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Hourly rates and billable hours support $975,000 fee award

Where a successful plaintiff was awarded $3 million in damages in her Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA lawsuit, the award of $975,000 in attorneys’ fees was found reasonable based on the rates charged, the hours worked and the sophistication of the issues.  The hourly rate for legal interns however, was reduced.


After a four-day jury trial, plaintiff prevailed on all counts when the jury found defendant liable for violating the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, or TVPA. The jury awarded plaintiff $1 million in compensatory damages and $2 million in punitive damages. The Fourth Circuit affirmed this court’s rulings on Feb. 25, 2019.

Under the TVPA, “[a]n individual who is a victim of a violation of [the TVPA] may bring a civil action against the perpetrator . . . and may recover damages and reasonable attorneys’ fees.” Thus, following the jury’s finding that defendant violated the TVPA, plaintiff is entitled to attorneys’ fees.


The reasonable rate for attorneys’ fees is determined based on the “prevailing market rates in the relevant community factoring in any required skill or experience.” Courts in this district have considered the ranges set out in the Vienna Metro matrix when awarding attorneys’ fees. Vienna Metro, however, merely provides guidance in this district, as it was developed nearly 10 years ago. Courts in this district have found the Vienna Metro rates to be appropriate in some complex cases, and simply a starting point for the fee consideration in others.

Here, plaintiff seeks reasonable compensation for her counsel, comprising attorneys and litigation support from Jones Day. The proposed hourly rates are $550 for partners and of counsel, $350 for associates, $250 for legal interns and $150 for staff. All proposed attorney rates are commensurate with attestations of local, comparable attorneys both associated with and independent from this litigation.

However, the $250 hourly rate proposed for legal interns is not as well-supported. The court reduces the requested rate from $250 to $175. Finally, plaintiff’s proposed rates are generally justified by the factors set out in Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714 (5th Cir. 1974).

Plaintiff is correct that defendant fails to challenge any individual proposed rate, instead attacking the overall total requested award. As such, the court is not compelled to adjust the rate for each individual so long as the rate is reasonable. Based on relevant case law, lack of experience and the Craig Reilly declaration, the court finds a downward adjustment appropriate as to the legal interns.


Defendant argues plaintiff’s attorneys overstaffed this case and billed for an excessive number of hours. Upon review of the bill, the court disagrees. While many attorneys worked on the case, some of them cycled on and off the case so a reasonable number of attorneys were working on the case at any given time. Further, while plaintiff’s attorneys did spend a considerable amount of time, this case dealt with sophisticated issues and warranted this amount of time for the reasons stated above. The billing entries are for appropriate tasks and are sufficiently detailed for the court to review. Additionally, plaintiff’s attorneys voluntarily and significantly reduced the billable hours reported.

Additional adjustments

Plaintiff received a jury verdict awarding $3 million in damages, and success on all counts. Given plaintiff’s success, and the affirmation at the Fourth Circuit, the eighth Johnson factor does not call for further reduction. Therefore, the court does not find an additional reduction appropriate and declines to apply one. Plaintiff is awarded attorneys’ fees in the amount of $935,700.

Plaintiff’s motion for attorney’s fees granted in part, denied in part.

Roe v. Howard, Case No. 16-cv-562, March 20, 2020. EDVA at Alexandria (O’Grady). VLW 020-3-172. 9 pp.

VLW 020-3-172

Virginia Lawyers Weekly