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Goodale v. George S. May International Co.

July 14, 2010

LISA J. GOODALE AND HOWARD C. MCCLELLAN, INDIVIDUALLY AND AS THE REPRESENTATIVES OF A CLASS OF SIMILARLY SITUATED PERSONS, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
GEORGE S. MAY INTERNATIONAL CO., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

On December 18, 2009, Lisa Goodale and Howard McClellan sued George S. May International Company (May) and unknown individual decision-makers under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and Illinois law, seeking unpaid wages and other relief. On March 25, 2010, May made an offer of judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68(a). See Fed. R. Civ. P. 68(a). Plaintiffs accepted the offer on April 2, 2010. On April 7, 2010, the Court entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs and against May in the total amount of $35,000, plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs to be assessed by the Court. Plaintiffs have now petitioned for an award of attorney's fees and expenses.

Background

Goodale resides in Texas and worked as a consultant for May, a management consulting firm. She attended a mandatory, week-long training program in Illinois and periodically worked for May in Illinois. Goodale alleged that May paid twenty dollars per day for incidental expenses during the week of training they received in Illinois but that it did not pay consultants wages for that time. She also alleges that May misclassified her as an exempt employee, which deprived her of overtime pay and other benefits. Attorney John Ireland represented Goodale when she filed this case against May on December 18, 2009. Shortly thereafter, McClellan, a former consultant for May residing in Florida, retained Ireland to pursue similar claims. On January 20, 2010, Goodale filed a first amended complaint, including McClellan as a plaintiff.

On March 16, 2010, Teresa Lorello contacted Ireland seeking representation on similar claims against May. Ireland prepared an unopposed motion to amend the complaint to add Lorello to the action. On March 23, 2010, May filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, to stay and compel arbitration. As indicated earlier, on March 25, 2010, May made an offer of judgment, and plaintiffs accepted the offer on April 2, 2010. Because the parties' Rule 68(a) agreement included Lorello's claims, Ireland never filed the motion to amend that he had prepared. The Court entered judgment in favor of plaintiffs on April 7, 2010.

In his fee petition, Ireland contends that he is entitled to a fee rate of $300 per hour for just over seventy-six hours of work, which amounts to $22,830 in attorney's fees, plus $350 in expenses. May argues that the Court should deny Ireland's fee petition altogether. Alternatively, it objects both to Ireland's proposed hourly rate and the attorney time he claims.

Discussion

The FLSA provides "prevailing plaintiffs . . . reasonable attorneys' fees." Batt v. Micro Warehouse, Inc., 241 F.3d 891, 893 (7th Cir. 2001). May's offer of judgment also entitles Ireland to attorney's fees. To determine attorney's fees under the FLSA, courts "will generally follow the 'lodestar' approach, multiplying a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation." Small v. Richard Wolf Med. Instruments Corp., 264 F.3d 702, 707 (7th Cir. 2001).

A. Entitlement to Fees

May contends that plaintiffs' victory was purely technical or de minimis and thus Ireland is entitled to no fee. The Court disagrees. May bases its argument on Sahyers v. Prugh, Holliday & Karatinos, P.L., 560 F.3d 1241 (11th Cir. 2009), and Cartwright v. Stamper, 7 F.3d 106 (7th Cir. 1993). The court in Sahyers determined that the attorney made no effort and "slavishly followed his client's instructions." Sahyers, 560 F.3d at 1245. By contrast, the record in this case clearly reflects that Ireland invested time and effort into this matter for which he should be compensated. And unlike in Cartwright, the plaintiffs in this case did not merely recover nominal damages after seeking a substantial award. In sum, there is no basis to deny Ireland attorney's fees altogether.

B. Hourly Rate

An attorney's reasonable hourly rate must reflect his market rate, "defined as the rate that lawyers of similar ability and experience in the community normally charge their paying clients for the type of work in question." Small, 264 F.3d at 707(internal quotation marks and citation omitted). The fee applicant bears the burden of proving his market rate. His own billing rate for comparable work can serve to help satisfy his burden. Id. If the court cannot determine the attorney's market rate because he "maintains a contingent fee or public interest practice," the applicant may prove his billing rate "by submitting affidavits from similarly experienced attorneys attesting to the rates they charge paying clients for similar work, or by submitting evidence of fee awards that the applicant has received in similar cases." Id.

As indicated earlier, Ireland contends that he is entitled to a fee rate of $300 per hour. In support, he has submitted his own affidavit and affidavits from other attorneys who, like him, practice from the suburbs of Chicago.

Ireland has practiced law since 2004; he opened his own law firm in 2007. He concentrates on civil rights and employment discrimination matters. Ireland works mostly on a contingency fee basis but sometimes bills low-income clients at rates of $100 to $200 per hour. He also sometimes provides services for a fixed fee, which he estimates breaks down to an effective rate of $100 to $300 per hour depending on the engagement. Ireland states that based on research of the rates of other law firms in Chicago, most attorneys performing employment discrimination, civil rights, and other litigation work charge between $250 and $700, depending on the attorney performing the work. He has provided documentation of a fee award to attorneys in another FLSA matter at hourly rates of $300 and $375. Ireland has also provided a decision by the Illinois Human Rights Commission awarding him fees at a $200 hourly rate.

Ireland lists a number of factors that he contends made this case more complicated than most FLSA cases: his clients were not Illinois residents; May's pay system was complex and unusual; additional work was required due to an arbitration provision in May's ...


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