The opinion of the court was delivered by: MORTON DENLOW, Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This case comes before this Court on a motion for sanctions and
subsequent fee petition filed by Defendant Ford Motor Credit Co.
("Ford") against Plaintiff Michael Moline's counsel, Krohn & Moss
("Plaintiff's Counsel"). This Court previously held that Ford was
entitled to sanctions against Plaintiff's Counsel because, in
pursuing this litigation, "plaintiff's conduct unreasonably and
vexatiously multiplied the proceedings." Moline v. Trans Union,
L.L.C., No. 03 C 1376 (N.D. Ill. minute order Mar. 2, 2004).
Because the parties have been unable to settle on an agreed
sanctions award, Ford has submitted a petition for $15,064.50 in
fees under Local Rule 54.3. Plaintiff's Counsel contests the fee
petition, arguing that the fees are excessive and unreasonable.
For the reasons set forth in this opinion, this Court awards Ford
$8,250.00 in fees as sanctions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1927. I. STATEMENT OF FACTS
On February 25, 2003, Plaintiff Michael Moline ("Plaintiff")
filed this action against Defendants Trans Union L.L.C. ("Trans
Union") and Ford Motor Credit Co. and a separate action, 03 C
1375, against Defendant Experian Information Solutions, Inc.
("Experian") (collectively "Defendants"), alleging violations of
the Federal Credit Reporting Act. The issue in both cases was
whether Plaintiff's divorce decree precludes Defendants from
reporting Plaintiff's ex-wife's delinquent car payments on
Plaintiff's credit report where the divorce decree makes
Plaintiff's ex-wife solely responsible for making the payments.
In a May 2, 2003 phone call and in a May 28, 2003 letter, Ford
reacted to Plaintiff's complaint by requesting that Plaintiff
voluntarily dismiss the action because the complaint was legally
groundless. On May 30, 2003, Plaintiff's Counsel responded,
stating that there was no legal authority contrary to the
complaint. Consequently, Ford filed a motion to dismiss the
action and to stay discovery before Judge Plunkett on June 16,
2003. Following oral arguments on June 25, 2003, Judge Plunkett
granted the motion to stay discovery pending Ford's motion to
dismiss. On August 5, 2003, Plaintiff filed a motion to compel
Judge Plunkett subsequently granted Ford's motion to dismiss on
August 6, 2003. Moline v. Trans Union L.L.C., No. 03 C 1376,
2003 WL 21878728, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 7, 2003). In dismissing
the action, Judge Plunkett declined to consider Ford's supporting documents or to convert the motion to one for summary judgment
because Ford had stayed discovery. Id. Instead, he granted
Plaintiff time to amend the complaint. Id.
Plaintiff filed an amended complaint on August 21, 2003. On
September 22, 2003, Ford filed a motion for an extension of time
to answer Plaintiff's discovery requests. On September 24, Ford
filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to stay
discovery pending the outcome of the motion for summary judgment.
On October 1, 2003, Judge Plunkett continued the motion for
summary judgment to October 29, 2003; he also stayed oral
discovery, allowed written discovery to proceed, and required
initial Rule 26(a)(1) disclosures to be made.
On October 15, 2003, Ford moved for an extension of time to
answer Plaintiff's interrogatories, document requests and
requests to admit. On October 16, 2003, Judge Plunkett granted
Ford an extension through November 13, 2003.
Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the complaint against Ford on
October 29, 2003, after Judge Castillo ruled against Plaintiff in
case 03 C 1375 ("the Experian case"). See Moline v. Experian
Info. Solutions, Inc., 289 F. Supp.2d 956, 957 (N.D. Ill. 2003)
(granting summary judgment for Experian). In granting summary
judgment against Plaintiff, Judge Castillo cited a document,
signed by Plaintiff years after his divorce, confirming
Plaintiff's liability for the car loan. See id. B. PETITIONS FOR SANCTIONS AND FEES
After being granted summary judgment, Experian petitioned Judge
Castillo for sanctions against Plaintiff's Counsel under
28 U.S.C. § 1927. In the order granting sanctions, Judge Castillo
ruled that Plaintiff's Counsel had acted in bad faith because
Experian had advised Plaintiff's Counsel repeatedly that the
complaint lacked merit, yet Plaintiff's Counsel persisted with
the groundless claim. Moline v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc.,
No. 03 C 1375 (N.D. Ill. minute order Jan. 13, 2004). At the
urging of Judge Castillo, an agreed order was entered awarding
Experian $12,000 in attorney's fees. Id.
