Tag Archives: local procedure

Failure to Use Basic Security Protections when Transferring Electronic Files Results in Waiver of Privilege

The Attorney/Client Privilege and Work Product Protection for a video file transferred via Box.com was lost when a client failed to use basic security precautions.  A February 2017 ruling by a Western District of Virginia magistrate judge in Harleysville Insurance Company v. Holding Funeral Home, Inc. (Case No. 1:15-cv-00057) should reinforce a requirement that lawyers use basic security protections (at a minimum) for all potentially privileged or protected communications.

  1. All Too Common Facts

There are no winners in this case. Both sides of the Harleysville Insurance matter were scolded by the magistrate judge.  In this case, an insurance investigator transferred a video file to its company’s counsel using Box.com, a popular file transfer and sharing service. To notify counsel of the transfer, the investigator sent an email that included the hyperlink to the video file.  Months later, the transmission email was produced in discovery.  Defendants’ counsel spotted and then tested the hyperlink, and immediately found the video file.

It appears from the recitation of the facts that the investigator knew how to use the basic transfer capabilities of Box.com but was never trained or instructed to use even the basic security tools. For example, Box.com allows for the creation of secure folders and the controlled access to any folder.

To make matters worse, the video file resided on the Box.com site accessible by the hyperlink for at least six months.

  1. Attorney/Client Privilege and Work Product Protection Waiver

After the access to the Box.com site and the video file were exposed, Harleysville argued that the defense counsel’s access to the file was an improper, unauthorized access to privileged information, and this should require the disqualification of defense counsel. The argument in response was that Harleysville had waived any claim of privilege or confidentiality by placing the information on Box.com without using any of the available security tools.

Attorney/Client Privilege.  The court analyzed the Attorney/Client Privilege waiver separately from the Work Product Protection issue.  Its first finding was that Harleysville waived any claim of Attorney/Client Privilege with regard to the information posted on Box.com.  The court concluded that “the information uploaded to this site was available for viewing by anyone, anywhere who was connected to the Internet and happened upon the site by use of the hyperlink or otherwise.”  The decision continues, “In essence, Harleysville has conceded that its actions were the cyber world equivalent of leaving its claim file on a bench in the public square and telling its counsel where they could find it.”

Attorney/Client Privilege issues in the case were governed by state law. Virginia law provides protection for privileged communications. See Walton v. Mid-Atlantic Spine Specialists, 694 S.E.2d 545. 549 (Va. 2010).  But this privilege is an exception to the general duty to disclose and should be strictly construed.   Continuing, the proponent of the privilege has the burden to establish that the Attorney/Client Privilege applies and that the privilege has not been waived.

The Walton case adopts a multifactor analysis for determining whether the holder of a privilege took reasonable steps to prevent disclosure and also took reasonable steps to rectify the error. The first listed factor is “the reasonableness of precautions to prevent inadvertent disclosures.”  Harleysville’s failure to take any reasonable security precautions doomed its argument from the start.

Work Product Protection.  Work Product Protection in this matter was governed by federal law.  The Harleysville Court built its analysis on the Fourth Circuit’s recognition “that the inadvertent disclosure of attorney work product, even opinion work product, can result in a waiver of its protected status.”  This guidance is tempered by additional appellate authority that holds that a waiver should occur only when an attorney’s or client’s actions are “consistent with a conscious disregard of the advantage that is otherwise protected by the work product rule.”

FRE 502(b) would protect an “inadvertent” disclosure.  But the magistrate judge reasoned the disclosure here could not be inadvertent because the investigator clearly intended to transfer the video file to Box.com.  The Court also looked to Rule 502(b)(2), which provides that the disclosure is not a waiver if the holder of the protection “took reasonable to prevent disclosure.”  Again, Harleysville was in a bad place because it failed to take any steps.

The magistrate judge was obviously troubled not only by the transfer of the video file to Box.com without any security precautions, but also by the client leaving the unprotected file on the Internet site for at least six months.  The conclusion followed that this carelessness waived the Work Product Protection.

  1. Sanctions Imposed against Defense Counsel

In the introduction to this Blog post, we noted that both sides were scolded by the Court.  The investigator’s email that included the hyperlink also included a Confidentiality Notice.  This Notice coupled with the obvious significance of the video file was sufficient for the Court to conclude that the defense counsel should not have downloaded and studied the file. The Court wrote, “by using the hyperlink contained in the email also containing the Confidentiality Notice to access the Box Site, defense counsel should have realized that the Box Site might contain privileged or protected information.”

Harleysville argued that the appropriate sanction should be the disqualification of defense counsel. The magistrate judge agreed that there was an ethical stumble, but concluded that the disqualification was an unnecessarily severe sanction. She did, however, order that defense counsel should bear the parties’ costs in obtaining the Court’s ruling on the matter.

  1. Summary and Conclusions

The immediate instruction from the Harleysville magistrate judge’s ruling is that if a party chooses to use a new technology, it will be held responsible for ensuring that its employees and agents understand how the technology works, and, more importantly, whether the technology allows unwanted access by others to its confidential information.   The Box.com facts present a straightforward set of facts—the basic security features of Box.com would, if utilized, have blocked access to the video file.

The case sets the stage for a broader set of responsibilities associated with newer and more sophisticated security technologies.  For example, now that encryption technologies are readily available, should a disclosure that would have been blocked by the use of even simple encryption be deemed a waiver of privileges?   In Harleysville, the Box.com tools were present but not utilized.  In the encryption example, the tools can be acquired and then used, but as of today are probably not widely installed.  But this could change overnight when courts understand that Microsoft has added encryption options to Outlook.   The Harleysville reasoning likely will make it a requirement, not just a recommendation, that lawyers employ encryption for potentially privileged or protected communications.

H/T to Sharon Nelson and the VSB 2017 TechShow for flagging the significance of the Harleysville Ins. Co. v. Holding Funeral Home, Inc. ruling.

C-Span to Broadcast Live Audio of Today’s 4th Circuit’s Argument on Immigration Executive Order

The Fourth Circuit will hear en banc the oral argument today at 2:30 pm in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump.   For the first time (that we know) the Court will allow a live audio broadcast of proceedings.

Earlier this year the Ninth Circuit permitted the live audio broadcast of the argument on the prior Immigration Executive Order.  137,000 people logged in to listen.

Listeners can find the link to the audio feed on the Fourth Circuit’s web page here.  The Court has also advised that an MP3 audio file will be available for download approximately one hour after the argument concludes here.Graphic

The case Orders and Briefs are available online on the site.  In the Case Information section under Public Advisory #4 in the News & Announcements section on Page 1, the Orders, Briefs and more are accessible.

