In an opinion yesterday, Judge Engelmayer awarded the Beastie Boys attorney’s fees for their successful suit against the makers of Monster energy drinks, which a jury found had wrongfully used Beastie Boys songs in promotional videos. But Judge Engelmayer reduced the amount requested by 30% because he found that, while the Beastie Boys were fully entitled to hire “Cadillac Escalade”-level attorneys, the law required the fees to be shifted only at regular (or “Honda Civic”) levels.
Presiding over trial and hearing the surviving Beastie Boys’ testimony, it was apparent to the Court that this case had great personal significance to them. Monster’s commercial exploitation of the band’s music and songs, and what the Beastie Boys perceived as Monster’s crass misappropriation of the name of the recently deceased Yauch in its video promoting its energy drinks, appeared to have deeply offended plaintiffs. It was apparent that this case, and cause, was of significant importance to plaintiffs. The Court is mindful that, unlike commercial cases in which the merits of litigation expenditures are typically subject to cost-benefit analysis, this case may well have been one in which Sheppard Mullin’s charge from its clients was simply to win, irrespective of cost. If assuring the highest quality representation and maximizing the prospects of a favorable verdict were paramount to Sheppard Mullin’s clients, then it was entirely rational for the firm to spare no expense on their behalf. The Court therefore does not, at all, suggest that Sheppard Mullin’s litigation expenditures were excessive or improper. That judgment was the Beastie Boys’ to make — and, as noted, plaintiffs paid 100% of the firm’s fees and by all appearances were well-satisfied clients. On a fee-shifting application, however, the governing test of reasonableness is objective; it is not dictated by a particular client’s subjective desires or tolerance for spending. The test is whether the plaintiff “spen[t] the minimum necessary to litigate the case effectively.” . . . . Here, the Court’s review of Sheppard Mullin’s bills suggests that the Beastie Boys opted to pay for, and received, the Cadillac Escalade, not the Honda Civic. Apart from the high ratio of partner to associate hours, two aspects of these bills are notable. First, some tasks carried out by partners surely could have been delegated to associates. . . . Second, there are various instances at which multiple partners . . . appear to have participated in the same tasks, where use of a single partner, or a single partner and an associate, would have been reasonable. It was the Beastie Boys’ prerogative to commission or approve such staffing. But the issue for this Court is whether it is reasonable to shift the resulting fees to Monster, their adversary. And there is ample authority in this District, applying the standard of objective reasonableness, for reducing a fee award where the legal hours recorded by plaintiffs’ counsel fell unusually heavily on partners with high hourly rates.
Our prior posts on the case are here.