A recent decision out of the Eastern District of Virginia, Lorillard Tobacco Co. et al., v. California Imports, LLC, et al., analyzed the factors that a court in the Fourth Circuit must consider while determining the reasonableness of an attorney’s fee award. Lorillard had sued the defendants for unfair competition in violation of the Lanham Act and Virginia’s common law and dilution of Lorillard’s trademark; after a bench trial, the judge found in favor of Lorillard and held that the company qualified for an award of fees and costs under the Act.
In its opinion, the court cited to established Fourth Circuit precedent that in calculating an award of attorneys’ fees, a court must determine the “lodestar” amount (i.e., the reasonable hourly rate multiplied by hours reasonably expended) by applying twelve separate factors: 1) the time and labor expended; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions raised; (3) the skill required to properly perform the legal services rendered; (4) the attorney’s opportunity costs in pressing the instant litigation; (5) the customary fee for like work; (6) the attorney’s expectations at the outset of the litigation; (7) the time limitations imposed by the client or circumstances; (8) the amount in controversy and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation and ability of the attorney; (10) the undesirability of the case within the legal community in which the suit arose; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship between attorney and client; and (12) attorneys’ fees awards in similar cases.
After reviewing each of these factors, the court found most of plaintiff’s fee requests to be reasonable and awarded eighty percent of the fees requested. Of particular interest, plaintiff’s counsel had submitted an affidavit from an expert to support the amount of fees requested – a good practice point to emulate when seeking fees. The court took into account the expert’s conclusions and while it discounted some, the court did agree with others that helped shape its opinion in granting the fee award.
The court’s discussion of each of the twelve factors that go into the lodestar calculus for reasonable attorney’s fees makes Lorillard Tobacco pertinent reading for any party and attorney making an application for the award of attorney fees in the Fourth Circuit.