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Baker Botts L.L.P. v. ASARCO LLC

Justia Summary

ASARCO hired the law firms to assist it in carrying out its duties as a Chapter 11 debtor in possession, 11 U.S.C. 327(a). When ASARCO emerged from bankruptcy, the law firms filed fee applications requesting fees under section 330(a)(1), which permits bankruptcy courts to “award . . . reasonable compensation for actual, necessary services rendered by” professionals. The Bankruptcy Court rejected ASARCO’s objections and awarded fees for time spent defending the applications. The district court held that the firms could be awarded fees for defending their fee applications. The Fifth Circuit reversed. The Supreme Court affirmed. Section330(a)(1) does not permit bankruptcy courts to award fees to section 327(a) professionals for defending fee applications. The American Rule provides the basic point of reference for attorney’s fees: Each litigant pays his own attorney’s fees, win or lose, unless a statute or contract provides otherwise. Congress did not depart from the American Rule in section 330(a)(1) for fee-defense litigation. The phrase “reasonable compensation for services rendered” necessarily implies “loyal and disinterested service in the interest of” a client, Time spent litigating a fee application against the bankruptcy estate’s administrator cannot be fairly described as “labor performed for”—let alone “disinterested service to”—that administrator. Requiring bankruptcy attorneys to bear the costs of their fee-defense litigation under section 330(a)(1) creates no disincentive to bankruptcy practice.

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