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Robert S. Johnson v. G.D.F.

March 25, 2011

ROBERT S. JOHNSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
G.D.F., INC., D/B/A DOMINO'S PIZZA, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Ronald A. Guzman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Robert S. Johnson ("Johnson") sued defendant G.D.F., Inc., d/b/a Domino's Pizza ("Domino's") for violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 215. Plaintiff prevailed and thereafter moved for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). This Court referred the motion to Magistrate Judge Morton Denlow. Before the Court are plaintiff's objections to Magistrate Judge Denlow's Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). For the reasons provided in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court adopts the R&R in full.

Facts

In May 2005, Johnson filed a class-action claim against Domino's seeking overtime wages pursuant to Illinois' minimum wage law in state court ("State Action"). (Def.'s Resp.

Pl.'s Objections Magistrate's R&R ("Pl.'s Objs.") at 1.) In June 2005, Domino's terminated plaintiff. (Id.) In July 2007, plaintiff filed the instant action against Domino's claiming that he was terminated in retaliation for filing the State Action for unpaid overtime wages in violation of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3).*fn1 (Id.) The complaint prayed for $75,000.00 in damages. (Compl. ¶ 7.)

During discovery, plaintiff claimed damages of $10,000.00 in back pay plus $10,000.00 in liquidated damages without any supporting documentation. (Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Objs. at 5;

Pl.'s Objs. at 18.) In October 2000, plaintiff increased his back pay damages claim to $13,500.00, again with no supporting documentation. (Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Objs. at 5; Pl.'s Objs. Ex. 8, Pretrial Order.)

In October 2009, a jury trial was held. In plaintiff's opening statement, Ernest Rossiello, plaintiff's attorney, changed plaintiff's position on damages and claimed only $1,000.00 in back pay, noting (for the first time) that plaintiff secured employment at a higher rate of pay three weeks after his termination. (Def.'s Resp. Pl.'s Objs. at 2-3.) Plaintiff prevailed and the jury awarded him $1,000.00 in back pay, and $4,000.00 in punitive damages. (Id. at 1.) After the trial, plaintiff filed a motion to amend the judgment to include liquidated damages, and defendant filed a motion for judgment as a matter of law. This Court denied both motions. Thereafter, both parties appealed to the Seventh Circuit, but through mediation agreed to dismiss their appeals. Defendant agreed to pay plaintiff the $5,000.00 jury verdict plus post-judgment interest of $101.56 and $5,455.00 for dismissing his appeal. In accordance with his fee arrangement with Rossiello, plaintiff will not receive any of the money. (Id. at 4-5.)

Rossiello then moved for attorneys' fees and costs in excess of $112,000.00 under the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 216(b), which provides that prevailing plaintiffs in FLSA cases are entitled to reasonable attorney's fees. The Court referred the motion to Magistrate Judge Denlow for a R&R. Based largely on the fact that the litigation could have been promptly resolved if Rossiello had properly assessed and disclosed at the outset his client's actual damages, Magistrate Judge Denlow disallowed all of Rossiello's associates' time and all but four hours of Rossiello's time as unreasonable and unnecessary. (R&R at 6-7.) Magistrate Judge Denlow also reduced Rossiello's requested hourly rate of $600.00 to $375.00 after considering the fee awards Rossiello had received in other FLSA cases in the Northern District of Illinois. (Id. at 10.) He further disallowed Rossiello's subpoena fees, subpoena service fees and transcript costs because the case should have been settled well before trial, but otherwise awarded Rossiello all other requested costs of $364.20, thereby resulting in an initial fee award of $1,864.20. (Id. at 8, 11.)

Discussion

When a party makes objections to a magistrate judge's recommendations, "[t]he district court is required to conduct a de novo determination of those portions of the magistrate judge's report and recommendations to which objections have been filed." Goffman v. Gross, 59 F.3d 668, 671 (7th Cir. 1995). However, this does not mean the district court must conduct a de novo hearing, "[r]ather the district court has discretion to 'accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate [judge].'" Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)).

The FLSA awards reasonable attorney's fees and costs to prevailing plaintiffs. 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). Plaintiff Johnson prevailed in his FLSA action, and thus, the Court must determine a reasonable attorneys' fee for this case. Reasonable attorney's fees are generally calculated by the lodestar method, which requires the court to multiply the hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate.*fn2 Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). The fee applicant bears the burden of establishing the lodestar amount by providing documentation of appropriate hours and rates. Id. at 434.

A. Number of Hours Expended

In assessing the reasonableness of hours expended, a court has an obligation to exclude hours that are "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." See Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of Chi., 175 F.3d 544, 551 (7th Cir. 1999). Moreover, if any time entry is too vague or otherwise inadequate to allow an assessment of reasonableness, the court may disregard it. Harper v. City of Chi. Heights, 223 F.3d 593, 605 (7th Cir. 2000). Further, in determining whether billed hours were "necessary" and "reasonably expended," the court may consider whether a client would expect counsel to assess the feasibility of a quick ...


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