United States of America v. $42,000.00 in United States Currency
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER that Claimant Carrie Priest's motion for attorney fees (Filing No. 73 ) is granted, and she shall recover from the United States the sum of $37,235.92. Claimant Michael Carozzi's motion for attorney fees (Filing No. 74 ) is granted, and he shall recover from the United States the sum of $46,933.17. Judgment shall be entered by separate document. Ordered by Senior Judge Richard G. Kopf. (LAC)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF NEBRASKA
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
$42,000.00 IN UNITED STATES
Claimants, Carrie Priest and Michael Carozzi, have each applied for an award
of attorney fees under 28 U.S.C. § 2465(b)(1)(A) (“[I]n any civil proceeding to forfeit
property under any provision of Federal law in which the claimant substantially
prevails, the United States shall be liable for ... reasonable attorney fees and other
litigation costs reasonably incurred by the claimant....”). There is no dispute that
Claimants substantially prevailed in this action, as the government was ordered to
return the seized currency to them.
The Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act (“CAFRA”) does not expressly state
how attorney fee awards should be calculated. However, this court has used the
lodestar method to determine the proper amount to be awarded. See United States v.
$48,100.00 in U.S. Currency, No. 8:10CV110, 2014 WL 5107472, (D. Neb. Oct. 10,
2014); United States v. $45,000.00 in U.S. Currency, No. 8:11CV14, 2014 WL
4674311 (D. Neb. Sept.17, 2014); United States v. $104,160.00 in U.S. Currency, No.
8:08CV463, 2009 WL 3839340 (D. Neb. Nov. 17, 2009); United States v. $20,000.00
in U.S. Currency, No. 8:07CV214, 2008 WL 824281 (D. Neb. Mar. 18, 2008).
Ms. Priest requests $36,750.00 for 105 billable hours of work performed by her
attorney, Deborah Ellis, at a rate of $350.00 per hour, plus $485.92 in expenses, for
a total award of $37,235.92. Mr. Carozzi requests $45,900.00 for 114.75 billable
hours of work performed by his attorney, Charles Hawkins, at a rate of $400.00 per
hour, plus $1,033.17 in expenses, for a total award of $46,933.17. The government
does not contest the expense amounts or the number of billable hours, but contends
the hourly rates are unreasonably high.
Ms. Ellis and Mr. Hawkins both practice law in Minnesota, which is where
Claimants reside. Both are experienced criminal defense attorneys, and Ms. Ellis has
tried numerous forfeiture cases in state and federal court. Both have been licensed to
practice law for over 30 years. There is evidence their hourly rates are reasonable for
Minnesota, but “[a] reasonable hourly rate is usually the ordinary rate for similar work
in the community where the case has been litigated.” Snider v. City of Cape
Girardeau, 752 F.3d 1149, 1159-60 (8th Cir. 2014) (citing Little Rock Sch. Dist. v.
Arkansas, 674 F.3d 990, 995 (8th Cir. 2012)).
“When determining reasonable hourly rates, district courts may rely on their
own experience and knowledge of prevailing market rates.” Hanig v. Lee, 415 F.3d
822, 825 (8th Cir. 2005). In my view, the rates charged by Claimants’ attorneys are
“in line with those prevailing in [Omaha] for similar services by lawyers of reasonably
comparable skill, experience, and reputation. Blum v. Stinson, 465 U.S. 886, 895-96
896 n. 11 (1984). Considering the factors identified in Johnson v. Georgia Highway
Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974), see Marez v. Saint-Gobain
Containers, Inc., 688 F.3d 958, 966 n. 4 (8th Cir. 2012), I find that the requested
hourly rates are reasonable under the circumstances and I will award Claimants the
full amount of their fee requests.
IT IS ORDERED:
Claimant Carrie Priest’s motion for attorney fees (Filing No. 73) is
granted, and she shall recover from the United States the sum of
Claimant Michael Carozzi’s motion for attorney fees (Filing No. 74) is
granted, and he shall recover from the United States the sum of
Judgment shall be entered by separate document.
DATED this 13th day of December, 2016.
BY THE COURT:
s/ Richard G. Kopf
Senior United States District Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?