Only 14 of the Court’s 15 active judges will hear the case.  Judge Wilkinson has recused himself because his son-in-law is the Acting Solicitor General.  The even number of participating judges presents the awkward possibility of a tie vote.

For an overview of the issues in the appeal, you should see our earlier EDVa Update posts on the Immigration Order battles here, here, here, here, and here.  But if you only have time to review one post, go our March 30th post.   While the instant appeal addresses an order from the District Court for Maryland, and not Judge’s Trenga’s ruling in Sarsour et al. v. Trump, his opinion provides extremely well-reasoned coverage of the issues.

Suing a URL: A Roadmap to a Cybersquatting Action

As more economic activity occurs online, internet domain addresses are increasing in value, especially for small- and medium-sized businesses.  Businesses of all sizes need to pay attention to the security of their internet domain addresses, and a recent EDVA decision highlights the dangers of losing control of a business’s domain address.

In Jacobs Private Equity, LLC v. <JPE.com>, Case No. 1:16-cv-01331, 2017 WL 830397 (E.D. Va. Feb. 2, 2017), Magistrate Judge Ivan D. Davis faced a “cybersquatting” claim that is becoming more common.  Plaintiff Jacobs Private Equity, LLC, operated www.jpe.com as its website for over 12 years.  One day, however, its employees suddenly found that their login credentials to the website no longer worked.  According to the Complaint, an employee was the victim of an email “phishing” scheme where she was conned into divulging her login credentials.  The hackers then logged into the internet domain registry and changed the password to the business’s account.  As a result, the business lost control over its website and email addresses, and a new entity registered its purported ownership of the domain address.

Represented by Mark H. M. Sosnowsky of Drinker Biddle’s DC office, the business filed suit in the Eastern District of Virginia under the federal Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act (the “ACPA”), 15 U.S.C. § 1125(d), et seq.  The Eastern District frequently sees these actions because many of the most popular internet domain registrars have offices in northern Virginia.  In this case, VeriSign, Inc., served as the registry, and it has an office in Reston, Virginia.

Suing an Internet Address

In a marriage of ancient legal principles and new information technology, a lawsuit under the ACPA is an in rem action against the internet domain address itself (and similar to an in rem action against a parcel of real estate or tangible personal property).  While the actual internet domain address is named as a defendant, the real defendant is, of course, the party who registered the address.

An ACPA action also involves elements of traditional trademark law.  In fact, the ACPA is part of Title 15 of the U.S. Code which focuses on federal law governing trademarks, also commonly referred to as the Lanham Act.  Under the ACPA, a court may order the forfeiture or cancellation of a domain name, or transfer of a domain address to the rightful owner of the mark. The ACPA applies, for the most part, to marks that are distinctive or famous.

A Common Problem

Fraudulent phishing schemes, such as the one that snared Jacobs Private Equity, are unfortunately increasingly common.  The usual pattern for this scheme is that bad actors outside of the United States will either take over the registration for a valuable website, or will watch for a non-renewal of registration for an active website.  The new party will swoop in, register the domain, and then offer to sell the domain back to the previous user for exorbitant amounts.  This frequently ensnares small businesses who fail to renew a website registration, such as by relying upon an expired credit card for an expected “auto-renewal” that never occurs.  The ACPA was enacted in 1999 in hopes of curbing such problems.

Elements of an ACPA Claim

Judge Davis’s opinion provides a useful roadmap for cybersquatting claims.  Treating an internet domain address as a trademark, a plaintiff must prove two elements to succeed on a cybersquatting claim:

  1. The domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the plaintiff’s mark.
  2. The registrant had bad-faith intent to profit from the domain name.

Traditional Trademark Law

The ACPA protects both registered trademarks and unregistered, common law marks.  While a common course of action for a business is to register its trademarks with the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office, a business may also acquire common law trademark rights by actual use of the mark in the market place.  For example, a small jewelry shop that has operated for 15 years as “Kitty’s Fine Jewelry” likely has a common law trademark rights in the name.  And if that small jewelry shop also operated a website (such as www.kittysfinejewelry.com), it will likely have a strong ACPA claim against a subsequent registration of the domain by a party acting in bad faith.  A business need not make a formal registration with the USPTO to have such protection.

Proving Bad Faith

Proving “bad faith intent” is often the challenge in these types of cases.  Because we cannot see into a person’s mind to determine intent, the ACPA sets forth nine “factors” that a court “may consider” in determining a person’s intent.  These factors operate as non-exclusive guides to the court (which is a concept similar to the common law “badges of fraud” used in traditional fraudulent conveyance law).  The nine factors under § 1125(d)(1)(B)(i) are as follows:

  1. Any preexisting trademark or other rights in the name used in the domain address.
  2. Whether the domain name contains the legal name of the person or a name that is commonly used to identify the person.
  3. Prior use of the domain name in connection with bona fide goods or services.
  4. Legitimate noncommercial or fair use of the mark in a site that uses the mark in the domain address.
  5. Intent to divert consumers from the mark owner’s online location to another site that could harm the goodwill represented by the mark.
  6. Whether the person offered to sell the domain name back to the mark owner for financial gain without having used the domain in any legitimate business activities. (This factor also includes whether the person has engaged in such activity in the past, indicating a pattern of such conduct.)
  7. Providing false or misleading contact information during the registration of the domain address.
  8. Acquiring multiple domain names which are identical or confusingly similar to multiple preexisting marks.
  9. Whether the mark is distinctive or famous at the time of registration of the domain name.

Of course, not all of these factors will apply in a given case, and there is no set standard for how many factors need to be present to establish bad faith.  Rather, a court has wide-latitude in these fact-intensive cases.

Service of Process Issues

In Jacobs Private Equity, the new registrant of the disputed internet domain address never responded to the complaint, so Judge Davis recommended that a default judgment be entered.  In Judge Davis’s Report and Recommendation (“R&R”), he first focused on the efforts that the plaintiff went to effect service of process.  The plaintiff tried the telephone number, mailing address, and email address listed by the new registrant, but all turned out to be bogus.  The plaintiff then sought court approval to publish notice of the lawsuit in The Washington Times.  Once this was accomplished, the court was satisfied that the default judgment could be granted.