On November 14, 2003, Ford submitted a motion for sanctions in
this action against Plaintiff's Counsel under 28 U.S.C. § 1927.
The motion was referred to this Court by Judge Plunkett, and both
parties signed a limited consent to the exercise of jurisdiction
by a United States Magistrate Judge pursuant to
28 U.S.C. § 636(c). On November 24, 2003, this Court held oral argument on
Ford's motion for sanctions and took the matter under advisement
pending Judge Castillo's ruling on sanctions against Plaintiff's
Counsel for its actions in the Experian case. On January 13,
2004, Judge Castillo entered the order granting Experian's motion
for sanctions. Moline v. Experian Info. Solutions, Inc., No. 03
C 1375 (N.D. Ill. minute order Jan. 13, 2004). Adopting Judge
Castillo's opinion, this Court awarded sanctions against
Plaintiff's Counsel and encouraged the parties to settle the fee
award without further court intervention. Moline v. Trans Union,
L.L.C., No. 03 C 1376 (N.D. Ill. minute order Mar. 2, 2004). Unable to settle the fee award with Plaintiff's Counsel, Ford
submitted a fee petition to this Court requesting $15,064.50 in
fees for 91.3 hours of work billed at $165 per hour. Ford's
attached legal bill includes a detailed breakdown of the
attorneys' daily activities on the case. Of the 91.3 hours
billed, the largest blocks of time were spent on motions: over
twenty hours were spent researching and preparing Ford's motion
to dismiss and twenty-four hours were spent on its motion for
summary judgment. Substantial time also was spent in
communication with others: 5.5 hours were spent consulting with
Experian's counsel, over two hours were spent on an affidavit in
support of Experian's case, over four hours were spent in
communication with Plaintiff's Counsel, and eight hours were
spent in court. Approximately seven hours were spent on discovery
during the life of the case and 14.8 hours were spent, mostly on
Ford's fee petition, after the case was dismissed. Attached to
the fee petition was Ford's letter dated April 26, 2004, in which
Ford attempted to resolve the fee award directly with Plaintiff's
Counsel. Ford claims that Plaintiff's Counsel never responded to
the informal request for fees, instead waiting to contest the fee
petition once this Court received it.
A court has discretion to award attorney's fees under
28 U.S.C. § 1927 after that court has found a violation of the statute.
Kotsilieris v. Chalmers, 966 F.2d 1181, 1184 (7th Cir. 1992).
28 U.S.C. § 1927 provides that any attorney "who so multiplies
the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be
required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses, and attorneys fees reasonably incurred
because of such conduct." This Court already has found that
Plaintiff's Counsel has violated § 1927 and now turns to
determine the amount of fees to be awarded.
The purposes of sanctions awarded 28 U.S.C. § 1927 are to
"deter frivolous litigation" and to "ensure that those who create
unnecessary costs also bear them," thus compensating the innocent
party while punishing the offending party. Kapco Mfg. Co. Inc.
v. C & O Enters., Inc., 886 F.2d 1485, 1491 (7th Cir. 1989). A
sanctioning court "may impose a penalty as light as a censure and
as heavy as is justified," thus affording district courts
discretion in awarding sanctions. Frantz v. U.S. Powerlifting
Fed., 836 F.2d 1063, 1066 (7th Cir. 1987) (awarding sanctions
under Fed.R.Civ.P. 11); see also Kotsilieris, 966 F.2d at
1187-88 (using Rule 11 fee award reasoning to evaluate a fee
award made under § 1927). Courts awarding sanctions under § 1927
have applied the ...