Primer on Proving Up Attorneys’ Fees

Canadian Real Estate Holdings, LP v. Karen F. Newton Revocable Trust
Dallas Court of Appeals, No. 05-20-00747-CV (September 29, 2022)
Justices Pedersen, III (opinion available here), Goldstein, and Smith
The Dallas Court of Appeals provided additional guidance on proving up attorneys’ fees in this declaratory judgment action. After the trial court dismissed the plaintiffs’ claim as moot, it awarded plaintiffs $45,529.13 in incurred attorneys’ fees plus $21,000.00 in conditional attorneys’ fees on appeal. The defendant, Canadian REH, appealed, arguing plaintiffs had failed to prove the amount of reasonable and necessary attorneys’ fees.

Canadian REH first argued that plaintiffs were required to provide “hard” or “disinterested” evidence of a reasonable hourly rate, such as affidavits of other attorneys, the State Bar of Texas Hourly Rate Fact Sheet, or fees awarded in similar cases. But the Court disagreed, noting that the affidavit of plaintiffs’ counsel, who testified he was “familiar with the hourly rates and costs customarily charged in and around” Collin County, Texas, was sufficiently detailed to establish reasonable hourly rates. And his experience was sufficient to back up his assertions of familiarity. The Court noted that neither Rohrmoos nor prior Dallas Court of Appeals cases have required additional “disinterested” evidence.

Canadian REH next argued that plaintiffs failed to establish the reasonable hours worked because the billing records were heavily redacted and contained block billing. Again, the Court disagreed. It noted that attorney invoices are “routinely redacted” when offered as evidence, in order to protect the attorney-client and work-product privileges, and that such redactions do not “obscure[e] meaningful review of attorney time” as Canadian REH claimed. The Court also disagreed that plaintiffs’ counsel’s use of “block billing” was a problem, noting that no entry included more than one day’s work for a timekeeper, and many entries included related tasks charged for fractions of one hour.

Canadian REH did get some traction with its complaint about conditional appellate fees, however. Plaintiffs’ counsel did not provide any explanation for his estimated appellate fees of $14,000 in the Court of Appeals and $7,000 in the Supreme Court. The Court reiterated prior holdings that an award of conditional appellate fees must be based on testimony about the services the attorney reasonably believes will be necessary to defend the appeal and a reasonable hourly rate for those services. Counsel’s conclusory opinion provided neither. The Court therefore vacated that portion of the award.
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