The Plaintiff Prevails

Even though the defendant defaulted, Judge Davis still performed the ACPA statutory analysis in his R&R.  He determined that the plaintiff had a valid common law trademark rights in “JPE” and that the new registrant acted in bad faith by providing bogus contact information to VeriSign, among other factors.  No objections to Judge Davis’s R&R were ever filed, and on March 2nd, District Judge Liam O’Grady adopted the R&R in full, ordering the internet register to return the domain address to the plaintiff.

Alternatives to Litigation

 While the ACPA provides a legal remedy in federal court, aggrieved mark owners can also pursue an administrative challenge to bad-faith registration.  Known as a “Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy” (“UDRP”) proceeding, the action is essentially a private arbitration filed with the internet registry overseeing the disputed domain.  While it can be faster and cheaper than litigation, the range of remedies allowed in such an arbitration are fewer than those available from a federal court.  And a successful arbitration can have little or no deterrence or precedential value against other cybersquatters targeting a specific website.

 Conclusion

The ACPA provides a legal remedy to businesses and individuals who have been victimized by the theft  or loss of control of their internet domains.  The statutory framework is straight-forward, but proving bad-faith intent can be challenging, especially when defendants evade service of process or mask their identities.  Yet, with the rise of online commerce (especially for small- and medium-sized businesses), we will likely see more incidents of stolen internet websites, and by virtue of the Eastern District’s geographic location, more cybersquatting claims brought in this court.

President Trump’s Immigration Executive Order Heads to the Fourth Circuit

The Trump Administration issued its replacement Immigration Executive Order on March 6, 2017 (Order No. 13,780).  This Executive Order arrived three weeks after several federal courts, including the EDVa and the Ninth Circuit, enjoined enforcement of core terms of the earlier Immigration Executive Order (Order No. 13,769).

In this Blog Post, we report on two federal court rulings blocking enforcement of the replacement Immigration Executive Order. EDVa has not yet been drawn into this legal battle.  But it is emerging that Judge Brinkema’s analysis in her widely-reported February 13, 2017 decision in Aziz v. Trump provides the template for judicial review of the new Executive Order.  This Post revisits Judge Brinkema’s decision and shows how the decisions this week from federal courts in Hawaii and in Maryland have tracked her analysis.  This analysis will soon be scrutinized in the Fourth Circuit, as, the Government noticed its appeal late on Friday night (March 17).

We previously reported on Judge Brinkema’s ruling in Aziz v. Trump granting the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction.  Judge Brinkema ruled that Virginia would likely prevail on its Establishment Clause claim and issued a narrowly-drafted Preliminary Injunction Order.  No appeal was taken by the Government.

The Aziz v. Trump decision is significant not so much for developments in Immigration Law (although it has significance consequences), but for the three-step analysis applied by Judge Brinkema: (1) It was first decided that Virginia had standing to challenge the Executive Order as a party whose own interests were at stake (the Court did not reach a decision on Virginia’s parens patriae standing theory); (2) her opinion then confirms that federal courts unquestionably have the authority to review the constitutionality of actions by the Executive Branch, including actions of the President; (3) and lastly, perhaps most importantly, a federal court does not have to accept the facial justifications offered for Executive Branch action, but may consider evidence of contrary, unconstitutional motives.

The Replacement Immigration Executive Order

The Administration’s replacement Immigration Executive Order is identically entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Injury into the United States.”  The Order seeks to restrict the entry of foreign nationals from specified countries and suspends entrance from the United States refugee program for a set time period.   The new Order seeks to address the Ninth Circuit’s February 9, 2017 decision in Washington v. Trump, and to some degree to answer concerns from Judge Brinkema’s February 13, 2107 Aziz v. Trump decision.

Some of the more obvious flaws and procedural frailties from the earlier Immigration Executive Order are either omitted or repaired, but the core of the order remains essentially unchanged.  That is, the so-called “travel ban” provisions remain in the Order.

The Hawaii Court’s Ruling and “Pretextual Justification”

The legal arguments have shifted slightly in the challenges to the new Immigration Executive Order. In the February challenges to the first Order, the Government argued that the President’s actions in the realm of national security could not be reviewed by a federal court. When Judge Brinkema and the Ninth Circuit forcefully batted down this argument, the Government was left without any factual defense.  Recall that Judge Brinkema’s opinion cited Virginia’s factual allegations showing evidence that the Order’s true purpose was to block Muslim entry into the United States.  The evidence included multiple quotes from Donald Trump on the campaign trail, and added quotations from Rudy Giuliani alleging that the purpose of Order was to make good on the so-called “Muslim Ban” campaign promises.

In wading into the Pretextual Justification issue, Judge Derrick K. Watson, from the Hawaii District Court, begins with an acknowledgment that “It is undisputed that the [new] Executive Order does not facially discriminate for or against any particular religion, or for or against religion versus non-religion.”  The Government argued that the core language was “religiously neutral,” and that the new Immigration Executive Order could not have been religiously motivated because “the six countries represent only a small fraction of the world’s 50 Muslim-majority nations, and are home to less than 9% of the global Muslim population . . . .”  The Government continued that “[C]ourts may not ‘look behind the exercise of [Executive] discretion’ taken ‘on the basis of a facially legitimate and bona fide reason.’”  In the Government’s analysis, this should have ended the case and defeated Hawaii’s arguments.

But the Hawaii federal judge did not stop with the Government’s argument.  He cited the Ninth Circuit’s February 9, 2017 decision regarding the earlier Immigration Executive Order in Washington v. Trump:  “It is well-established that evidence of purpose beyond the face of the challenged law may be considered in evaluating Establishment and Equal Protection Clause claims.”  This is the entry of the “Pretextual Justification” issue: Were the Trump Administration’s facially-neutral legal justifications intended to obscure a purpose of barring Muslim immigrants?

The allegations of anti-Muslim animus—taken in substantial part from the record in Aziz v. Trump—was obviously not going away.  Judge Watkins continued, “Any reasonable, objective observer would conclude, as does the Court for purposes of the instant motion for TRO, that the stated secular purpose of the Executive Order is, at the very least, ‘secondary to a religious objective’ of temporarily suspending the entry of Muslims.”

The evidentiary record before Judge Watson included more than the Trump campaign statements and promises, and more than the Giuliani commentary on a “Muslim ban.”  The judge had before him the earlier Declaration National Security Officers that criticized the Trump Administration’s arguments.   In the view of Judge Watson, the Administration’s case was further damaged a by February 21, 2017 statement by Stephen Miller, the President’s Senior Advisor.  Miller stated, “fundamentally, [despite ‘technical’ revisions meant to address the Ninth Circuit’s concerns in Washington v. Trump,] you are still going to have the same basic policy outcome [as the first].”

