Searching over 5,500,000 cases.

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Stragapede v. City of Evanston

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

October 19, 2016



          Hon. Edmond E. Chang, United States District Judge.

         Biagio Stragapede filed this lawsuit, alleging that his former employer, the City of Evanston, discriminated against him in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.[1] On March 13, 2015, after a week-long trial, the jury returned a verdict for Stragapede. R. 127, 03/13/15 Minute Entry.[2] Stragapede now moves under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d) for reasonable attorneys' fees and costs as permitted by the ADA. See R. 225, Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet.; see also 42 U.S.C. § 12205. For the reasons discussed below, the Court awards Stragapede $345, 355.40 in attorneys' fees and $10, 114.27 in costs.

         I. Background

         The Court detailed the facts of this case in its summary judgment opinion, R. 70, and recounted them in its post-trial opinion, R. 191. Only a brief summary of the litigation is necessary for purposes of this opinion.

         Gino Stragapede began working as a water service worker for the City of Evanston in 1996. In 2009, Stragapede suffered a non-work-related head injury while at home. He returned to work in early 2010. Later that year, the City fired Stagapede, and in November 2012, Stragapede filed this lawsuit, alleging that the City discriminated against him in violation of the ADA. After nearly three years of litigation and a week-long trial, the jury returned a verdict for Stragapede. 03/13/15 Minute Entry. The jury awarded Stragapede $225, 000 in compensatory damages for past and future emotional pain and suffering, id., and the Court later held that Stragapede was entitled to $354, 070.72 in back pay plus post-judgment interest, R. 151. The City thereafter moved for a new trial, judgment as a matter of law, remittitur, and amendment of the judgment, all of which the Court denied. See R. 191. The City has since appealed to the Seventh Circuit; the appeal is on the merits of the judgment, so this Court still has jurisdiction to decide the fee petition.

         II. Standard

         In determining the reasonableness of a fee award, the Court begins with the lodestar figure, which represents “the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by the reasonable hourly rate.” See Estate of Enoch v. Tienor, 570 F.3d 821, 823 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). The Court may then adjust that figure based on the factors set forth in Hensley v. Eckerhart, such as the time and labor required, the novelty or difficulty of the case, the degree of the success achieved, the experience and ability of the attorneys, the adequacy of the documentation of the hours, and whether appropriate billing judgment was used. 461 U.S. at 429-30 & n.3. The party requesting the fee has the burden of proving its reasonableness, including the hourly rate and appropriate hours expended. Id. at 437; see also, e.g., Benito M. v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., Dist. 299, 544 F.Supp.2d 713, 720 (N.D.Ill. 2008). Finally, federal district courts have considerable discretion in granting an award of attorneys' fees. See Gastineau v. Wright, 592 F.3d 747, 748 (7th Cir. 2010).

         III. Analysis

         In this case, Stragapede seeks $357, 286.50 in attorneys' fees and $10, 114.27 for related costs.[3] R. 225-1, Joint Statement ¶ 3; Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet. at 2. The City does not dispute that the rates charged by Stragapede's attorneys are reasonable. See R. 225-2, Def.'s Local Rule 54.3(d) Correspondence at 1; R. 225-2 at Exh. 1, Def.'s Local Rule 54.3(d) Objections to Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet. Instead, the City objects to some of the hours expended on the case. Specifically, the City identifies six broad-based objections to Stragapede's fee petition: (1) some entries are duplicative and some work was overstaffed; (2) excessive time was spent on certain legal tasks; (3) “block billed” entries are too vaguely described; (4) some entries charge for clerical work; (5) some entries and costs include improper charges related to the labor arbitration brought by Stragapede's union; and (6) some entry descriptions are excessively redacted so that the City cannot determine their reasonableness. See R. 225-2, Def.'s Local Rule 54.3(d) Correspondence; R. 225-2 at Exh. 1, Def.'s Local Rule 54.3(d) Objections to Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet.; R. 238, Def.'s Resp. Br. In all, the City contends that the total requested fees should be reduced to $238, 779.00, and that the total requested costs should be reduced to $8, 831.40. R. 225-1, Joint Statement ¶ 5; Def.'s Resp. Br. at 1. The Court addresses each set of objections, as well as Stragapede's request for prejudgment interest on the fee award, in turn.[4]

         1. Duplicative Entries and Overstaffing

         The City maintains that Stragapede cannot recover fees for duplicative or redundant work. Def.'s Resp. Br. at 2-5. In particular, the City contends that Stragapede should not receive fees for work done by three of his attorneys-Andrés Gallegos, Jennifer Sender, and Scott Spears[5]-on the grounds that their work was not needed and amounted to inefficient overstaffing. Id. To support this contention, the City points out that none of those attorneys even had to file an appearance in the case and that their work was limited to very discrete aspects of the litigation. Id.

