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Rodriguez v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, Seventh Circuit

September 24, 2013




Teresa Rodriguez brought suit against the City of Chicago ("City"), alleging interference with her rights and retaliation in violation of the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 2601 et seq., discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101 et seq., and discrimination in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. §§ 1001 et seq. The court granted the City summary judgment on Rodriguez's ADA claim but allowed her case to proceed on the FMLA claims.[1] Shortly before trial was to commence, on January 6, 2012, the parties notified the court that they had reached a settlement on Rodriguez's remaining FMLA claims. The settlement included a $99, 000 lump-sum payment and also provided for reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. The parties failed to agree on the amount of attorneys' fees and Rodriguez filed the present petition seeking $270, 755.00 in attorneys' fees and $7, 011.64 in costs.[2] For the reasons set forth herein, Rodriguez's petition for attorneys' fees is granted in part and denied in part. The court awards Rodriguez attorneys' fees in the amount of $217, 053.00 and costs and expenses in the amount of $7, 011.64, for a total fee award of $224, 064.64.


Under the FMLA, the prevailing party shall recover an award of reasonable attorneys' fees and costs. See 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(3); Franzen v. Ellis Corp., 543 F.3d 420, 430 (7th Cir. 2008). In ascertaining the amount of the award, the court initially determines the lodestar amount. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983); Johnson v. GDF, Inc., 668 F.3d 927, 929-30 (7th Cir. 2012). The court may then adjust the lodestar amount upward or downward depending on a variety of factors, such as the degree of success, the novelty and difficulty of the issues, and awards in similar cases. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 430 n.3, 434. Although only disputed matters are discussed in this opinion, the court has reviewed all of the materials submitted by the parties in reaching its conclusions.[3]


I. Calculating the Lodestar Amount

To determine the lodestar, the court calculates the number of hours reasonably expended and multiplies that number by a reasonable hourly rate for each moving attorney. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. "An award of the originally calculated lodestar is presumptively reasonable, and it is the City's burden to convince [the court] that a lower rate is required. " Robinson v. City of Harvey, 489 F.3d 864, 872 (7th Cir. 2007) (citations omitted). Rodriguez's request is summarized as follows[4]:

RODRIGUEZ'S LODESTAR CALCULATION Hours Rate Total John Madden 339.7 $350 $118, 895.00 Ylda Kopka 330.6 $250 $82, 650.00 Jacob Shorr 242.3 $225 $54, 517.50 Dara Friedman 51.1 $225 $11, 497.50 Lindsey Goldberg 14.0 $225 $3, 150.00 Total 952.50 $270, 710.00

The City contests the reasonableness of Rodriguez's proposed hourly rates and argues that the proposed lodestar amount is unreasonable because Rodriguez achieved only partial success on her claims. The City contends that the fee award should be no more than $194, 408.14.

A. Reasonableness of Attorney Hourly Rate

Rodriguez bears the initial burden of demonstrating that the requested hourly rates for her attorneys are "in line with those prevailing in the community." Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 640 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11, 104 S.Ct. 1541, 79 L.Ed.2d 891 (1984)). If this burden is met, the City then has the burden to "offer evidence that sets forth a good reason why a lower rate is essential.'" Id. (quoting People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., 90 F.3d 1307, 1313 (7th Cir. 1996)). If Rodriguez fails to satisfy her burden, the court has the authority to determine a reasonable rate. See Uphoff v. Elegant Bath, Ltd., 176 F.3d 399, 409 (7th Cir. 1999).