The Hawaii District Court found that the plaintiffs would likely prevail on their Establishment Clause claim.   Late on March 15, 2017, Judge Watson entered a nationwide TRO enjoining enforcement of Sections 2 and 6 of the new Immigration Executive Order.  Section 2(c) is the “travel ban” part of the Order, and Section 6 suspends the refugee program.

Maryland Federal Court Frames Issue as “Pretextual Justification”

Meanwhile, in the Maryland District Court, Judge Theodore D. Chuang authored a 43-page opinion in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump.  Judge Chuang released his decision on March 16, 2017, along with a nationwide preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of Section 2(c) of the new Executive Order. Unlike the earlier cases involving the first Immigration Executive Order where the lead plaintiffs were the states, the plaintiffs in the Maryland action are nonprofit entities and several individuals. The Maryland District Court, however, had no difficulty finding that these plaintiffs have standing.

As in the Hawaii ruling, the Maryland plaintiffs prevailed on the Establishment Clause claim, the greatest vulnerability for the Immigration Executive Order.  The Court considered in some detail claims based on the Immigration and Nationality Act, but rejected those claims.  The Court also weighed and credited a number of the Government’s arguments. For example, the President’s assertions that the Order is driven by national security and foreign policy judgments is in the opinion recognized as a valid secular purpose.

Judge Chuang, citing Supreme Court precedent, framed the critical issue this way: “The question, however, is not simply whether the Government has identified a secular purpose for the travel band.  If the stated secular purpose is secondary to the religious purpose, the Establishment Clause would be violated.”  Here the Government’s argument that the case is only about a “facially legitimate and bona fide reason” for the Executive Branch action is rejected   The judge concludes that “in this highly unique case, the record provides strong indication that the national security purpose is not the primary purpose for the travel ban.”

Where Do We Go From Here?  To the Fourth Circuit.

The Government has now picked its battleground.   Late on Friday, March 17, 2017, the Government noticed its appeal of the Maryland District Court ruling to the Fourth Circuit.  While Judge Brinkema’s ruling will not formally reach the Fourth Circuit, her reasoning will be examined on appeal when the Circuit Court reviews Judge Chuang’s decision.

Under the current Briefing Order, the Government’s Opening Brief will be due on April 26, 2017 in the Fourth Circuit.  Unlike in last month’s Ninth Circuit consideration in the Washington case where the Government sought emergency review of the TRO, the Government is not seeking an emergency review of the Maryland District Court’s preliminary injunction ruling.  After the Government’s rough experience in the Ninth Circuit, it was probably an easy decision to go to Richmond rather than San Francisco.

Practitioners’ Alert: New Procedure to Request Emergency Relief After Business Hours

The EDVA Clerk’s Office recently announced a new procedure for civil emergency matters (such as requests for emergency injunctions or TRO’s), that seek the immediate attention of a district judge outside of regular business hours or during weekends / holidays.  This is a brand-new procedure – for both attorneys and staff in the Clerk’s Office.

The new procedure is briefly described here on the EDVA website.  First, a party must electronically file a written motion requesting the emergency relief.  If no case is currently pending, the attorney will need to electronically open a new case (see here for the process to open new cases), followed by electronically filing the motion that requests the relief.

Once the motion is filed, the party must then call the Clerk’s Office via a special telephone number, which varies among the divisions within EDVA.  The telephone numbers are:

  • Alexandria Division:      (703) 403-2789
  • Norfolk / Newport News Division:      (757) 619-0307
  • Richmond Division:      (804) 313-1762

According to the Clerk’s Office, these numbers will go to cell phones that will be monitored by Clerk’s Office staff members.  Attorneys who call the numbers should expect to leave a voice mail explaining the emergency, in addition to providing the case number and contact information for the attorney.  The staff member will then triage the voice mail messages in consultation with a judge who is “on duty,” and then return the call “within a reasonable period of time” to advise how the request will be handled.  Practitioners should not expect to speak directly to a staff member during the initial phone call.

Practitioners should also be aware that this is a new procedure for the Clerk’s Office, and staff members have yet to be fully trained on the new process.  While that training unfolds across EDVA’s divisions, practitioners should keep a handy reference back to the Clerk’s Office web page outlining the procedure.

The EDVA Drama Over the Immigration Executive Order Advances to the Preliminary Injunction Opinion: An Update on the Constitutional showdown in Judge Brinkema’s Court

This Blog post is the third in a series tracking the EDVA case of Aziz et al. v. Trump, the challenge to the January 27th Immigration Executive Order.  The earlier posts covered the January 28th Habeas Corpus Petition filing and the first courtroom confrontation on Friday morning, February 3, 2017, and then followed the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction aimed at Section 3(c) of the Executive Order, with an eye on parallel proceedings in the Seattle federal court and the Ninth Circuit.

This third Blog post reports on Judge Brinkema’s February 13th Order in Case No. 1:17cv116—LMB/TCB, which grants Virginia’s Motion for Preliminary Injunction, and the judge’s accompanying Memorandum Opinion.  Consideration of the EDVa Order necessarily includes the Ninth Circuit’s February 9, 2017 Order and Opinion denying the Government’s request for an emergency stay of the February 3rd TRO issued by the Seattle federal district court.  The Seattle TRO enjoined the enforcement of Sections 3 and 5 of the Immigration Executive Order anywhere in the nation.  The Ninth Circuit left the TRO in place and returned the matter to the Seattle court for further proceedings.

Path to February 10th Hearing

Virginia’s Solicitor General, Stuart Raphael, set the battle lines in the Aziz case when he filed the Commonwealth’s February 2nd Brief in Support of the Motion for Preliminary Injunction.  Virginia proposed a fairly narrow and targeted order.  Unlike in the Seattle case where Washington and Minnesota pursued a nationwide ban on both substantive sections of the Executive Order, Virginia focused on the harm to the Commonwealth and its residents, and it challenged only Section 3(c) of the Executive Order, the section that applied to immigrants from the seven specified countries who held Green Cards or student/work visas.  Raphael knew what evidence Virginia could marshal in the short time to the preliminary injunction hearing, and he seemingly tailored the objectives to mesh with the evidence.

On February 3rd, Judge Brinkema granted Virginia’s Motion to Intervene.  Her reasoning essentially confirmed Virginia’s standing in the case.

