851.00 for triple-billed telephone
calls and an additional $1,000.00 for Mr. Scott’s reduced 2013 hourly rate of $145, for a
total reduction of $1,851.00. The Court, therefore, awards EPIC $19,923.00 in attorneys’
Lastly, pursuant to the parties’ representation in their Joint Status Report (ECF No.
14) that there are no other outstanding legal issues in this matter, the Court dismisses this
matter with prejudice. A separate Judgment in accordance with this Memorandum
Opinion will issue.
Date: November 5, 2014
Tanya S. Chutkan
TANYA S. CHUTKAN
United States District Judge
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