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Minimal Judgment Deserves Minimal Attorneys' Fees
Description Plaintiffs in CERCLA suit won a trivial judgment against the U.S. Navy. District court approval of only $180,880 attorneys' fees of $1.49 million requested was still too high given trivial damages won at trial.
Topic Environmental Law
Key Words CERCLA, Attorneys' Fees
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Waste Control of Florida dumped U.S. Navy toxic chemicals in a landfill near Jacksonville during the 1960s. Chemicals polluted the wells of nearby residents. They sued Waste Control under CERCLA and Florida law and sued the Navy under the Federal Tort Claims Act. Waste Control settled prior to trial for $8.5 million, of which $2.5 million was allocated for attorneys' fees. One-third of that sum, $833,333, was designated as attorneys' fees for work on the CERCLA claims. At trial, the Navy was found liable under both the FTCA and CERCLA. Damages were offset by the Waste Control settlement, resulting in only $700 being paid by the Navy. Plaintiffs applied for attorneys' fees. They claimed 30,000 hours of time and sought half of the fee from that, or $1.46 million, from the Navy for the CERCLA claim. The other half of the fee was attributed to the FTCA claim. The court ruled that since plaintiffs allocated one-third of the fees in the private settlement to the CERCLA claim, that should be the rule here. The fee was further reduced by 78 percent, eliminating plaintiffs who did not prevail in the suit against the Navy. The fee approved was $180,880. The government appealed, claiming that the number of hours was too high. Plaintiffs cross-appealed that the award was too low.
Decision Vacated and remanded; the fee approved is too high. Where a plaintiff has achieved only limited success, the district court should award only that amount of fees that is reasonable in relation to the results obtained. Plaintiffs got less than one percent of what they sought. The "district court abused its discretion by not giving greater weight to plaintiffs' limited success."
Citation Andrews v. U.S., ---F.3d--- (1997 WL 580344, 11th Cir.)
or
122 F.3d 1367 (11th Cir., 1997)

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