By T. D. Thornton
Even though trainer Bob Baffert has secured only a preliminary injunction in his ongoing lawsuit against the New York Racing Association (NYRA) that allows him to race at New York's three major tracks pending the final resolution of the case, his attorneys filed a motion in federal court Aug. 25 seeking $162,086 in legal fees and expenses from NYRA based on the claim that Baffert is due that money as the “prevailing party.”
The three attorneys Baffert engaged for work on this case have billed him at rates between $450 and $975 hourly, according to court filings in which the lawyers detailed their costs. NYRA on Wednesday countered with its own court filing, which came in the form of a “notice of motion to dismiss” the original complaint. Essentially, that response was NYRA's way of telling Baffert's legal team that the case is not yet over.
According to a schedule that had been ordered back on July 22 by Judge Carol Bagley Amon of United States District Court (Eastern District of New York), NYRA had until Aug. 27 to “serve, but not file, its motion to dismiss.” Oral arguments for that motion aren't even scheduled until Nov. 16.
In a civil complaint filed by Baffert June 14, the seven-time GI Kentucky Derby-winning trainer had alleged that NYRA's banishment of him since May 17 over the issue of his repeated equine drug violations violates his constitutional right to due process.
On July 14, the eve of the lucrative Saratoga Race Course season, Amon granted Baffert a preliminary injunction, writing in her order, “I find that Baffert has established a likelihood of proving that NYRA's suspension constituted state action, and that the process by which it suspended him violated the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”
Yet Amon also wrote, “although NYRA's actions have functionally deprived Baffert of his trainer's license, NYRA has not formally suspended that license. In sum, it is not likely that Baffert will be able to prevail on his claim that NYRA had no legal authority to take the action that it did.”
In Tuesday's filing on behalf of Baffert, his attorneys wrote, “Baffert qualifies as a prevailing party in this suit because the Court entered a preliminary injunction against NYRA enjoining it from enforcing its indefinite suspension of Baffert from all of its thoroughbred racetracks…”
The filing continued: “Under any view of the case, Baffert has fully prevailed on all of his due process claims asserted under Section 1983….It further cannot be disputed that the Court's Opinion altered the legal relationship between the parties by nullifying NYRA's suspension of Baffert–he is no longer barred from participating in NYRA races and he has entered horses at Saratoga as a direct consequence of the Court's order. As a result, Baffert has essentially achieved his main objective in this litigation [and] the Court's preliminary injunction is to Baffert the functional equivalent of a final judgment on the merits with respect to his claims and relief sought.”
One of Baffert's attorneys, the Kentucky-based W. Craig Robertson, the lead counsel in the case, wrote in a declaration that accompanied the motion that he charged Baffert $475 hourly for his work, and that his hourly fee and those of his firm's associate attorneys ($255 and $220), plus a paralegal ($265), are “well within the range of typical fees charged in commercial litigation cases in this District.”
Another attorney retained by Baffert since the inception of the case, the New York-based Charles Michael, wrote in a separate declaration, “my $975 hourly rate is within the reasonable rate customarily charged by attorneys with comparable experience.”
A third attorney, the Oklahoma-based Clark Brewster, wrote that he billed $450 hourly since being retained July 3, and “the rate charged to Baffert is reasonable with respect to equine matters and the rates fall within the standard range for commercial and equine litigators.”