Court: Government Can't Skimp on Attorney's Fees in Public Interest Cases

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals has rejected the government's attempt to pay a public interest plaintiff far less than what is owed in attorney's fees. When a plaintiff wins a public interest lawsuit, federal law often requires the defendant to reimburse the plaintiff for attorney's fees. Many defendants—including federal agencies—try to minimize those payments by using artificially low billing rates. But in D.L. v. D.C., the federal appeals court ruled that the government's calculation of attorney's fees was based on "irrelevant figures" and "wrong" assumptions that attempted to diminish the complexity and cost of public interest cases brought in Washington, DC. The decision will make it harder for the government to underpay successful public interest plaintiffs in the future. EPIC, which often recovers attorney's fees in Freedom of Information Act cases, joined in an amicus brief in the case.


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