United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
JAMES A. SHULA, Plaintiff,
PAUL D. LAWENT, and J.V.D.B. & ASSOCIATES, INC., Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: ARLANDER KEYS, Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
The facts of this case, recounted in several previous opinions,
are surprisingly simple and straightforward. J.V.D.B. &
Associates, Inc., a collection agency, called James Shula twice
about a debt he allegedly owed his doctor. Mr. Shula disputed the
debt. Nevertheless, when J.V.D.B. sued Mr. Shula a couple of
months later, he paid the debt, not wanting to hassle with the
lawsuit.*fn1 Thereafter, J.V.D.B. sent Mr. Shula a letter
demanding that he pay $52.73 in court costs. A lesser man might
simply have paid the bill, and moved on. Mr. Shula chose a
different path: he sued, alleging that the court costs letter
violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. This Court
agreed and, on December 23, 2002, entered summary judgment in Mr.
Shula's favor, awarding him statutory damages of $1,000, plus
attorney's fees and costs. See Shula v. Lawent, No. 01 C 4883, 2002 WL 31870157
(N.D. Ill. Dec. 23, 2002). The defendants appealed that ruling,
and the Seventh Circuit affirmed, noting in the process that the
FDCPA violations disclosed in the record were "blatant, and
reflect very poorly upon attorney Lawent's professionalism."
Shula v. Lawent, 359 F.3d 489, 491 (7th Cir. 2004).
Following the decision on appeal, on June 4, 2004, the Court
entered a Memorandum Opinion and Order awarding Mr. Shula
$32,165.00 in fees and costs, roughly half the amount he
requested in his petition (his petition sought $57,790.00 in
fees, and $3,358.61 in costs, for a total of $61,148.61). On June
18, 2004, Mr. Shula filed a motion to supplement that award; he
now seeks an additional $23,000 in fees and an additional
$2,616.91 in costs, all of which were incurred in connection with
the defendants' appeal to the Seventh Circuit.
At the outset, the Court is mindful that a successful FDCPA
plaintiff is entitled to recover "the costs of the action,
together with a reasonable attorney's fee as determined by the
court." 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3); Zagorski v. Midwest Billing
Services, Inc., 128 F.3d 1164, 1166 (7th Cir. 1997). This
includes costs and fees incurred by the plaintiff in defending
his award on appeal. See Garbie v. DaimlerChrysler Corp.,
211 F.3d 407, 411 (7th Cir. 2000) ("`[t]he rationale of
fee-shifting rules is that the victor should be made
whole-should be as well off as if the opponent had respected his legal rights in the
first place'"; "`[t]his cannot be accomplished if the victor must
pay for the appeal out of his own pocket.'") (quoting Rickels v.
South Bend, 33 F.3d 785, 787 (7th Cir. 1994)).
In ruling on Mr. Shula's initial petition, the Court found that
the reasonable rates for the attorneys involved were $350/hour
for James Shedden and $225/hour for Michael Hilicki. See Shula
v. Lawent, No. 01 C 4884, 2004 WL 1244030, at *4 (N.D. Ill. June
7, 2004). And the parties concede that any additional time
awarded should be charged at those rates. Thus, the question
before the Court is whether the hours and costs claimed in Mr.
Shula's motion to supplement are reasonable. In its previous
order, the Court further found that the hours reasonably worked
by each attorney, from the initial investigation stage of the
proceeding, through the appeal proceedings as of September 27,
2003, were 13.1 for attorney Shedden and 121.1 for attorney
Hilicki. Id., at *7. Mr. Shula now seeks reimbursement for an
additional 102.1 hours, all related to the preparation of Mr.
Shula's appellate brief and the delivery of an oral argument
before the Seventh Circuit.
As the party seeking fees, Mr. Shula bears the burden of
proving that the 102.1 hours claimed were reasonably expended on
the litigation, and, to the extent the time spent by the
attorneys is exorbitant, the fees should be reduced accordingly. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Spegon v.
Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 175 F.3d 544, 552 (7th Cir. 1999).
The billing statements submitted with Mr. Shula's motion show
that, in connection with the appeal of this Court's summary
judgment ruling, attorney Hilicki spent a total of 87.9 hours,
while attorney Shedden spent 14.2 hours. To break that down
further, the statements show that attorney Hilicki spent 49.0
hours researching issues for, and drafting, Mr. Shula's appellate
brief, and another 38.9 hours preparing for and delivering the
oral argument in the case; attorney Shedden spent 6.5 hours
researching issues for, and drafting, the appellate brief, and
another 7.7 hours preparing Mr. Hilicki for, and attending, the
The defendants argue that much of this time is excessive, and,
to some extent, the Court agrees. For example, although it was
certainly understandable that Mr. Shedden would want to attend
the oral argument in the case, he was merely a spectator there,
and, as a result, the fees covering his attendance at the
argument should not be imposed upon the defendants. Moreover, as
the Court has repeatedly noted, the facts of this case are
relatively simple, and the issues on appeal would have overlapped
work already done; indeed, it is likely that at least some of the
arguments on appeal would have been researched and drafted in the
proceedings before this Court. With respect to drafting the brief, including the research
included in that process, the Court finds that attorneys Hilicki
and Shedden reasonably spent, respectively, 35.0 and 6.5 hours.
With respect to the preparation for, and delivery of, the oral
argument, the Court finds that attorneys Hilicki and Shedden
reasonably spent, respectively, 20.0 and 2.0 hours. The remainder
of the time charged was excessive, and will not be awarded. Thus,
in connection with the appeal, the Court will award Mr. Shula
attorneys' fees in the amount of $15,350.00 ($12,375.00 covering
the 55.0 hours reasonably expended by Mr. Hilicki, plus $2,975.00
covering the 8.5 hours reasonably expended by Mr. Shedden).
With respect to expenses, Mr. Shula now seeks $660.89 in new
expenses incurred after September 27, 2003; he also asks the
Court to reconsider its decision to disallow certain expenses he
submitted in his initial petition. As to the former, the Court
will allow the computerized research costs, which are well
documented in invoices attached to Mr. Shula's motion, but
disallow the costs relating to the physical preparation of the
briefs for submission to the court, as those costs have already
been addressed by the Seventh Circuit; the Seventh Circuit
awarded only a portion of what Mr. Shula seeks here, but in the
absence of evidence to the contrary, the Court can only assume
that the additional costs were before the court, and that the court deliberately chose not to tax them against the defendants.
Thus, for the new expenses, the Court will award Mr. Shula
Turning to the costs previously submitted, the Court initially
rejected Mr. Shula's claim for reimbursement of $1,064.20 in
photocopying expenses, $142.56 in fax charges, $39.65 in postage
charges, $1.43 in long distance telephone charges, $102.02 in
computerized legal research charges, $254.75 for legal document
management and copying charges (including service of process),
and $1,604.00 for costs incurred in connection with depositions
because none of these charges was adequately documented. Mr.
Shula has now provided documentation to back up his request for
the expenses covering deposition costs in the amount of
$1,604.00, service of process costs in the amount of $250.00, and
computerized research costs in the amount of $102.02. And, based
upon that documentation, the Court is able to say that those
costs were both reasonable and necessary. Accordingly, the Court
will award an additional $1,956.02 in costs.
For the reasons stated above, the Court grants James Shula's
Motion to Supplement the Fee and Expense Award, as modified in
this opinion. In addition to the amounts awarded in the Court's
June 4, 2004 Memorandum Opinion and Order, Mr. Shula is entitled to recover attorneys' fees in the amount of $15,350.00, and costs
in the amount of $2,163.28. Thus, the total award, including
those amounts previously awarded, is $49,678.28 (comprised of
$32,165.00 from the Court's initial order, plus the additional
$17,513.28 awarded today).