El Apple I, Ltd. v. Olivas – Case Brief Summary (Texas)

El Apple I, Ltd. v. Olivas, 370 S.W.3d 757 (Tex. 2012), was an employment discrimination and retaliation case brought under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act. Id. at 760.

In that case, the Court observed that Texas courts have used the lodestar method in awarding fees under the TCHRA because federal courts use the lodestar method in awarding fees under Title VII cases. Id.

Under the lodestar method, a claimant must produce evidence of who performed the legal services, when the services were performed, and the amount of time spent on various parts of the case. Id. at 763.

The Texas Supreme Court, however, distinguished the lodestar method from a traditional attorney's fees award, stating, "while Texas courts have not routinely required billing records or other documentary evidence to substantiate a claim for attorney's fees, the requirement has merit in contested cases under the lodestar approach." Id. at 762.

The supreme court explained that generalities about tasks performed provide insufficient information for the fact finder to meaningfully review whether the tasks and hours were reasonable and necessary under the lodestar method.

Sufficient evidence includes, at a minimum, evidence "of the services performed, who performed them and at what hourly rate, when they were performed, and how much time the work required." Id. at 764.

Because the testimony in El Apple only included the total number of hours worked and generalities about discovery and the length of trial, the court remanded for a redetermination of attorney's fees. Id. at 765.

In so holding, the court stated:

"In this case, neither attorney indicated how the 890 hours they spent in the aggregate were devoted to any particular task or category of tasks. Neither attorney presented time records or other documentary evidence. Nor did they testify based on their recollection of such records. The attorneys instead based their time estimates on generalities such as the amount of discovery in the case, the number of pleadings filed, the number of witnesses questioned, and the length of the trial. While all this is relevant, it provides none of the specificity needed for the trial court to make a meaningful lodestar determination. The court could not discern from the evidence how many hours each of the tasks required and whether that time was reasonable. Without at least some indication of the time spent on various parts of the case, a court has little basis upon which to conduct a meaningful review of the fee award." Id. at 763.