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Vlm Food Trading International, Inc. v. Illinois Trading Co.

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

July 11, 2013

ILLINOIS TRADING CO., et al., Defendants.



Before the Court is Plaintiff VLM Food Trading International's (hereinafter, "VLM") fee petition. For the reasons stated herein, the Court awards a total of $94, 934.27 in fees.


The Court presumes familiarity with its March 5, 2013 opinion and therefore declines to provide an extensive factual background of the case. Instead, the Court only provides those facts relevant for the instant fee petition.

On October 12, 2012, VLM filed suit against Defendants Illinois Trading Company ("ITC"), ITC's President Lawrence N. Oberman ("Oberman"), and The Obee Family Partnership (an Illinois entity which was in the position to control ITC). In its initial Complaint, VLM alleged two claims under the Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act, 7 U.S.C. § 499a et seq. (the "PACA") and two state law claims for breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty. On October 22, 2012, VLM filed an Amended Complaint, adding Defendant FJ Management (d/b/a TAB Bank), and adding a fifth claim against all Defendants for unlawful retention and conversion of PACA trust assets.

After a merits hearing and post-trial briefing, the Court found in favor of VLM on Counts I-IV and found in Defendants' favor on Count V. In its ruling, the Court determined VLM was entitled to attorneys' fees, and directed VLM to submit a fee petition. The Court then granted Defendants twenty-eight days to object to the reasonableness of those fees. See, VLM Food Trading Int'l, Inc. v. Illinois Trading Co., No. 12 C 8154, 2013 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 29791 at *21 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 5, 2013). While VLM filed a timely fee petition, Defendants failed to file any objections within the allotted time. Despite this failure, the Court granted Defendants an additional two weeks to file objections. ECF No. 90. Pursuant to this Order, Defendants filed their objections on May 13, 2013. VLM filed its reply on May 20, 2013.

On July 5, 2013, Defendants filed a Motion requesting that the Court determine the amount of attorneys' fees. Incredibly, when Defendants presented their Motion on July 10, 2013, they informed the Court that they needed a ruling on the issue the very next day because Defendant Oberman was trying to close on the sale of his residence. While the Court has granted this request, it is baffling to think why an attorney would wait until the eleventh hour to demand that the Court issue a ruling the very next day. Conduct of this nature demonstrates a complete lack of respect regarding this Court's schedule and docket. While Defendants may believe this case is the only case or the most important case before the Court, these assumptions are simply inaccurate. Accordingly, while the Court will now proceed with the reasonableness of VLM's fees and costs, it notes that future requests of this nature will not be accommodated.


PACA mandates that perishable agricultural commodities received by a merchant, dealer, or broker as well as the sales proceeds from such commodities, be held in trust for the benefit of unpaid suppliers "until full payment of the sums owing in connection with such transactions has been received." 7 U.S.C. § 499e(c)(2). With respect to whether a prevailing party is entitled to attorneys' fees under PACA, courts have held that "where the parties' contracts include a right to attorneys' fees, they can be awarded as sums owing in connection with perishable commodities transactions under PACA." C.H. Robinson Worldwide, Inc. v. Auster Acquisitions, No. 11-C-105, 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 4808174 at *6 (N.D. Ill. Oct. 11, 2011) (citations omitted).

The Seventh Circuit distinguishes contractual-fee shifting provisions from statutory fee-shifting provisions. See, e.g., Matthews v. Wisconsin Energy Corp., 642 F.3d 565, 572 (7th Cir. 2011). The standard on whether to award fees in a contractual fee-shifting case is a "commercially-reasonable standard and does not require courts to engage in detailed, hour-by-hour review of a prevailing party's billing records." Id. (citations omitted).


VLM's Petition seeks $108, 954.87 in attorneys' fees, costs, and witness travel expenses. Defendants object to the reasonableness of a substantial portion of the entire Petition. They do not dispute the reasonableness of VLM's counsel's hourly rate, and instead argue that the number of hours claimed are "unreasonable, unnecessary, excessive, and inadequately documented." Defs.' Opp. and Objection to Pl.'s Fee Pet. at 8. While Defendants neglect to apply the applicable commercial reasonableness standard in raising these objections, the Court will nevertheless address each in turn. See Matthews, 642 F.3d at 572.

A. Unnecessary Hours

Defendants claim a number of hours in VLM's Petition should be struck because such hours were unnecessary in the instant suit. Specifically, they argue the hours relating to VLM's (1) planned intervention in the Endico action; (2) application for a temporary restraining order; and (3) PACA claims procedure were unnecessary. The Court will address each in turn.

1. Endico Action

VLM seeks $2, 469.50 for the 10.8 hours it spent reviewing the docket of another PACA case filed against Defendant ITC in the Southern District of New York. See Endico Potatoes, Inc. v. Illinois Trading, Co., et al., No. 12-C-7090 (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 20, 2012). Eventually, this case settled on October 10, 2012. VLM claims it spent that time researching and preparing a motion to intervene and preparing a letter to the court in New York. However, it is undisputed that VLM never ...

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