On Wednesday, February 8, 2017, the Government filed its opposition to Virginia’s arguments.  Prior to this pleading, the Government had submitted its brief to the Ninth Circuit and had completed the appellate argument in an extraordinary telephone hearing (the circuit judges were in California, Hawaii, and Arizona, while the arguing counsel were in Seattle and D.C. – and 137,000 listeners followed the argument online).  The Government’s argument in the EDVA case tracked its position taken in the Ninth Circuit that the states did not have standing and that the federal courts have no jurisdiction to review the President’s findings and actions in the Executive Order.  The Government’s opposition went on to contest Virginia’s Due Process and Establish Clause arguments, but offered little or no evidence to support is defense.

The next day, the Ninth Circuit ruled against the Government and rejected the effort to stay the Seattle TRO.  In the EDVA case, Virginia filed its Reply Brief along with pages of supporting affidavits and public statements made by then candidate-Trump and others.

To use a football analogy, the Government stacked its defense for an all-out blitz; in doing so, the Government risked that if the states did have standing and the federal courts decided the Executive Order was reviewable, then there would be no remaining defenders who might tackle the states’ claims on the facts.

Ninth Circuit’s February 9th Ruling

Late on Thursday, the Ninth Circuit ruled 3-0 denying the Government’s Motion for an Emergency Stay Pending an Appeal of the Seattle TRO.

The Opinion first batted down the argument that Washington and Minnesota did not have standing.  The Court then turned to the crux of the Government’s position, that the federal courts could not review the Executive Order.  The Opinion rejects the Government position: “There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy.”  From there, the Court marches through the legal test and concludes that the Government has not met its burden to stay the TRO.

The Seattle TRO stands as a nationwide ban on enforcement of the key parts of the Executive Order.  The Government argued that the ban, even if upheld in part, was overbroad. The Ninth Circuit responded simply:  “[W]e decline to limit the geographic scope of the TRO.”

Judge Brinkema’s February 13th Order and Opinion

In a one-hour Friday morning hearing before a packed courtroom, Judge Brinkema heard arguments on Virginia’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction in Aziz v. Trump.  Her Minute Order noted only that she was taking the matter “Under Advisement” and she would rule shortly.  The judge’s questioning of counsel, as reported by USA Today, highlighted a “startling” lack of evidence that travelers from the seven Muslim-majority countries represented a specific national security threat.  The judge, sua sponte, read from the joint affidavit by former national security officials who stated that they were “unaware of any specific threat” posed by travelers from the seven countries.  Following the hearing, the Government had few, if any, reasons to believe it might prevail when Judge Brinkema ruled.

Judge Brinkema’s Order and 22-page Opinion were released late on Monday, February 13, 2017.  The Order grants Virginia’s requested Preliminary Injunction, albeit without nationwide effect.  (For this limited scope, Judge Brinkema explains, “To avoid any claim that the preliminary injunction to be entered in this litigation is defective because of overbreadth, this Court declines the Commonwealth’s invitation to impose broader relief.”)  The Order bans enforcement of Section 3(c) of the Executive Order as applied only to Virginia residents and students who hold Green Cards or have otherwise valid visas.

Unlike the Seattle case, Aziz v. Trump followed an orderly procedure from TRO to Preliminary Injunction in the EDVA, with the opportunity for adequate briefing and presentation of evidence.  Virginia had even filed comprehensive Proposed Findings of Fact.  Indeed, Judge Brinkema’s Opinion includes an eight-page Findings of Fact section.

A year from now, the details of Judge Brinkema’s Opinion will be mostly forgotten.  Her dispatch of the Government’s lead argument that the Executive Order is not reviewable by the federal courts may, however, be long discussed.  The judge writes:

Maximum power does not mean absolute power.  Every presidential action must still comply with the limits set for Congress’ delegation of power and the constraints of the Constitution, including the Bill of Rights.

The Opinion even references Marbury v. Madison, probably the first case studied in Constitutional Law class.  

The EDVA Opinion does not discuss Virginia’s standing other than to reference Judge Brinkema’s Order and Opinion from February 3rd granting Virginia’s Motion to Intervene.  In the progression through the legal standard for preliminary injunction, the Opinion states that “[t]he Commonwealth had produced unrebutted evidence supporting its position that it is likely to succeed on an Establishment Clause claim.”  There is no discussion of Virginia equal protection, due process, or statutory claims except in a footnote where the Court explains that “[B]cause the Commonwealth has established a likelihood of success on its Establishment Clause claim, the court does not need to address [the other claims].”  The Court concluded that Virginia proved sufficient bases for the Preliminary Injunction Order.

Summary and Status

The Immigration Executive Order, issued only 2½ weeks ago, is now the subject of more than 40 lawsuits.  The drama began when international flights landed at JFK Airport and then at Dulles Airport—passengers who boarded the flights holding valid Green Cards and visas learned that an Executive Order issued after take-off blocked their legal entry into the United States.

In Aziz v. Trump, the EDVA case, the initial parties were the Aziz bothers and other travelers who were blocked from entry, denied legal counsel, and almost immediately placed on returning flights.  As the case moved forward, the parties shifted and the issues narrowed.  The Commonwealth of Virginia sought to intervene.  Soon, in both the EDVA litigation and in the Seattle case, the states had the leading roles, and the issues focused on the states’ standing and whether the federal courts could review the Executive Order.  The Ninth Circuit and now the EDVA have confirmed that the states do have standing.  And, perhaps most significantly, the courts have emphatically rejected the Government’s argument that this Executive Order is beyond review by the federal courts.

The Seattle case has returned to the district court with the initial nationwide TRO banning enforcement of most of Sections 3 and 5 of the Immigration Executive Order in place.  In a new order issued this morning, the Seattle district judge noted that the Ninth Circuit construed the TRO as a preliminary injunction, and thus he has dispensed with further consideration of a preliminary injunction and has ordered the parties “to continue with other aspects of this litigation.”

Meanwhile, after 112 Docket entries and appearances by 28 amici parties, Judge Brinkema’s more limited Preliminary Injunction Order may now be appealed to the Fourth Circuit.

Week 2 in the EDVA Drama Over the Immigration Executive Order: An Update on the Charged Immigration Issues Brewing in Judge Brinkema’s Court

While national media attention has focused on tonight’s hearing before the Ninth Circuit regarding President Trump’s immigration Executive Order, there are still proceedings in the Eastern District that could become center stage.  This Blog post is the second post tracking the legal events in the EDVA case of Aziz at al. v. Trump, the challenge to the January 27th Immigration Executive OrderLast week’s post covered the sprint from the January 28th initial Habeas Corpus Petition filing to the first courtroom confrontation on Friday morning, February 3, 2017.  This week, the focus shifts to the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction aimed at Section 3(c) of the Executive Order, but also with an eye on parallel proceedings in the Seattle federal court and the Ninth Circuit.

