On May 21, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit, released a monumental decision regarding fee-shifting rates for Attorney Fee petitions for work in complex federal litigation. The Court vacated a 2017 District Court for the District of Columbia decision in DL v District of Columbia, in which the District Court relied on a fee matrix provided by the United States Attorney’s Office. Counsel for the Plaintiffs had requested fees under the Laffey Matrix.
The USAO matrix calculates appropriate hourly rates for attorneys based on data regarding billing rates for all types of lawyers in the DC Metro Area, covering urban, suburban and rural areas of Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Included are rates for real estate lawyers, family lawyers, insurance lawyers, and litigation lawyers in various venues. The Laffey Matrix is based on rates for attorneys practicing federal litigation in the District of Columbia.
The details of the decision centered around whether the District Court appropriately considered the burden each party has in “justifying the reasonableness of the rates” in question. The District court found that both matrices were "presumptively" applicable to "complex federal litigation." DL v. District of Columbia, 267 F.Supp.3d 55, 69 (D.D.C. 2017). The Court did not understand how the district court could presume that the USAO Matrix was applicable without reviewing the alternative Laffey Matrix. The District of Columbia did not rebut the Laffey Matrix, it only contended that the USAO Matrix was better. The Court of Appeals saw the District Court’s reliance on the say-so of the District of Columbia as an error of law, as there can be no presumption on any of the matrices until the Appeals court rules that one or the other is appropriate.
After scrutinizing the DOJ’s methodology of setting and adjusting hourly rates for the Matrix, reviewing recent court decisions, including the most recent monumental decision from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, many firms in the Baltimore-Washington area now utilize the Adjusted Laffey Matrix .