United States v. Moser

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Attorney Fees
  • Date Filed: 10-06-2015
  • Case #: 13-55266
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Hurwitz for the Court; Circuit Judge Smith; Concurrency by Circuit Judge Reinhardt
  • Full Text Opinion

The lodestar method requires the court to calculate an attorney’s fee award by multiplying the market billing rate by the hours reasonably expended, regardless of a contingency fee agreement.

While searching Robert Moser’s house for marijuana cultivation, federal agents seized $28,000 in currency. Moser filed a motion to suppress all evidence relating to the seizure because Moser did not receive his Miranda warning, and agents conducted warrantless searches of Moser’s home. The district court granted Moser’s motion to suppress and his motion for summary judgment, and ordered the money be returned to him. Then, Moser successfully moved for attorney’s fees under Civil Asset Forfeiture Reform Act of 2000 (“CAFRA”), requesting $50,775 in fees, which is based on Richard Barnett’s hourly rate of $500 and 101.55 hours of work. However, the district court only awarded $14,000 in fees. On appeal, the Ninth Circuit considered whether the district court erred in its calculation of Barnett’s fees. Using the lodestar method, which “calculates an attorney’s fee award by multiplying the market billing rate by the hours reasonably expended,” the panel held that the district court erred by not accepting $500 per hour as a reasonable fee when the government did not contest the hourly fee and Moser submitted five confirming declarations from attorneys in the field. The court also wrongfully relied on an award from nine years ago rather than on the current market rate. Further, the district court erred in reducing the award by an additional $4,000 based of the contingent fee agreement. Finally, the district court erred in eliminating 41.55 hours from Barnett’s billable hours because the court only expressly objected to 6.75 hours. The panel concluded that the district court committed several errors in considering the unopposed fee request. Thus, the panel vacated and remanded the case for recalculation of the award. VACATE and REMAND.

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