To substantiate the reasonableness of her hourly rates, Rodriguez provided affidavits from her attorneys, John P. Madden and his associates who worked on the case, Ylda M. Kopka, Jacob B. Shorr, Dara E. Friedman, and Lindsey E. Goldberg. Rodriguez also submitted affidavits from three practicing attorneys working in Chicago specializing in employment discrimination, David E. Lee, J. Bryan Wood, and Marshall J. Burt. Rodriguez additionally provided the court with a summary of eight retainer agreements her attorneys entered into with other clients with similar employment disputes between March 2011 and October 2012. Relying on these materials as support, Rodriguez argues for the following hourly rate: $350 for Mr. Madden; $250 for Ms. Kopka; and $225 for Mr. Shorr, Ms. Friedman, and Ms. Goldberg.[5]

The City first argues that using current market rates for Rodriguez's attorneys would represent a windfall by allowing them to recover their present billing rates for work performed over the past six years. The City argues that her attorneys should be compensated based on a historical hourly rate including interest. The City relies on Garcia v. Oasis Legal Financial Operating Company, in which Mr. Madden and Ms. Kopka's services were respectively valued at a $300 hourly rate and a $185 hourly rate. 608 F.Supp.2d 975, 979-80 (N.D. Ill. 2009). Furthermore, in March 2010, Magistrate Judge Nolan granted Rodriguez's Petition for Attorneys' Fees in connection with a motion to compel compliance with a subpoena, calculating a $300 hourly rate for Mr. Madden, a $185 hourly rate for Ms. Kopka, and a $150 hourly rate for Ms. Friedman.

Rodriguez argues, however, that the court should use the current market rate. Rodriguez notes that this case took six years to reach a resolution and awarding a historical rate would penalize her attorneys because it does not compensate them for the delay in reaching a settlement. In determining how to best compensate an attorney for the delay associated with collecting a fee award, courts may base the award on current rates or use historical rates while adjusting the fee to reflect its present value. See Perdue v. Kenny A ex. rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 556, 130 S.Ct. 1662, 176 L.Ed.2d 494 (2010); Missouri v. Jenkins by Agyei, 491 U.S. 274, 282-84, 109 S.Ct. 2463, 105 L.Ed.2d 229 (1989). The Seventh Circuit has approved of both approaches. See Smith v. Vill. of Maywood, 17 F.3d 219, 221 (7th Cir. 1994); although using the current market rate seems preferred. Lightfoot v. Walker, 826 F.2d 516, 523 (7th Cir. 1987) ("To compensate for the delay in payment and to simplify its calculation, courts often calculate fee awards using current market rates as opposed to historic rates."); see also Skelton v. Gen. Motors Corp., 860 F.2d 250, 255 n.5 (7th Cir. 1988) ("The courts in this circuit generally use current rates."). But see Shott v. Rush-Presbyterian-St. Luke's Med. Ctr., 338 F.3d 736, 745 (7th Cir. 2003) ("[T]he historical-rate-plus-interest method is probably the most accurate and straightforward."); Matter of Continential Ill. Securities Litig., 962 F.2d 566, 571 (7th Cir. 1992) (same).

There is no indication that the delay in resolving this case was the fault of Rodriguez. See In re Milwaukee Cheese Wis., Inc., 112 F.3d 845, 849 (7th Cir. 1997) ("Gratuitous delay by the party seeking the award-delay that injures the other side by forcing it to act as an uncompensated trustee or investment manager-might be a reason to limit an award of interest."). Nor did the City offer any means of calculating an appropriate interest rate that would reflect the present day value of the legal services rendered by Rodriguez's attorneys, which in some instances can actually be higher than an attorney's current market rate. See Lightfoot, 826 F.2d at 523; Dupuy v. McEwen, 648 F.Supp.2d 1007, 1017-18 (N.D. Ill. 2009); Quinones v. City of Evanston, No. 91 C 3291, 1995 WL 656690, at *6 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 6, 1995). The rates that Rodriguez's attorneys previously received in this case and in Garcia do not adequately compensate them for the delay in receiving fees for their work on the case. Using the current market rates for Rodriguez's attorneys is the simpler of the two approaches, see Jones v. R.R. Donnelley & Sons, No. 96 C 7717, 2005 WL 14923, at *4 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 3, 2005), and also fairly ...

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