Simring v. Rutgers, 070715 FED3, 14-1126
|Opinion Judge:||AMBRO, Circuit Judge|
|Party Name:||M.D. STEVEN S. SIMRING, United States of America, ex rel. v. RUTGERS, The State University of New Jersey; UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL; NEW JERSEY MEDICAL SCHOOL; JAMES LAWLER; JOHN DOES 1-25, (Employees of University of Medicine and Dentistry), UMDNJ-University Hospital and/or New Jersey Medical School; CHAIRMAN OF THE BOARD UNIVERSITY PHYSICIAN ASSOCIATES|
|Judge Panel:||Before: AMBRO, SCIRICA, and ROTH, Circuit Judges|
|Case Date:||July 07, 2015|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit|
Submitted Under Third Circuit LAR 34.1(a) March 2, 2015
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Civil Action No. 3-04-cv-03530) District Judge: Honorable Peter G. Sheridan
There are few cases judges like less than disputes over attorneys' fees. And the tedium of reviewing reams of spreadsheets in the service of lining lawyers' pockets is exponentially greater for district and magistrate judges than for us on appeal. Nonetheless, we must review fee applications and draft clear accounts of why a fee is awarded or not. The District Court in this case put in yeoman's work trying to guide the parties to a negotiated settlement, but when the parties' intransigence forced the Court to rule on the fee petition, it did not include enough information in its opinion to allow for meaningful appellate review. With regret, though we affirm in part, we also vacate in part and remand.
This appeal results from Dr. Steven S. Simring's False Claims Act (FCA) suit alleging that the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (now part of Rutgers University) engaged in a lengthy, multimillion-dollar scheme to bill taxpayers twice for the same services. The FCA was passed during the Civil War to root out frauds perpetrated by contractors with the Government. It allows private individuals to sue on behalf of the United States; such Plaintiffs are called "relators, " as the law also requires them to transmit (or "relate") their allegations to the Government. The United States must decide whether to intervene in the relator's lawsuit, lending the Government's substantial expertise, negotiating leverage, and investigative resources to the cause.
When Simring filed the suit, Henry F. Furst was his lawyer. Simring informed the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) of his allegations, and the DOJ launched an investigation to determine whether it would intervene. The United States' decision to intervene (or not) is typically the most consequential moment of an FCA case. Hence, in representing Simring Furst devoted much of his energy to convincing the DOJ to take part in the case. For assistance in this crucial task, he enlisted Harry Litman, a former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Pennsylvania and now a well-regarded lawyer in private practice. In 2008, four years after Simring notified the DOJ of his case, the Government decided to intervene, and in June 2009 the parties settled for $4.45 million (this and all other large numbers in our opinion are approximate).
The FCA entitles a prevailing relator to "reasonable attorneys' fees." 31 U.S.C. § 3730(d)(1), and after the settlement Simring promptly sought to recover fees for Furst and Litman. When he did not immediately succeed, Simring engaged the law firm of Stone & Magnanini. Regrettably, the litigation over Furst and Litman's fees has lasted six years so far, and this appeal is but the latest-and not the last-chapter.
In December 2010, Simring petitioned the District Court for a total of $1.08 million in aggregate fees and costs to compensate Furst, Litman, and Stone & Magnanini. The petition consisted of the lawyers' billing records, their hourly rates, and evidence of the rates of other lawyers in the community. Though Rutgers did not dispute Simring's entitlement to fees, it argued that Furst and Litman charged too high a rate for too many hours. In October 2012, a Magistrate Judge drafted a Report and Recommendation (R&R) suggesting that Stone & Magnani be awarded nothing and that the other lawyers receive in total $366, 000. Simring promptly lodged objections with the District Court, which allowed Stone & Magnanini to file a petition for work performed up to May 8, 2013. The Court then modified the recommended ruling in part to award Stone & Magnanini $313, 000 and to increase the compensation for Litman by $54, 000 (the aggregate fees awarded were thus $733, 000). Simring moved for reconsideration, and the motion was granted in part on December 16, 2013, to award $18, 000 previously denied for engaging a consultant who...
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