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Party awarded more than $725K in attorneys’ fees

Where the buyer of three parcels of land prevailed in its suit against the sellers, after they refused to sign required rezoning forms, the buyer was awarded more than $725,000 in attorneys’ fees. Although the buyer originally sought over $1 million in attorneys’ fees, its request was reduced because of block billing and vague entries, and because of its reduced success on the merits.


This civil action arises out of a dispute over an agreement in which Pageland LLC, Barbara Brower and Jon Sanders Brower contracted to sell three parcels of land to GW Acquisition Co. LLC. After the buyer and the sellers executed two purchase and sale agreements, the sellers refused to sign required rezoning forms despite the buyer’s multiple requests and the sellers’ contractual obligation to cooperate with pursuing and obtaining county approval of the project.

In response, the buyer filed an eight-count complaint against the sellers. On Jan. 6, 2023, the court granted in part and denied in part defendants’ motion to dismiss, or in the alternative, for summary judgment and granted in part and denied in part plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment. The buyer then filed a motion requesting an award of $1,019,491 in attorney’s fees and $9,378.22 in costs. The buyer subsequently reduced its attorney’s fee claim to $1,010,231.50.


Contrary to the sellers’ assertion, the buyer’s status as a “prevailing party” is not limited to the breach of contract claim. The buyer is entitled to recover its fees for successfully obtaining the temporary restraining order. The buyer also obtained a declaratory judgment affirming Pageland LLC’s continuing obligations to perform under the purchase and sale agreement.

Both the temporary restraining order and Count One “relat[ed] to” enforcing the contract between the parties and therefore the buyer’s reasonable attorney’s fees expended in litigating those claims are recoverable. Similarly the sellers’ assertion that the buyer’s attorney’s fees expended on defending against the counterclaims are unrecoverable is unsupported by the broad attorneys’ fee provision in the purchase and sale agreement.


The buyer bases its fee application on the work of four attorneys at Stinson LLP who all billed at rates which fall within, if not below, the hourly rates routinely used in this court under the Vienna Metro matrix, which is customarily used in complex commercial litigation. Although the sellers point to lower hourly rates that were deemed reasonable in the Richmond Division and the Western District of Virginia, the relevant community for determining the prevailing rates is the “community in which the court where the action is prosecuted sits.” The proximity of the Alexandria Division to Washington, D.C. results in higher hourly rates for attorneys practicing in this area than in the areas cited by the sellers.


A significant number of the billing entries reflect block billing, i.e., they “lump multiple tasks together under a single time entry … ‘without specifying the amount of time spent on each particular task.’” The problems presented by the pervasive block billing are compounded by task descriptions that are, at times, vague. And the fee request reflects an excessive number of hours expended on common tasks throughout this litigation, along with overstaffing and duplication of effort by multiple attorneys. The court finds that an overall reduction of 20 percent of the initial amount yields a reasonable fee request, resulting in a lodestar of $808,185.20.


The court will not reduce the lodestar based on novelty and skill, given that the court has already reduced the requested fee amount by 20 percent to account for excessive hours and duplicative work. To account for the reduced degree of success, however, a reduction of 10 percent of the lodestar is appropriate and will result in an award of $727,366.68 in attorney’s fees. Finally, because the costs do not appear to be unreasonable, they will not be reduced.

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

GW Acquisition Co. LLC v. Pageland Limited Liability Co., Case No. 1:22-cv-255, May 5, 2023. EDVA at Alexandria (Brinkema). VLW 023-3-246. 27 pp.