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DOJ smacks down Nat’l Organization for Marriage request for attorney’s fees

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Justice has filed a blistering response to a motion by the National Organization for Marriage demanding nearly $700,000 attorneys’ fees for their lawsuit over the release of confidential tax documents.

dept-of-justiceIn June, a federal court ordered the U.S. government to pay $50,000 to the NOM after the group claimed that confidential donor information from its tax returns was “leaked” to an activist and later published by the Human Rights Campaign and the Huffington Post.

The court dismissed the majority of the lawsuit, and said the NOM failed to provide any evidence that the disclosure was deliberate and politically motivated; but, he said the IRS may bear some responsibility for the legal expenses NOM incurred as a result of that error.

The NOM subsequently filed a motion seeking $691,000 in attorneys’ fees related to the case.

In a response filed in U.S. District Court in Virginia, the Justice Department calls NOM’s attempt to collect $691,000 on a $50,000 judgement “facially unreasonable”:

Despite losing all the significant issues in this case and settling a damages claim of hundreds of thousands of dollars for $50,000, the National Organization for Marriage, Inc. (“NOM”) now seeks over $691,000 in attorneys’ fees. The Court should deny NOM’s motion in its entirety.

The Court need not delve into NOM’s massive bills and complex algorithms to determine a reasonable attorney fee, because NOM is not the “prevailing party” — either with respect to the amount in controversy or the most significant issue pled.

Regarding the amount in controversy, NOM has cherry picked the actual damages it was claiming during the course of this suit and, in fact, received less than half of what it was claiming when all amounts are properly considered. Also, NOM’s view of the most significant issue is belied by the face of its sworn Verified Complaint.

Under both analyses, therefore, NOM is not a prevailing party. The Court’s analysis should end there — NOM is not entitled to any attorneys’ fees.

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[T]he very request for over $691,000 in fees in order to collect a $50,000 settlement is facially unreasonable. There are also other deficiencies in NOM’s request, including the fact that counsel spent over a year preparing for, researching and drafting its Verified Complaint. Thus, if the Court were to even reach the issue of whether NOM’s fee request is reasonable, which it should not, the Court should significantly reduce NOM’s request and award it minimal fees.

A copy of the DOJ’s response is here.

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