When out-of-state companies hire out-of-state lawyers with billing rates far beyond what lawyers cost in Minnesota and they seek an award of attorneys’ fees for winning a lawsuit (under a statute that provides for award of attorneys’ fees), our courts often punish them.
“You coulda/shoulda hired Minnesota lawyers,”.
Arguably, this is protectionism for Minnesota litigators — a government-sponsored nudge to “buy local.” On the other hand, if ABC Corp. pays $1,300 for something it can buy for $500, is it right for it to seek the higher amount for reimbursement? Lest we forget, this money comes from the state government coffers.
U.S. District Court Judge Susan R. Nelson (D. Minn.) recently clipped fees in Safelite v. MN Dept. of Commerce. “[T]he reductions from the local billing rate total of $1,074,029 result in an award of $859,223.20 in attorneys’ fees.”
While this undoubtedly disappointed Safelite and its outside lawyers, Judge Nelson rejected many other objections raised by the Defendant Minnesota Department of Commerce. For example, Safelite’s lawyers billed 119.5 hours in preparation for oral argument at a preliminary injunction hearing and 74.6 hours in preparation for oral argument at the summary judgment hearing. Defendant proposed that Safelite only be awarded for 20 hours of preparation time for each hearing. Judge Nelson answered: “The Court declines to make this deduction. These motions were highly important to Plaintiffs’ case and were motions for which Safelite carried the legal burden.”
(As an aside, we can hardly imagine taking so much time to prepare for oral argument except, maybe, for argument before the U.S. Supreme Court. Moreover, it seems almost impossible that these hours played a role in the outcome of the case.)
So, all told, Judge Nelson’s decision should come as good news for Minnesota litigators and it’s a pretty good outcome for Safelite’s out-of-town lawyers. We’ve seen much worse.