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El Apple 1 Rides Again on the Issue of Proving Attorney Fees

The Case:

City of Laredo v. Montano, 2013 Tex. LEXIS 890 (Tex. Oct. 25, 2013)

The Facts:

The City of Laredo sued to condemn property owned by the Montanos. After trial, a jury found for the Montanos and awarded them $446,000.00 in attorneys' fees.

Ultimately, the case reached the Texas Supreme Court where the City of Laredo asked that the case be remanded for reconsideration of the award of attorneys' fees. The City of Laredo argued that the proof offered by the Montanos' two attorneys was insufficient to support an award of attorneys' fees.

The City of Laredo specifically argued, in part, that according to El Apple 1,the admission by one attorney that he did not keep time records for the case meant that he could not recover his attorney's fees. The Texas Supreme Court agreed, but provided an instructive analysis based on the other attorney for the Montanos who also asked for and was awarded attorneys' fees.

The Texas Supreme Court's View of the Evidence of Attorneys' Fees:

Initially, the Court stated that El Apple 1 does notstand for the strict proposition that fees can only be established through presentation of time records or billing statements. Instead, the Court stated that "an attorney could testify to the details of his work, but that 'in all but the simplest cases, the attorney would probably have to refer to some type of record or documentation to provide this information.'"

Based on this view of the evidence required in order to support a calculation, the Court held that one of the Montanos' attorney's testimony, which only consisted of his estimate of the hours he worked, was not sufficient. However, the Court stated that the other attorney for the Montanos, who presented testimony of billing based on contemporaneous events and discrete tasks, had provided sufficient evidence to support the calculation.

What to Take Away:

Submission of billing records is not the only way to support the calculation under El Apple 1. Instead, testimony from an attorney based on contemporaneous events and discrete tasks, such as the time the attorney arrived at trial and the time they finished each night, along with the individual tasks performed during that time period and the reason for the tasks, will be sufficient.

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