United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
JODI C. HOHMAN, Plaintiff,
INTERNAL REVENUE SERVICE, ET AL., Defendants.
ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR
ATTORNEY'S FEES AND COSTS (DOC. # 27)
Victoria A. Roberts, United States District Judge
Introduction and Background
Jodi C. Hohman (“Hohman”) submitted a request to
the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) for release
of records under the Freedom of Information Act
(“FOIA”) on July 26, 2016. On August 1, 2016, the
IRS assigned Disclosure Specialist Jeremy Woods to process
letter dated August 23, 2016, Mr. Woods informed Hohman that
he was unable to process her request within the 20
business-day period provided for by law. He invoked the
statutory ten-day extension, bringing the response deadline
to September 7, 2016. In the same letter, Mr. Woods notified
Hohman that the IRS would be unable to meet the new deadline
and anticipated being able to provide a final response by
October 7, 2016. The letter advised Hohman that if she did
not agree to the extension beyond the statutory period she
could file suit in the United States District Court after
September 7, 2016.
filed suit on September 12, 2016 pursuant to 5 U.S.C. §
a December 8, 2016 status conference, counsel for the IRS
informed the Court that the IRS could make its disclosures to
Hohman by January 6, 2017. On December 14, 2016, the Court
issued an order memorializing this date and providing that
the IRS either make its disclosures by January 6th or attend
a follow-up scheduling conference. The IRS produced the
requested documents to Hohman by the January 6th deadline.
The IRS subsequently moved for summary judgment. In response,
Hohman agreed that the IRS produced the requested documents
and stated that the proceedings against the IRS were over
except that she planned to seek attorney's fees. The
Court referred the motion to Magistrate Judge Mona K.
Judge Majzoub issued a Report and Recommendation
(“R&R”) recommending that the Court deny the
IRS's motion for summary judgment as to Hohman's FOIA
claim, finding that her FOIA claim should be dismissed as
moot. Magistrate Judge Majzoub also recommended that Hohman
be permitted to file a motion for attorney's fees and
costs against the IRS pursuant to 5 U.S.C. § 552(a)(4)
if the recommendation was adopted. The Court adopted the
February 2, 2018, Hohman field a motion for attorney's
fees [Doc. 27]. It is fully briefed.
reasons below, Hohman's motion for attorney's fees
and costs is DENIED.
Standard of Review
FOIA permits courts to assess reasonable attorney fees and
litigation costs against the United States where the
plaintiff has “substantially prevailed.” 5 U.S.C.
§ 552(a)(4)(E)(i). A FOIA plaintiff “substantially
prevails” if it “obtain[s] relief through either
. . .  a judicial order, or an enforceable written
agreement or consent decree; or  a voluntary or unilateral
change in position by the agency, if the complainant's
claim is not insubstantial.” Id. §
552(a)(4)(E)(ii). Courts apply a two-part test in determining
whether an award of fees is appropriate. GMRI, Inc. v.
E.E.O.C., 149 F.3d 449, 451 (6th Cir. 1998). First, the
Court must determine whether a litigant has substantially
prevailed and is thus “eligible” for attorney
fees. Id. A court order is not necessary for a
litigant to have substantially prevailed “if it
demonstrates that the prosecution of the lawsuit was
reasonably necessary to obtain requested information, and
that the existence of the lawsuit had a causative effect upon
the release of that information.” Id. at
if a FOIA plaintiff is “eligible” for fees, the
Court must determine whether the plaintiff is
"entitled" to such an award based upon a balancing
of equitable considerations. GMRI, 149 F.3d at 451.
Courts consider the following factors in determining whether
a FOIA plaintiff is entitled to fees and costs: “(1)
the benefit to the public deriving from the case; (2) the
commercial benefit to the complainant and the nature of its
interest in the records; and (3) whether the agency's
withholding had a reasonable basis in law.”
Id. at 452 (quoting Detroit Free Press, Inc. v.
Dep't of Justice, 73 F.3d 93, 98 (6th Cir. 1996)).
Whether a prevailing party is entitled to attorney fees lies
within the sound discretion of the Court. GMRI, 149
F.3d at 452.
Court denies Hohman's motion for attorney's fees and
costs because she has not ...