Yamada v. Nobel Biocare Holding AG

Constitutional Right to Review Non-Privileged Time Entries for Fees Awards

On April 20, 2016, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned a $2.3 million fee award in Yamada v. Nobel Biocare Holding AG, No. 14-55263, 2016 WL 3207650 (9th Cir. June 9, 2016). Specifically, the Ninth Circuit held that the district court’s denial of the defendants’ motion to examine unredacted time records of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, which the district court had instead ordered be filed under seal for in camera review to support its fee order, violated the defendants’ constitutional due process rights.

Dr. Yamada was a California-based dentist. He initiated a class action against Nobel for the manufacturing and sale of allegedly defective dental implants. In connection with a court-approved settlement, class counsel filed a motion for attorneys’ fees and costs. To support its award of fees and costs, the district court ordered class counsel to provide unredacted time records, under seal and in camera, exclusively to the court. Nobel twice requested copies of the records but was denied each time based on the district court’s finding that “a more efficient use of time and resources was to review the records in camera, as opposed to requiring Class Counsel to redact the time records and provide a copy to [Nobel].” Id., at *5.

In overturning the district court’s award of fees based on its in camera review of the at-issue billing statements, the Ninth Circuit held that judicial efficiency may not eclipse a party’s fundamental constitutional right to inspect and challenge the billing statements of the attorneys for an opposing party seeking a fees award: “Here, the Due Process Clause requires that opposing counsel have access to the timesheets relied on to support the fee order.” Id., at *7.

This case suggests that attorneys should be exceedingly careful with the language used in their billing statements, as an opposing party fighting a request for a fees award has a constitutionally-recognized right to review non-privileged entries and information in those records.

Michelle Hernandez was a summer associate at Donahue Fitzgerald, LLP and is a 2017 J.D. candidate at UC Hastings School of Law.  Through her work with the firm she assisted corporate clients in multiple practice areas, including business transactions, intellectual property, employment, tax and litigation matters.