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WEBB v. JAMES

June 6, 1997

DENNIS WEBB, Sr., Plaintiff,
v.
DICK JAMES, Owner, and DICK JAMES FORD, INC., a Corporation of Illinois, Defendants.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: KEYS

 This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Taxation of Costs and Award of Attorneys' Fees and Expenses; and Plaintiff's Itemized Attorneys' Fee Petition, and Amended and Supplemental Bill of Costs and Expenses. For the following reasons, this Court grants in part, and denies in part, Plaintiff's motions. Thus, an award totalling $ 98,773.65 for attorneys' fees, costs, and expenses, is entered against Defendants, and in favor of Plaintiff.

 FACTS

 Plaintiff, Dennis Webb, Sr., alleged in his Complaint that his employment with Defendants, Dick James and Dick James Ford, Inc., was terminated in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq. Prior to the final pre-trial conference, Defendants filed an offer of judgment, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68, proposing to have judgment entered against them in the amount of $ 50,000. The offer did not include attorney's fees, costs, or expenses. Plaintiff accepted the offer. After this Court entered judgment, Defendants unsuccessfully sought to rescind their offer and vacate the Court's entry of judgment. Currently before the Court are Plaintiff's motions for attorneys' fees, costs and expenses, totalling $ 145,940.99.

 DISCUSSION

 The ADA provides that the court, in its discretion, "may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs. . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 12205 ("§ 12205"). The legislative history of the ADA reflects that Congress intended § 12205 to "be interpreted in a manner consistent with the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Act," 42 U.S.C. § 1988 ("§ 1988"), "including that statute's definition of prevailing party, as construed by the Supreme Court." H.R. REP. No. 101-485, 101st Cong., 2d Sess., pt. 3, at 73 (1990). In order for a party to collect attorney's fees under § 1988 (and § 12205), the party must show: (1) that it has prevailed; and (2) that its fee request is reasonable. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 109-114, 121 L. Ed. 2d 494, 113 S. Ct. 566 (1992).

 A. Plaintiff, as Prevailing Party, is Eligible to Receive an Award of Attorneys' Fees.

 Plaintiffs are considered to be prevailing parties "'if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing the suit.'" Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40, 103 S. Ct. 1933 (1983) (quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978)); Estate of Borst v. O'Brien, 979 F.2d 511, 515 (7th Cir. 1992). Where a case has settled, prevailing party status is based upon a determination of: "1) whether the lawsuit was 'causally linked to the relief obtained,' . . . and, 2) whether the defendant acted gratuitously, that is, the lawsuit was 'frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.'" Fisher v. Kelly, 105 F.3d 350, 353 (7th Cir. 1997) (citations omitted).

 Defendants maintain that Plaintiff is not a prevailing party. However, the cases they rely upon are distinguishable. Specifically, in Fisher, the plaintiff, who accepted a $ 7,500 offer of judgment, was found not to be a prevailing party because her success was predicated upon something other than the merits of her case. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the District Court's finding that the plaintiff's lawsuit settled merely for the "nuisance value" of the claim. Id. at 353. Thus, the plaintiff in Fisher, failed the two-part test.

 Here, Plaintiff meets both prongs of the two-part test. The relief Plaintiff obtained from the offer of judgment was causally linked to his lawsuit. Additionally, Defendants' filing of the offer of judgment was not gratuitous. Despite Defendants attempts to characterize the $ 50,000 offer as "nominal", this Court does not find that the settlement amount comprised merely a "nuisance value" settlement. *fn1" Moreover, Plaintiff's lawsuit was not "frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless" -- in fact Plaintiff survived Defendants' motion for summary judgment. Thus, Plaintiff is a prevailing party.

 B. Calculation of Reasonable Attorneys' Fees to Which Plaintiff is Entitled.

 The above finding, that Plaintiff is a prevailing party, brings him over the statutory threshold (i.e. indicating that an award of attorneys' fees is potentially available). Next, the reasonableness of the attorneys' fees, costs, and expenses that Plaintiff seeks to collect must be determined.

 1. Legal Standard to Determine Reasonableness of Fees

 Determination of a fee award is left to the court's discretion. Eddleman v. Switchcraft, Inc., 965 F.2d 422, 424 (7th Cir. 1992). Attorney's fees are calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate (the "lodestar" method). Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433; McNabola v. Chicago Transit Auth., 10 F.3d 501, 518 (7th Cir. 1993). What constitutes a reasonable hourly rate is determined by "prevailing market rates in the relevant ...


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