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A Northern District of New York judge has awarded more than $1 million in legal fees and expenses to lawyers in Syracuse, N.Y., and Washington, D.C., who successfully prosecuted a Teamsters ERISA case against United Parcel Service. In New York State Teamsters Conference Pension & Retirement Fund v. United Parcel Service, 5:98-CV-1902, Chief Judge Frederick J. Scullin Jr. awarded a total of $1,067,541 in fees and upheld the prevailing district rate of $175 per hour for the most experienced attorneys. He also approved a $200-per-hour fee for a lawyer with particular expertise, and approved quarter-hour billing, even though his counterparts in the Southern and Eastern District courts have articulated a clear preference for tenths-of-an-hour billing. Moreover, the judge reimbursed travel time at half the hourly rate, and maintained the local policy of disallowing reimbursement for computerized legal research costs. Scullin’s 20-page fee award ruling, which was signed late last week, covers a broad spectrum of issues that often come up when prevailing attorneys seek the compensation they are statutorily entitled to. The ruling stemmed from a complaint under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) alleging that the defendants neglected to fully contribute to health and pension funds. After a lengthy battle and bench trial, the plaintiffs prevailed. The verdict is on appeal at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Plaintiffs attorneys Jonathan G. Rose, then of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius in Washington, D.C., and Michael J. Sciotti of Hancock & Estabrook in Syracuse, sought fees and expenses totalling more than $1.6 million. Morgan Lewis sought to bill between $330 and $415 an hour for partners and of counsel, and between $115 and $375 for associates. Hancock & Estabrook’s bills were somewhat unclear, but it appears the firm requested between $185 and $225 an hour for partners and between $100 and $180 for associates. Scullin stuck with the prevailing district rates, as set by U.S. District Judge Thomas J. McAvoy in I.B.E.W. Local No. 910 Welfare, Annuity and Pension Funds v. Dexelectrics Inc., 98 F. Supp. 2d 265. In that case, McAvoy established rates of $175 an hour for the most experienced practitioners, $125 for lawyers with four or more years of experience, $100 for attorneys with less than four years experience and $65 for paralegal work. Here, the defendant argued for application of the Local 910 rates, conceding, however, that Rose, now of Katten Muchin Zavis Rosenman, is worth $200 an hour because of his specialized expertise. The court considered at least four rulings from the Southern and Eastern districts indicating that the quarter-hour billing method, used by Hancock & Estabrook in this case, was not preferred. Scullin said the cases cited by the defendant hinged on peculiar circumstances — such as the automatic billing of 15 minutes for every telephone call — and found “no authority in this district that calls into question the propriety of the use of quarter-hour billing increments … [T]he court knows of no reason why, at least under the circumstances of this case, a reduction is warranted for using this method.” COMPUTERIZED RESEARCH Additionally, Scullin reiterated his policy of disallowing recovery of computerized legal research expenses, first articulated in Upstate N.Y. Bakery Drivers v. Colony Liquor Distributors, 993 F. Supp. 146. He also continued the local policy of calculating travel time reimbursements at half the prevailing rate (see Patterson v. Julian, 250 F. Supp. 2d 36 [2003], and Funk v. F& K Supply Inc., 43 F. Supp. 2d 205 [1999]). Appearing on the fee issue were Rose and Sciotti for the plaintiffs and Glenn E. Butash of Pitney, Hardin, Kipp & Szuch of Morristown, N.J., and Thomas Brett of The Brett Law Firm in Syracuse for the defendants.

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