Richlin Security Service Co. v. Chertoff

PETITIONER: Richlin Security Service Company
RESPONDENT: Michael Chertoff, Secretary of Homeland Security
LOCATION: Marion County Superior Court: Criminal Division

DOCKET NO.: 06-1717
DECIDED BY: Roberts Court (2006-2009)
LOWER COURT: United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit

CITATION: 553 US 571 (2008)
GRANTED: Nov 13, 2007
ARGUED: Mar 19, 2008
DECIDED: Jun 02, 2008

ADVOCATES:
Anthony A. Yang - unknown
Brian Wolfman - on behalf of the Petitioner

Facts of the case

Richlin Security Service contracted with the Immigration and Naturalization Service to provide guards at Los Angeles International Airport. After discovering that the guards had been misclassified by the federal government and subsequently underpaid for a period of years, Richlin brought a successful suit to recover the lost wages. In seeking reimbursement for fees associated with the proceedings, Richlin sought to recover fees for paralegal services at market rates. Under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 5 U.S.C. Section 504, Richlin was entitled to "fees and other expenses incurred in the proceedings." Based on this language, the Board of Review determined that paralegal fees should be billed as a calculable cost to the firm and, therefore, should not be recoverable at market rates.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit affirmed this decision, noting that the lack of a cap for paralegal fees could entice legal professionals to shift much of the work to them in order to maximize profits. Petitioners note, in urging the Court to grant certiorari, that a previous Court decision, Missouri v. Jenkins 491 U.S. 274 (1989), as well as several Eleventh Circuit decisions have reached the opposite result and have awarded paralegal fees at market rates.

Question

Is a plaintiff who has successfully sued the federal government entitled to reimbursement of paralegal fees at market rates or as an expense compensable at cost to the firm under the Equal Access to Justice Act, which allows for recovery of "fees and other expenses" incurred in the proceedings?

Media for Richlin Security Service Co. v. Chertoff

Audio Transcription for Oral Argument - March 19, 2008 in Richlin Security Service Co. v. Chertoff

Audio Transcription for Opinion Announcement - June 02, 2008 in Richlin Security Service Co. v. Chertoff

Samuel A. Alito, Jr.:

This case comes to us on writ of certiorari to the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.

After prevailing in a contract dispute against the Government, petitioner Richlin Security Service Company filed an application to recover its fees and other expenses of litigation pursuant to Section 504(a)(1) of the Equal Access to Justice Act.

The fees and expenses Richlin incurred included sums paid to its attorneys for paralegal services.

The question presented in this case is how awards for paralegal fees should be calculated under the Equal Access to Justice Act.

The Act provides that an eligible party may recover its fees and other expenses incurred in successful litigation by or against the Federal Government.

The Act defines the term fees and other expenses to include "reasonable attorney or agent fees" and "reasonable cost of any study, analysis, engineering report, test or project".

The statute instructs agencies to look to prevailing market rates to calculate fees for attorneys and agents but it makes no mention of paralegals. From this omission, the Federal Circuit reasoned that the Act does not consider fees for paralegal services as fees at all but rather as other expenses recoverable only at the reasonable cost of the services to the party's attorneys.

We disagree with that analysis.

The distinction that the Federal Circuit drew between the treatment of fees and other expenses is not supported by the statutory tax.

It is also at odds with our decisions interpreting the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act, 42 U.S.C. Section 1988.

Those decisions lead us to conclude that the term “attorney's fees in Equal Access to Justice Act” refers to compensation not only for the attorney's personal labor but also for the labor of paralegals who contribute to the attorney's work product.

Since the Equal Access to Justice Act expressly provides that attorney fees are recoverable at prevailing market rates, it follows that paralegal fees must be as well.

The Government's arguments from the Equal Access to Justice Act's legislative history and from considerations of public policy and sovereign immunity do not persuade this otherwise.

For these reasons discussed at greater length in the opinion filed today with the Clerk of the Court, we hold that a prevailing party that satisfies the Equal Access to Justice Act's other requirements may recover its paralegal fees from the Government at prevailing market rates.

The judgment of the Court of Appeals is accordingly reversed and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with our opinion.

The judgment of the Court is unanimous.

The opinion of the Court is also unanimous except that Justice Scalia does not concur in Part III-A of the Court's opinion, and Justice Thomas does not concur in Part II-B or Part III of the Court's opinion.