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Lizak v. Great Masonry

July 29, 2010

BOGDAN LIZAK, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GREAT MASONRY, INC., AND KRZYSZTOF MENDYS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David H. Coar, United States District Judge

Honorable David H. Coar

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Bogdan Lizak's ("Lizak") brought this action against Defendants Great Masonry, Inc. ("Great Masonry") and Krzysztof Mendys ("Mendys") (collectively, "Defendants"), alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1), the Illinois Minimum Wage Law ("IMWL"), and the Illinois Employee Classification Act ("IECA"), § 820 ILCS 185/20. Judgment was entered against Defendants, jointly and severally, in the amount of $78, 902.65, and against Great Masonry alone, for $1,000, plus legal fees and costs.

Before the Court is Lizak's motion to award fees and costs, in which he requests attorneys' fees in the amount of $192,584.00 and costs in the amount of $6,256.04. For the following reasons, the court GRANTS in part Lizak's motion, awarding attorneys' fees in the amount of $61,511.25.

I. Background

This case involved a straightforward and uncomplicated wage and hour dispute. After the dismissal or voluntary withdrawal of Counts II, V, and VI of the complaint, the instant matter proceeded to bench trial on Counts I, III, IV, and VII: failure to pay overtime wages in violation of the FLSA (Count I); retaliatory discharge in violation of the FLSA (Count III); failure to pay overtime wages in violation of the IMWL (Count IV); and failure to identify and classify Lizak as an employee in violation of the IECA (Count VII). As expected from representations made in prior status conferences, Defendants failed to appear at trial on August 19, 2009. Proceedings lasted a single day, in which Lizak presented his case. Lizak then presented a post-trial memorandum.

This Court issued its verdict on September 22, 2009. The Court found in favor of Lizak and against Defendants on Counts I and IV. The Court found in favor of Lizak and against Great Masonry on Count VII. The Court found in favor of Defendants and against Lizak on Count III. Judgment was entered in favor of Lizak and against Defendants, jointly and severally, in the amount of $78,902.65, plus legal fees and costs. Judgment was entered in favor of Lizak and against Great Masonry alone in the additional amount of $1000.00.*fn1

On October 20, 2009, Lizak entered a bill of costs for $4,244.81. On December 21, 2009, Lizak filed a motion to award fees and costs, seeking $192,584.00 in attorneys' fees and renewing his request for costs, but in the increased amount of $6,256.04. No explanation was given as to the discrepancy between the two bills.*fn2 On January 21, 2010, the Court granted costs in favor of Lizak in the amount of $4,244.81, as originally requested.

Lizak's attorneys have not received any payment for their work on this case. See Medcom Holding Co. v. Baxter Travenol Laboratories, Inc., 200 F.3d 518, 520 (7th Cir. 1999)(fees "actually paid in the ordinary course of . . . business" is strong evidence that a fee request is commercially reasonable). Lead attorney Barry Bennett ("Bennett") accepted the case with the understanding that Lizak lacked the resources to pay. Under their agreement, Lizak was not required to make any payments unless Bennett obtained recovery for him. The Bricklayers Union, in return for information developed during the course of the case, paid the out-of-pocket expenses incurred by litigation.

II. Legal Standard

The FLSA provides that, in addition to any judgment awarded, plaintiffs may recover reasonable attorneys' fees. 29 USC § 216(b); see also Batt v. Micro Warehouse, Inc., 241 F.3d 891, 893 (7th Cir. 2001). The IMWL also provides for attorneys' fees to the prevailing party. 820 ILCS 105/12(a).

To calculate an appropriate fee award, courts start with the "lodestar" amount, reached by "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); see also Hensely v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). Under this approach, the party seeking fees bears the burden of proving the reasonableness of the hours worked and rates claimed. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 436. A good faith effort must be made to exclude excessive, redundant, or unnecessary hours. Id. at 434. The Court, for its part, must exclude hours it deems inadequately documented or not reasonably expended on the litigation. Id. at 433-34; Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 175 F.3d 544, 550 (7th Cir. 1999).

Once the lodestar amount has been determined, the Court may adjust the award based on a number of factors, including "the complexity of the legal issues involved, the degree of success obtained, and the public interest advanced by the litigation." Gastineau v. Wright, 592 F.3d 747, 748 (7th Cir. 2010). "The standard is whether the fees are reasonable in relation to the difficulty, stakes, and outcome of the case." Id. (quoting Connolly v. Natl. School Bus Serv., Inc., 177 F.3d 593, 597 (7th Cir. 1999)); see also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 430 n. 3 (1983) (listing "the novelty and difficulty of the questions" and "the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly" as two of the factors determining a fee award).

When making reductions, a court cannot simply "eyeball the fee request and cut it down by an arbitrary percentage because it seemed excessive to the court." People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., 90 F.3d 1307, 1314 (7th Cir. 1996) (citations and internal quotation marks omitted). Rather, it must provide a "concise but clear explanation of its ...


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