United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
SABRI I. SAMIRAH, Plaintiff,
LORETTA E. LYNCH, Attomey General of the United States, et al., Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
CHARLES RONALD NORGLE, District Judge.
Before the Court is Plaintiff Sabri I. Samirah, Ph.D.'s ("Plaintiff) motion for attorney's fees in the amount of $431, 501.26, and costs in the amount of $10, 284.71, pursuant to the Equal Access to Justice Act, ("EAJA") 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d); 5 U.S.C. § 504, et seq. For the following reasons, Plaintiffs motion is granted in part, and denied in part. Plaintiff is awarded $135, 605 in fees, and $805.07 in costs, for a total award of $136, 410.07.
Throughout the litigation, Plaintiff had a team of non-appointed attorneys working pro bono on his case, led by Attorney Mark A. Flessner ("Flessner"), a partner at Holland & Knight LLP, and Attorney Charles Roth ("Roth"), Director of Litigation for the National Immigrant Justice Center. Plaintiff now seeks reimbursement for his attorneys' fees and costs under the EAJA. According to counsel for Plaintiff, he intends to donate any fees awarded in the instant petition to the National Immigrant Justice Center.
On March 26, 2015, the Court entered an Order finding that Plaintiff was the prevailing party and that the government's position in this protracted immigration litigation was not substantially justified. Accordingly, the Court found that Plaintiff is entitled to attorneys' fees under the EAJA. Subsequently, the parties provided supplemental briefs disputing the exact amounts of fees and costs requested by Plaintiff. The motion is now fully briefed and before the Court.
A. Standard of Decision
The Court has wide discretion when assessing attorneys' fees; nonetheless, it "must apply the correct standard.'" Montanez v. Simon. 755 F.3d 547, 553 (7th Cir. 2014) (quoting Fox v. Vice, 131 S.Ct. 2205, 2216 (2011)). An attorney's fee award must be reasonable; to determine the award, the Court begins by calculating the lodestar, i.e., the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by an attorney's reasonable hourly rate. See Henslev v. Eckerhart. 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); Montanez. 755 F.3d at 553; Schlacher v. Law Offices of Phillip J. Rotche & Assocs., P.C.. 574 F.3d 852, 856 (7th Cir. 2009). The lodestar is a presumptively reasonable fee, but the 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. Objections to Hourly Rates
First, the parties dispute the proper hourly rate of attorneys' fees. "[T]he EAJA caps hourly rates at $125 unless the court determines that an increase in the cost of living or a special factor, such as the limited availability of qualified attorneys for the proceedings involved, justifies a higher fee'____" Muhur v. Ashcroft. 382 F.3d 653, 656 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A)). Plaintiff seeks a cost of living increase for the rates of all of the attorneys who worked on his case, as well as enhanced fees for Flessner and Roth.
1. Cost of Living Increase
With respect to a higher fee due to increases in the cost of living, "the [Consumer Price Index] suffices as proof of an increase in the cost of living, [however, ] claimants must still produce satisfactory evidence that the increase in the cost of living justifies' the rate requested." Sprinkle v. Colvin, 777 F.3d 421, 428 (7th Cir. 2015) (quoting 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A)(ii)). "So claimants must produce evidence that the rate they request is in line with those prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of comparable skill and experience." Id . The government does not contest Plaintiffs calculations using the Consumer Price Index. To "justify" the increase, Plaintiff has produced affidavits from Flessner and Roth regarding their fees. Although Flessner does not directly address the prevailing market rate for services of lawyers with similar skill and experience, he does provide the billing rates that were used for his services by SNR Denton, his former law firm, and Holland & Knight LLP, his current law firm-both of which are located in Chicago. Roth goes further and produces the billing rates for an attorney of similar skill and experience at a law firm in the Chicago market. The Court finds that these affidavits, along with the affidavit of Catherine Matthews who calculated the rates using the Consumer Price Index, justify a higher rate due to the increase in the cost of living. See PL's Mot. and Mem. for Attorney's Fees Under Equal Access to Justice Act Ex. B. The higher rates to account for the cost of living increases for the relevant years will be applied accordingly.
2. Enhanced Fees
As to Flessner and Roth, Plaintiff argues that he should be awarded enhanced fees for their services based on "the limited availability of qualified attorneys, " 28 U.S.C. § 2412(d)(2)(A), and because Flessner and Roth had "some distinctive knowledge or specialized skill needful for the litigation in question, " Pierce v. Underwood, 487 U.S. 552, 572 (1988). To qualify for enhanced fees, a lawyer must have more than "an extraordinary level of the general lawyerly knowledge and ability useful in all litigation." Id . For example, "an identifiable practice specialty such as patent law, or knowledge of foreign law or language" could be considered specialized skill leading to enhanced fees. Id . While immigration attorneys may not be "ipso facto entitled to fees above the statutory ceiling, " factors that can lead to enhanced fees include "immigration lawyers who bring relevant ...