Friday’s Orders in EDVA, Seattle, and the Ninth Circuit

Before the close of business on Friday, February 3, 2017, Judge Brinkema released her Order and Memorandum Opinion covering the issues argued that morning in Aziz v. Trump, Case No. 1:17cv116—LMB/TCBThe Order and Opinion continued her earlier Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to Friday, February 10th, and set the stage for the Court’s consideration of the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Motion for a Preliminary Injunction aimed at Section 3(c) of the Executive Order.

Meanwhile, 2,500 miles away in the Seattle federal court and before the Ninth Circuit, a broader set of issues advanced.  The Seattle judge, in Washington v. Trump, 2:17cv141, issued a TRO that barred enforcement of both Section 3(c) and most of Section 5 of the Executive Order.

The Government sought emergency relief from the TRO in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  On Saturday, February 4th, the appellate court denied the Government’s request for emergency relief, but ordered the parties to file briefs on Sunday evening and on Monday.  After the expedited briefing, the Ninth Circuit scheduled a telephonic hearing for later this evening (Feb. 7th) on the Government’s Motion for a Stay of the underlying TRO.  A ruling is expected shortly, most likely within a few days.

The Immigration Executive Order

An Executive Order is technically not legislation but instead a presidential directive to executive agencies as to how to enforce certain laws.  The core of the January 27th Immigration Executive Order: (1) calls for a review by Homeland Security (in consultation with the Department of State and the Director of National Intelligence) of the U.S. visa-issuance procedures, (2) in Section 3(c), puts a 90-day ban on entry (with limited exceptions) on individuals from seven Muslim-majority countries (the ban on persons from Syria is indefinite), and (3) in Section 5, suspends for 120 days the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program.  (An added provision appearing immediately after the travel ban calls for the government to develop a “uniform screening standard and procedure” for all individuals seeking to enter the United States.  Applied literally, this appears to require all visitors to go through the same screening measures, regardless of where they come from or how long they intend to stay.  This added provision is not the subject of either the EDVa or Seattle proceedings.)

Section 3(c) is the lightning rod for the current Aziz v. Trump litigation.

EDVA Proceedings and Posture

Judge Brinkema’s February 3rd Orders granted Virginia’s Motion to Intervene.  The Court also permitted intervention by a second set of individual plaintiffs.  The judge continued her Saturday Night TRO to February, February 10th.  Under FRCP Rule 65(b)(2), a TRO’s duration cannot exceed 14 days.  Thus, Judge Brinkema will hear argument on Virginia’s Preliminary Injunction Motion on February 10th.

Virginia’s brief targets Section 3(c) of the Executive Order.  The Commonwealth filed its Complaint on February 3rd.  Its Preliminary Injunction Motion and brief were filed the day before.  The Government’s brief is due early this week.

Virginia’s argument is first that Section 3(c) is too broad.  As written, the section bars visa and Green Card holders from seven Muslim-majority countries from entry into the U.S. for 90 days.  The Virginia brief cites U.S. Supreme Court authority holding that Green Card holders have due process rights, and the Executive Order strips them of their rights without an available process.  The Virginia argument extends these rights to certain visa holders as well.

The second argument contends that the Executive Order was “motivated by animus towards Muslims.”  The brief argues that the directives are presumptively unconstitutional and should be held to strict scrutiny.

The expected Government response will track arguments in the Government’s Ninth Circuit brief described below.

Seattle Federal Court and the Ninth Circuit

As has been widely-reported in the national press, on February 3rd, a Seattle federal judge granted a TRO sought by the States of Washington and Minnesota.  His TRO is much broader than Judge Brinkema’s Order—the Seattle TRO bars enforcement of Section 3(c) and most of Section 5 of the Executive Order.   Additionally, the Seattle TRO is granted “on a nationwide basis” while Judge Brinkema’s current Order is narrowly written.  The parties in the Seattle matter were directed to submit no later than the end of February 6th a briefing schedule.  In an email from the Washington Solicitor General to the Department of Justice counsel, Washington State proposes that the Preliminary Injunction briefs be due on February 9, 15, and 17 in the Seattle district court.

Meanwhile, the Government sought from the Ninth Circuit an immediate stay of the Seattle TRO.   On Saturday, February 4th, a two-judge panel denied the emergency motion.  The Court ordered Washington and Minnesota to file briefs by 11:59 p.m. PST on Sunday night.  The states filed.  The Government’s Reply came in right at the 3 p.m. PST deadline.

The Washington/Minnesota Brief in Opposition to the Motion for a Stay includes a supporting declaration signed by former members of the Obama Administration, including Madeline Albright, John Kerry, Michael Hayden, Janet Napolitano, Leon Panetta, and Susan Rice that makes, among other things, a policy argument.   The affidavit concludes by alleging that “the Executive Order does not further—but instead harms—sound national security and foreign policy.”

The Government’s response argues from the start that “the Executive Order is a lawful exercise of the President’s authority over the entry of aliens into the United States and the admission of refugees.”  The response also attacks the Seattle TRO as “vastly overbroad.”

If the Ninth Circuit denies the Government’s Motion for a Stay, then a route to the U.S. Supreme Court theoretically opens.  But the more likely result is that the case remains at least for another ten days in the Seattle district court—the Seattle judge’s TRO lasts at most 14 days, so he should rule on the Motion for Preliminary Judgment, probably close to February 17th.  That Order could then go back to the Ninth Circuit, and then possibly to the U.S. Supreme Court.

State Department and Homeland Security Press Releases

At the same time as the legal wrangling, the State Department issued a press release stating that it had restored more than 50,000 cancelled visas and that the “provisional revocation [of visas pursuant to the Executive Order] is now lifted, and those visas are now valid for travel to the United States, if the holder is otherwise eligible.”

Similarly, Homeland Security announced via its website on February 4th that it had “suspended all actions to implement the Immigration Executive Order and will resume standard inspections of travelers as it did prior to the signing of the travel ban.”  But the press release added that the Justice Department will continue to defend the Executive Order.

The Preliminary Injunction Hearing on Friday, February 10th

Assuming that the Ninth Circuit denies the Government’s Motion for a Stay, the national focus likely shifts to the EDVA proceedings because of the Preliminary Injunction hearing set for this Friday before Judge Brinkema.  This hearing comes at least one week before the issues regarding the Executive Order would likely return to the Seattle federal courtroom.

