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Williams v. Z.D. Masonry

February 17, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Geraldine Soat Brown United States Magistrate Judge


District Judge Ronald A. Guzman

Magistrate Judge Geraldine Soat Brown

Geraldine Soat Brown, United States Magistrate Judge

Following the entry of judgment against the defendants, plaintiff Shawn Williams filed the present motion seeking an award of $43,287.50 in attorney's fees and $1,223.87 in costs. (Pl.'s Mot. at 1.) [Dkt 36.]*fn1 The motion was referred here for decision. [Dkt 40.] For the reasons set forth herein, the motion is granted in part and denied in part. Plaintiff is awarded $36,064.60, representing attorney's fees in the amount of $35,235.94 and costs in the amount of $828.66.


Plaintiff Shawn Williams filed this action under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e, et seq. ("Title VII"), and 42 U.S.C. § 1981. (Compl. ¶ 1.) [Dkt 1.] He complained that Z.D. Masonry, Corp., Northside Construction and Development Corp., Zbigniew Dziadana, Z.D. Masonry and Remodeling Corp., City of Chicago Masonry, Inc., and Z.D. Masonry and Tuckpointing Corp. (collectively, "defendants"), acting as a single business entity, had discriminated against him on the basis of his race (African American), color (non-white) and national origin (non-Polish) in denying him the opportunity to apply for work as a bricklayer and stone mason. (Id. ¶¶ 12-16.) Although each of the defendants were served with summons and a copy of the complaint, none of the defendants appeared. As a result, a default judgment was entered on January 31, 2008. [Dkt 25.] Thereafter Plaintiff submitted evidence in support of his damages claims, and on March 31, 2008, the court entered judgment against the defendants jointly and severally and in favor of Plaintiff in the amount of $97,574.74, comprised of $83,396.64 in back wages, $4,178.10 in interest and $10,000 as punitive damages. [Dkt 31.] Pursuant to Local Rule 54.3, Plaintiff filed the present motion for fees and costs.


I. Attorney's Fees

As the prevailing party in this case, Plaintiff may be awarded a "reasonable attorney's fee" as a portion of the costs of bringing suit. 42 U.S.C. §§ 1988, 2000(e)-5k. The court has discretion in determining the appropriate amount of an attorney's fee award. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437 (1983). "The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. This calculation results in the lodestar amount, which is the "guiding light" of federal fee-shifting jurisprudence, though it may be adjusted by a number of factors as necessary to determine a reasonable fee. Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 562 (1992); Mathur v. Bd. of Trustees of S. Ill. U., 317 F.3d 738, 742 n. 1 (7th Cir. 2003).

The party seeking the award of fees bears the burden of establishing an entitlement to the award and documenting the number of hours reasonably expended by the party's counsel and their reasonable hourly rates. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. An hour reasonably expended is an hour that is not excessive, redundant or otherwise unnecessary. Stark v. PPM America, Inc., 354 F.3d 666, 674 (7th Cir. 2004). Where the documentation of hours is inadequate, the district court may reduce the award accordingly. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433; Stark, 354 F.3d at 674.

An attorney's market rate is the rate that lawyers of similar ability and experience in the community normally charge their paying clients for the type of work in question. Gautreaux v. Chicago Hous. Auth., 491 F.3d 649, 659 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting McNabola v. Chicago Transit Auth., 10 F.3d 501, 519 (7th Cir. 1993)). The attorney's actual billing rate for comparable work is presumptively appropriate to use as the market rate. Mathur, 317 F.3d at 743 (quoting Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 175 F.3d 544, 555 (7th Cir. 1999)). The next best evidence of an attorney's market rate includes evidence of the rates that similarly experienced attorneys in the community charge paying clients for similar work and evidence of fee awards the attorney has received in similar cases. Spegon, 175 F.3d at 555.

A. Billed Hours

Plaintiff seeks to recover $43,287.50 for attorney and clerk time in this litigation. Included in the request are fees for 100.85 hours of Plaintiff's lead attorney Barry M. Bennett, .35 hours of attorney Michele Reynolds, 7.6 hours of attorney Steven Jados, and one hour of an unnamed "research clerk." (Pl.'s Mot., Ex. A, Bennett Decl. ¶ 22.) In support of the motion, Plaintiff submitted his attorneys' billing records (id., Ex. B) and Mr. Bennett's detailed declaration explaining the records and carefully categorizing the work performed. Mr. Bennet's declaration attests to his more than 20 years experience practicing exclusively in the fields of labor and employment law, his usual hourly rates for individual employment work, and his usual mixture of hourly and contingency fee work. (Bennett Decl. ¶¶ 9-13.) Plaintiff also submitted the declarations of attorneys Robin Potter, Edward C. Jepson and Jules I. Crystal; all three declarants are experienced ...

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