The Fourth Department, reducing the amount of attorney’s fees awarded by Supreme Court, noted that a statement made by the Fourth Department in a prior appeal in the same matter was dicta and therefore should not have been treated as the law of the case by Supreme Court. In the prior decision the Fourth Department stated that no one had questioned the number of hours the attorney (Reedy) had worked on the case as the attorney for the child. Supreme Court took that statement to mean the number of hours could not be reduced by the court on remittal:
Our prior order unequivocally directed the court to calculate the amount of Reedy’s fees. An award of attorney’s fees must be “calculated on the basis of the . . . hours actually and reasonably spent on the matter by . . . counsel, multiplied by counsel’s reasonable hourly rate” … . In assessing the reasonableness of the hours spent by counsel, the issue “is not whether hindsight vindicates an attorney’s time expenditures, but whether, at the time the work was performed, a reasonable attorney would have engaged in the same time expenditures” … . Thus, upon remittal the court was, inter alia, to determine an award of attorney’s fees that adequately reflected both the time spent and whether such time “was reasonably related to the issues litigated” … . Here, especially in light of Reedy’s prior concession that the amount sought was excessive, we conclude that the court abused its discretion in fixing the amount of fees without determining the reasonableness of the number of hours included in Reedy’s fee request … .
Contrary to respondent’s contention, the court’s statement in its earlier decision that “[n]o one has questioned the number of hours [Reedy] has claimed” did not become law of the case. The doctrine of law of the case “applies only to legal determinations that were necessarily resolved on the merits in a prior decision” … . Consequently, the doctrine does not apply where, as here, the court makes statements that are “mere dicta” … . Inasmuch as the court’s ultimate ruling in its earlier decision was that Reedy was not entitled to compensation as a private pay AFC, the court’s statement about the number of hours that he worked was dictum. Stefaniak v Zulkharnain, 2020 NY Slip Op 00961, Fourth Dept 2-7-20