Unless the Ninth Circuit provides a comprehensive opinion in response to the Motion to Stay the Seattle TRO, a ruling and opinion from Judge Brinkema will be the first substantive ruling on provisions of the Executive Order.  We might then expect the Government to take the issue immediately to the Fourth Circuit.

Thus, it is very possible that the national spotlight will suddenly shift to Alexandria after tonight’s telephone hearing before the Ninth Circuit.  If you are a practitioner appearing in federal court in Alexandria for Friday motions, be prepared for a heavy police presence, protesters, and a long line at security.

Proportionality Redux: The Sedona Conference Revisits its Commentary on Proportionality in Electronic Discovery

When Working Group 1 of The Sedona Conference (Sedona) publishes one of its eDiscovery White Papers, the consequence is often that Sedona steers the development of the law rather than merely reports on developments.  This observation is intended as a compliment, not a criticism. Sedona’s publications have guided the development of eDiscovery law since publication in 2003 of The Sedona Principles; Best Practices, Recommendations & Principles for Addressing Electronic Document Production, and have earned recognition as the gold standard for both the practical and scholarly discussion of eDiscovery issues.

In November 2016, Sedona released its Public Comment Version  of its Commentary on Proportionality in Electronic Discovery (“2016 Commentary”).  This version follows Sedona’s 2010 and 2013 Commentaries on Proportionality and its Fall 2015 publication in The Sedona Conference Journal of Judge Craig B. Shaffer’s scholarly article, “The ‘Burdens’ of Applying Proportionality” (also available for download from Sedona’s website).

This Blog post is not a critique or even a summary of the 2016 Commentary, but serves as a signpost directing litigators to Sedona’s website and the White Paper with the suggestion that the work be a resource for every federal litigator.

The December 2015 Rules Amendments: Key Rules Completely Revamped

The 2016 Commentary reminds us that “Rules 26 (b)(1) and 37(e) were completely revamped in December 2015.”  The amendments are the product of at least five years of  committee work and the most extensive public debate over any rules amendment going back to and probably including the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure introduction in 1938.

For federal court litigators on the front lines, these amendments should carry enormous, almost religious significance.  Chief Justice John Roberts emphasized in his 2015 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary that these developments were indeed a “Big Deal.”   See Kurz, J, “The Chief Justice and the Big Deal in the December 2015 Amendments to the Federal Civil Rules,” EDVA Update Blog (February 8, 2016).

The Chief Justice wrote that amended Rule 26(b)(1) “crystallizes the concept of reasonable limits on discovery through increased reliance on the common-sense concept of proportionality.”   Before the amendment, the boundary for the scope of discovery was relevancy.  While for at least three decades federal courts had wrestled with various proportionality considerations embedded in the discovery section of the Federal Rules, the consensus is that proportionality had gained little or no traction for the day-to-day practice of law.  Each time we checked, proportionality slipped deeper into the forgotten fine print of rule subsections and subparts.  With the December 2015 amendment, the discovery scope boundaries are revised to matters “relevant to any party’s claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case . . .” (emphasis added).  The amended rule then identifies six consideration points.  Proportionality thus moved from the proverbial rule sub-basement (Rule 26(b)(2)(iii)) to the front foyer.

The rule-makers opted in Rule 26(b)(1) not only to elevate proportionality as a discovery touchstone along with relevancy, but seemingly weighted them equally.  This amendment was then paired with the total revision of Rule 37(e), the rule that provides directions for data preservation and spoliation sanctions.   For our coverage of the Rule 37(e) amendment, see Kurz and Mauler, “Proposed Rule 37(e) Cleared by the U.S. Judicial Conference,” EDVA Update Blog (September 29, 2014).  Under these combined rules, a proponent of discovery should now be prepared to defend both the relevancy and the proportionality of requested discovery. Additionally, when conducting a post hoc analysis of preservation decisions, the reasonableness of the preservation should depend in part on proportionality considerations.

Sedona’s 2016 Commentary on Proportionality in Electronic Discovery

The intervening development between the earlier Commentaries and Judge Shaffer’s work and now the 2016 Commentary is the arrival of the December 2015 amendments to Rule 26(b)(1) and Rule 37(e).

The 2016 Commentary revises only slightly the previously published Sedona Principles of Proportionality.  These principles first appeared in the 2010 Commentary. The discussion under each principle is now considerably more robust than in the prior versions. Of course, this is the expected result now that we have the amended rules, the Committee Notes, and nearly a year of case law applying the amended rules.

Some commentators have observed that many practitioners, and even some federal courts, have continued seemingly oblivious to the December 2015 amendments.  This was expected—as we all know, court procedural rules can be mind-numbing, and it will reasonably  take several years for amendments, even highly consequential amendments, to achieve broad effect.  The Chief Justice’s “Big Deal” reminder in his 2015 Report was probably more an effort to accelerate what was otherwise anticipated to be slow change, and not a response to minimally-observed changes on the front lines of litigation.

Sedona’s 2016 Commentary does not admonish either the bar or the bench regarding recognition of the rules amendments.  Rather, the Commentary summarizes the rules amendments, and then works through the six Principles of Proportionality using for the first time a detailed set of 24 Comments.  With each Comment, the Commentary suggests how the new rules can and should work in practice.  For example, under Principle 1 (which addresses proportionality in preservation) in Comments 1.a and 1.b, the language is “proportionality principles may be considered in evaluating the reasonableness of prelitigation preservation efforts,” and “a post hoc analysis of a party’s preservation decisions should [be made] in light of the proportionality factors set forth in Rule 26, and the reasonableness of the preservation parties’ efforts.”  Consistent with Sedona’s practices, the Comments are supported by comprehensive footnotes.

As a second example, the same bridge from Principle to Comments and practical advice can be seen in the discussion of Principle 4 (proportionality decisions should be based on information other than speculation). Comment 4.b directs that “Discovery must be limited if producing the requested information is disproportionate to its likely benefits . . . .”  In Comment 4.c the instruction is that “courts may order sampling of the requested information to determine whether it is sufficiently important to warrant discovery.”

Making Use of Sedona’s 2016 Commentary

Sedona’s White Papers should be a part of every federal litigator’s eDiscovery toolkit.  The White Papers are the preferred starting point to understand the current state of eDiscovery law, to track recent developments, and to appreciate pending or future rules amendments.  Overall, Sedona presents balanced assessments of eDiscovery issues, and provides the best available practical guidance as well as scholarly research and analysis.

