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Not exactly a boatload of cash

What’s the best way to keep opposing counsel’s fees low when you’re on the losing end of a contract case?

Concede liability early and don’t get caught up in side fights that keep the clock running for payments to the winning party, an Alexandria federal judge advised in a contest between two government contractors.

Plaintiff MTU America Inc. sued a Louisiana shipbuilder for payment for marine engines, parts and services used to make nine patrol boats for the U.S. Navy. Six months later, the court granted MTU’s motion for discovery sanctions and entered judgment for MTU on its contract claims. Some months later, the two defendant contractors threw in the towel and offered nearly $5.8 million to settle the suit.

When MTU came back to court with its petition for a modest $406,473.13 in attorney’s fees and costs, the defendants balked.

The total amount requested was less than 7 percent of what the defendants agreed to pay, pointed out Alexandria U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema.

Plus, the defendants got bargain Midwestern rates from lead counsel in the case, Detroit-based Honigman Miller Schwartz and Cohn LLC, whose top hourly fee for a partner was a “standard rate” $395. In contrast, the most expensive lawyer for local counsel Clare Locke LLP charged an hourly “standard rate” of $710, but billed MTU at $500 per hour.

Brinkema also turned aside the shipbuilder’s complaint that MTU had “over-litigated” the case.

It was not hard to see what took up MTU’s time. Besides the discovery dispute, the defendants also claimed one defendant was an improper party and that German law barred both the contract and unjust enrichment claims.

The defendants could not avoid “the simple fact” that they “had no meritorious basis to refuse timely paying plaintiff’s invoices,” Brinkema said. “Had they initially done so when the Complaint was first filed, they could have avoided being liable for the fees and costs at issue.

“Given defendant’s litigation strategy, they forced plaintiff to incur significant attorney’s fees and expenses,” the judge said.

Without blinking, Brinkema awarded the full $406,473.13 the plaintiffs requested in MTU America Inc. v. Swiftships Shipbuilders LLC (VLW 015-3-337).

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