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Cavada v. City of Chicago

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

August 18, 2014

ALFONSO CAVADA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

CHARLES RONALD NORGLE, District Judge.

Before the Court are Plaintiffs Alfonso Cavada ("Alfonso"), Patricia Cavada ("Patricia"), and Ricardo Aguilar's ("Ricardo") (collectively, "Plaintiffs") motion for attorneys' fees and costs, seeking $55, 175.00, and their motion for additional attorneys' fees, seeking $10, 132.50, for a total of $65, 307.50. Also before the Court is Plaintiffs' motion seeking prejudgment interest on the attorneys' fees. For the following reasons, the motion for attorneys' fees is granted in part and denied in part, the motion for additional attorneys' fees is denied, and the motion for an order granting prejudgment interest on attorneys' fees is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 12, 2013, Plaintiffs initiated this civil rights lawsuit against Defendants Officer Gonzalez, Officer Salgado, Officer Cahue, Officer Silva, Officer Garcia, Officer Vanek, Officer De La Rosa, Officer Rojas, Officer Perez, Officer McNichols, Officer Leahy, and Sergeant Casey (collectively, "Defendant Officers"), alleging excessive force, failure to intervene, and false arrest pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and seeking indemnification against the City of Chicago (the "City") under Illinois state law. The City filed a motion to dismiss the indemnification claim, which was granted on May 24, 2013. After six months of litigation and the completion of written discovery, Defendant Officers tendered an offer of judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 to Plaintiffs in the amount of $10, 001.00 in favor of Alfonso, $27, 501.00 in favor of Patricia, and $2, 501.00 in favor of Ricardo, plus reasonable attorneys' fees and costs accrued to the date of the offer, August 30, 2013, in an amount to be determined by the Court. Plaintiffs accepted the Rule 68 offer on September 9, 2013. Judgment was entered in favor of Plaintiffs and against Defendant Officers on September 30, 2013. Plaintiffs now move for attorneys' fees and costs and an order granting prejudgment interest on attorneys' fees. The motions are fully briefed and before the Court.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Standard of Decision

"Section 1988(b) allows prevailing parties in § 1983 litigation to recover a reasonable attorney's fee, and the district court is in the best position to make the contextual and fact-specific assessment of what fees are reasonable." Montanez v. Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 553 (7th Cir. 2014) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). To determine the amount of a reasonable attorneys' fee award, district courts generally begin by calculating the lodestar, i.e., the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by an attorney's reasonable hourly rate. See Hensley v. Eckerhart , 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); see also Schlacher v. Law Offices of Phillip J. Rotche & Assocs., P.C. , 574 F.3d 852, 856 (7th Cir. 2009). "The district court may then adjust that figure to reflect various factors including the complexity of the legal issues involved, the degree of success obtained, and the public interest advanced by the litigation." Schlacher , 574 F.3d at 856-57 (citations omitted).

B. Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs

Plaintiffs' fee petition seeks $1, 307.84 in costs, and $55, 175.00 in attorneys' fees for 176.6 hours of work, divided between three attorneys, Brendan Shiller ("Shiller"), April Preyar ("Preyar"), and Mary Grieb ("Grieb"), as well as three paralegals as follows:

Attorney Hourly Rate Hours Total Fees Shiller (Partner) $500 36.1 $18, 050[1] Preyar (partner) $500 0.3 $150 Grieb (associate $300 117.6 $35, 280 attorney) Paralegal Roberto Lopez $75 10.9 $817.50 Monica Gonzalez $75 10.5 $787.50 Jason Lopez $75 1.2 $90.00 176.6 $55, 175

1. Hours Expended

Defendant Officers argue that Plaintiffs' fee petition includes an unreasonable and excessive number of hours claimed for attorney labor. "The essential goal in shifting fees (to either party) is to do rough justice, not to achieve auditing perfection. So trial courts may take into account their overall sense of a suit, and may use estimates in calculating and allocating an attorney's time." Fox v. Vice , 131 S.Ct. 2205, 2216 (2011). Furthermore, "in determining the number of hours reasonably expended' by counsel in the litigation, the court should ensure that counsel exercises billing judgment.'" Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of Chi. , 175 F.3d 544, 553 (7th Cir. 1999). In examining whether Plaintiffs' attorneys exercised "billing judgment, " the Court has broad discretion to strike improper or inadequately recorded billing entries such as hours that are not properly billed to one's client, hours billed at an attorney rate for "tasks that are easily delegable to non-professional assistance, " and hours billed at a paralegal rate for clerical tasks. Id . (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Montanez, 755 F.3d at 555-56.

Here, Plaintiffs' attorneys improperly billed for both attorney time and paralegal time spent on administrative and clerical work. For example, Shiller filed numerous court documents such as the complaint, civil cover sheet and appearance forms and billed at $500 an hour for these tasks; Grieb too filed court documents and billed attorney time of $300 an hour for other clerical tasks such as formatting and indexing. Plaintiffs' attorneys also improperly billed time for its paralegals to open the case file, create a hard file, scan files and records, print, and file documents. The Court therefore strikes the billing entries identified by Defendant Officers as clerical tasks, ...


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