We appreciate the practical value of the 2016 Commentary.  This reflects the make-up of the team of lawyers and judges who drafted the Comments. The team members, all respected eDiscovery veterans, include front-line litigators and two federal court magistrate judges.  In many instances, they provide granular, step-by-step recommendations for implementing the Principles.  For this reasons, the Commentary may prove to be especially valuable in resolving many of the eDiscovery challenges that routinely arise in federal court litigation.

The 2016 Commentary, while currently at the Public Comment Version stage, is no exception to the continuing quality of Sedona’s White Papers.  The writers and editors have produced the best available resource on proportionality in eDiscovery, including bringing to date the developments associated with the December 2015 amendments to Rule 26(b)(1) and Rule 37(e).

New Trend in Attorney’s Fees Declarations?

As the judges of the Eastern District continue to differ regarding reasonable hourly rates for attorneys, practitioners need to be aware of a potential new trend regarding declarations supporting or opposing petitions for attorney’s fees.  Unfortunately, that new trend appears likely to make such petitions more detailed and time-consuming – and therefore, more expensive.

Traditionally, declarations supporting a petition for attorney’s fees in the Eastern District have followed a familiar pattern: An outside attorney reviews the hourly rates charged, the number of hours charged, the docket sheet, and selected motions/briefs.  The resulting opinions were usually based upon a “general” review of or familiarity with the litigation.  These reviews were not usually “deep dives” into the documents, pleadings, or billing records for a good, simple reason:  keeping costs down.

This custom may need to change, based upon the recent case of Salim v. Dahlberg, 1:15-cv-468 LMB / IDD, 2016 WL 2930943 (E.D. Va. May 18, 2016), which was covered by the EDVA Update here.  In that case, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the Alexandria Division was faced with a petition for attorney’s fees after the plaintiff prevailed on part of his civil rights claim.  The petition was supported by declarations from six leading attorneys, all whom have extensive experience in the Eastern District.  As Judge Brinkema said in her opinion, all six were “well-known to and well-respected by the Court,” and all “summarily conclude[d] that the hourly rates charged and hours worked were reasonable.”

In opposition, the defendant submitted one declaration by attorney Wayne G. Travell, a partner with Hirschler Fleischer’s Tysons office.  Despite the lop-sided number of supporting declarations, Judge Brinkema rejected much of the plaintiff’s fee petition (along with the conclusions in the six supporting declarations) and essentially adopted much of the opinion and analysis expressed by Mr. Travell.

Mr. Travell’s declaration is extensive, at 18 pages long with 47 paragraphs.  He discusses in detail the steps he took to form his opinion (including documenting the telephone calls he had with the respective counsel).  He recounts the applicable law, and then provides a detailed recitation of the facts (citing and quoting from the pleadings in the case).  The heart of his declaration, however, appears to be nearly eight pages of detailed examination of the plaintiff attorney’s time records, including identifying alleged instances of double-billing, block-billing, and vague entries.

In her opinion, Judge Brinkema sided with Mr. Travell’s declaration because he “actually reviewed counsels’ billing records, provide[d] a detailed analysis of those records, discusse[d] the specific issues involved in the case, and evaluate[d] the work performed with respect to those issues.”  In contrast (according to the court’s opinion), the six supporting declarations were unpersuasive because none went into a “detailed analysis of plaintiff’s counsels’ time sheets; instead, the declarants base their conclusions almost exclusively on a review of the pleadings and of [plaintiff counsel’s] declaration.”

Mr. Travell’s declaration is another example of judicial pushback in the Eastern District against excessive attorney hourly rates (or, at least hourly rates perceived as excessive by the bench).  But it also likely signals that some judges will more closely scrutinize petitions for attorney’s fees, including attorney declarations that support and oppose those petitions.  For this reason, Mr. Travell’s declaration is likely a roadmap for future petitions in the Alexandria Division, if not throughout the Eastern District.  And the irony is straight-forward:  While the intent may be to hold down hourly rates, the added expense of more detail in such declarations will ultimately increase the cost of litigation overall.  But regardless of this impact, practitioners need to be aware of this possibility.

Is there a New Cap on Recoverable Attorney Rates in EDVA?

There is yet further disagreement among the judges of the Eastern District regarding reasonable attorney hourly rates.  As we noted in a previous EDVA Update here, this disagreement is manifesting itself most frequently in the Alexandria Division, as judges there confront (and push back against) the higher hourly rates frequently charged by larger law firms in the Northern Virginia/ DC metro area.

Today’s example of the disagreement comes in the recent case of Integrated Direct Marketing, LLC v. Drew May, et al., 1:14-cv-1183, 2016 WL 3582065 (E.D. Va. June 28, 2016).  In this case, Judge Leonie M. Brinkema of the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District invited a plaintiff to file a motions for sanctions and attorney’s fees after successfully demonstrating that the defendant made materially false statements in both an affidavit and during courtroom testimony.  But after the plaintiff petitioned for over $63,000 in attorney’s fees, Judge Brinkema strongly criticized the hourly rates and record keeping of plaintiff’s counsel, and she cut the fee award down to only $17,000.

To justify their hourly rates, plaintiff (represented by attorneys from both the DC and Connecticut offices of Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, PC) relied upon the matrix of hourly rates approved by Judge Gerald Bruce Lee in Vienna Metro (discussed in a prior EDVA Update here).  But Judge Brinkema rejected the Vienna Metro matrix.  By doing so, she sided with Judge T.S. Ellis’s opinion in Route Triple Seven (also discussed in a prior EDVA Update here) in the ongoing dispute regarding hourly attorney rates.  Below is a summary of the experience levels of each attorney, the hourly rates sought by the plaintiff, and the rates awarded by Judge Brinkema:

Attorney’s Legal Experience

Requested Hourly Rate

Awarded Hourly Rate

30 years $ 545 $ 450
9 years $ 395 $ 350
6 years $ 335 $ 275
5 years $ 320 $ 250

To set these hourly rates, the court followed the rates determined by Judge Ellis in Route Triple Seven.  Significantly, Judge Brinkema did not rely upon any other expert witness testimony or evidence to set these hourly rates.  (And, as we saw in the Route Triple Seven case, there the court relied upon its own “experience” to determine an appropriate reasonable rate.)  These hourly rates are in sharp contrast to the $550 – $600 hourly rates approved by Judge Lee in Vienna Metro.

It is clear that a revolt against high hourly rates (or, at least, rates perceived as high) is brewing among many judges of the Alexandria Division of the Eastern District.  It also appears that a hard cap of approximately $450 – $500 for an experienced attorney’s hourly rate is forming, at least in the eyes of several judges who have rejected the Vienna Metro matrix.