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Miller v. Illinois Department of Transportation

United States District Court, S.D. Illinois

March 26, 2014

DARRELL LYNN MILLER, Plaintiff,
v.
ILLINOIS DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION, Defendant.

ORDER

STEPHEN C. WILLIAMS, Magistrate Judge.

This case was brought pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12205. (Doc. 2). For the purposes of trial, the Court divided Plaintiff's case into four claims: Count I, failure to provide reasonable accommodation; Count II, discrimination by keeping on leave status; Count III, discrimination by termination; and Count IV, retaliation by termination. Counts I through III were tried to the jury, while the Court decided Count IV. After a four day trial, the jury found in favor of Plaintiff on Count 1 regarding failure to provide reasonable accommodation, and Count II, discrimination by keeping on leave status. (Doc. 124). They awarded $27, 000 in damages on these counts. Later, the Court ordered additional equitable relief in the amount of $15, 836.60 plus the restoration of various job benefits. The jury found in favor of Defendant Illinois Department of Transportation ("IDOT") on Count III, discrimination by termination. (Doc. 124). Likewise, the Court found in favor of IDOT on Count IV, Plaintiff's retaliation claim. This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Costs. (Doc. 138). For the reasons that follow, the Court awards attorney's fees of $73, 809 and litigation costs in the amount of $2, 054.85.

Section 12205 of the ADA provides: "In any action... the court or agency, in its discretion may allow the prevailing party... a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses and costs." 42 U.S.C. § 12205. Generally, courts consider requests for attorney's fees under the ADA using the same standard of 42 U.S.C. § 1988. See Webb v. James, 967 F.Supp. 320, 322 (N.D. Ill. 1997). Therefore, a party seeking attorney's fees is required to show 1) that it is a prevailing party and 2) that its request is reasonable. Id. (citing Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 109-14 (1992)).

1. Prevailing Party Analysis

A judgment for compensatory damages makes a plaintiff a prevailing party. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12 (1992). IDOT strongly implies that Plaintiff is not a prevailing party because he has not prevailed on all of the claims presented to the jury. For example, IDOT suggests that Simpson v. Sheahan requires the use of the Farrar test[1] to determine whether a party has achieved sufficient success to be entitled to attorney's fees. This is a hollow argument. Simpson does not stand for the proposition that the Farrar test should be used to determine whether a plaintiff prevailed. Less than complete success on all claims is more relevant to the Court's analysis of the reasonableness of the attorney's fee award, not to the prevailing party analysis. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) ("A typical formulation is that plaintiffs may be considered prevailing parties for attorney's fees purposes if they succeed on a significant issue in litigation with achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit. This is a generous formulation that brings the plaintiff only across the statutory threshold. It remains for the district court to determine what fee is reasonable.") (internal quotation marks and citations omitted); Simpson, 104 F.3d at 1001 (finding the district court was correct when it determined that plaintiff was a prevailing party' where the jury awarded plaintiff $140 in damages). Plaintiff has established that he is a prevailing party, and the remaining question is whether his proposed method of calculating fees is reasonable.

2. Reasonable Fee Approaches

Once a party "prevails, " courts must calculate a reasonable fee. In this Circuit, there are two approaches. The lodestar approach permits an attorney to recover the reasonable market rate for services rendered. See Pennsylvania v. Delaware Valley Citizen's Council for Clean Air, 483 U.S. 711 (1987); Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983). Hensley provides a list of factors for determining a reasonable amount of attorney's fees, but IDOT has argued that the Farrar test is more appropriate here. Farrar applies to cases where there has been "minimal" or nominal recovery, as measured against the amount the plaintiff sought, and the proceedings were largely a waste of time for all involved. Aponte v. City of Chicago, 728 F.3d 724, 727-28 (7th Cir. 2013). A small recovery will not necessarily bar a fee award if the plaintiff was not aiming high at the start, and Hensley is more appropriate where small cases were tried accordingly. Id. at 728 (citing Hyde v. Small, 123 F.3d 583, 585 (7th Cir. 1997)).

Here, Plaintiff recovered approximately $43, 000, plus the restoration of vacation, personal, and sick days. This is a far cry from the cases where the courts have agonized over whether a recovery of $140 or $500 justifies the use of the Hensley test. IDOT has not argued that this amount is minimal compared to the recovery that Plaintiff initially sought; in fact, it has not submitted any evidence about what specific amount Plaintiff was seeking throughout this litigation. Typically, this type of evidence is required to justify the use of the Farrar test. Additionally, the available evidence shows that the recovery was not minimal. The jury verdict forms in this case had a line for nominal damages, which the jurors elected to leave blank in favor of awarding compensatory damages. An explicit award of compensatory damages, like the jury awarded here, militates against finding that the plaintiff's recovery was minimal. Thus, the Court cannot say on this record that Plaintiff's recovery is minimal, nominal, or technical. IDOT has also not argued that the amount of damages is small in comparison to the amount of time spent on the case or the judicial resources consumed, which might also justify the application of Farrar. Therefore, the Court will apply the Hensley factors here.

3. Reasonable Fee Analysis

The basic means of calculating a reasonable attorney's fee under the Hensley or lodestar approach is to multiply the number of hours reasonably expended by a reasonable attorney's rate. Spellan v. Board of Educ. for Dist. 111, 59 F.3d 642, 645 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 430 n. 3 (1983)). The district court may then adjust the award after making such a calculation based on:

the time and labor required; the novelty and difficulty of the questions; the skill requisite to perform the legal services properly; the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; the customary fee; whether the fee is fixed or contingent; time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; the amount involved and the results obtained; the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; the undesirability' of the case; the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and awards in similar cases.

Id.

The District Court has broad discretion in setting an appropriate attorney's fee, and may adjust the level of the award as it sees fit. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437.

The first step then, is to determine a reasonable rate. Any award of attorney's fees should be tied to the going market rate for legal services. Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 283 (1989); People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., School Dist. No. 205, 90 F.3d 1307, 1311 (7th Cir. 1996). If the attorney does not charge a standard rate, but instead runs a public interest practice or bills on contingency, the court should look to other lawyers in the community "of reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation." Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984). The lodestar approach applies even in cases where counsel has proceeded ...


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