         Courts must “scrutinize fee petitions for duplicative billing when multiple lawyers seek fees.” Schlacher v. Law Offices of Phillip J. Rotche & Assocs., P.C., 574 F.3d 852, 858 (7th Cir. 2009); see also Jardien v. Winston Network, Inc., 888 F.2d 1151, 1160 (7th Cir. 1989). This is in part because law firms have a general tendency to overstaff cases. Jardien, 888 F.2d at 1160. But whether a party's counsel is guilty of staffing overkill depends on the circumstances, including the complexity of the case and the length of the litigation. See, e.g., Berberena v. Coler, 753 F.2d 629, 633 (7th Cir. 1985) (affirming district court's decision refusing to reduce compensable hours where four attorneys worked on the plaintiff's case in part because “[it] was a difficult case with significant social effects”); LaSalvia v. City of Evanston, 2012 WL 2502703, at *2 (N.D.Ill. June 28, 2012) (reducing a second trial attorney's compensable hours after observing that “Plaintiff makes no suggestion that the case was unusually complex”); Dupuy v. McEwen, 648 F.Supp.2d 1007, 1021 (N.D.Ill. 2009) (assessing the defendant's excessive-time objections in light of the “complexity of [the] lawsuit … [as] reflected in the numerous orders and reported decisions issued … over the last decade”). The Court will discuss each of the attorneys to which the City objects.

         a. Andrés Gallegos

         Andrés Gallegos has been Stragapede's personal lawyer since 1998 and was responsible for bringing this case to the law firm. See R. 225-8, Gallegos Aff. ¶ 7. Gallegos investigated Stragapede's case before filing the complaint; communicated with Stragapede and co-counsel throughout the litigation; and intermittently worked on the case during discovery and summary judgment, as well as at trial. See R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. The City maintains that Stragapede should not receive a fee award for any of the time Gallegos billed to the case, and in the alternative, objects to specific itemized entries recorded by Gallegos. R. 225-2, Def.'s Local Rule 54.3(d) Objections to Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet.

         After reviewing the record, the Court concludes that the majority of the time that Gallegos billed to the case was reasonable. The City objects to the 5.30 hours that Gallegos billed for drafting a background memo about the case before Stragapede even filed the complaint. Def.'s Resp. Br. at 3. Even though the entries detailing Gallegos's work on the background memo could be more specific, it is appropriate for attorneys to investigate the merits of a case before filing a complaint. And taking 5.30 hours to memorialize this case's background, given its factual complexities (several discrete events were at issue), is an appropriate amount of time. See Duran v. Town of Cicero, 2012 WL 1279903, at *4 (N.D.Ill. Apr. 16, 2012) (concluding that hours billed to investigating a case was reasonable after observing that “[t]he 6.9 hours seems an appropriate amount of time, and we have no reason to be skeptical about it”).

         Likewise, the 2.50 hours that Gallegos billed for finalizing the complaint and the 1.70 hours he billed for reviewing a research clerk's research memo in October 2012 are also reasonable. Gallegos and Tracy Stevenson (Gallegos's co-counsel and Stragapede's lead trial counsel) spent less than 10 hours combined on drafting the multi-count complaint. And spending a modest amount of time reviewing applicable ADA law-it is not as if Gallegos spent hours and hours conducting the research himself-to ensure that the allegations in the complaint were sufficient to survive a motion to dismiss does not constitute duplicative work. See Duran, 2012 WL 1279903, at *5 (observing that “the drafting of the complaint in this case was a major project in itself, and conferring with co-counsel, who would share responsibility for it, was necessary”). Stragapede receives credit for all of these entries.

         There is, however, one entry[6] that evidences overstaffing. Gallegos billed two hours to “[a]ttend trial” on March 9, 2015. See R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. The problem is that the entry does not describe what Gallegos actually did during those two hours, other than “attend” the trial. In light of Gallegos's limited role in the litigation immediately leading up to trial, the Court can only surmise that he merely observed the proceedings that day. What's more, in addition to Gallegos, two other partners (Stevenson and Scott Spears) also billed time to attending the trial on March 9, 2015. Though this case was fairly complex, it did not warrant three partners' participation at the trial. See Smith v. Altman, 2015 WL 5675376, at *9 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 21, 2015) (reducing counsels' fees after observing that “throughout the trial it was clear that the three attorneys at counsel table, plus the additional associate and law clerk sometimes in attendance, was overstaffing”). The fact that the Court will credit Spears for his participation at trial, see infra Section III.1.c., further supports striking the time Gallegos billed for merely attending the trial. Gallegos's hours, therefore, are reduced by 2.00 hours.

         b. Jennifer Sender

         Jennifer Sender, another partner at the firm, spent a total of 14.30 hours working on the case. See R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart; R. 225-9, Sender Aff. ¶ 4. Specifically, Sender edited Stragapede's combined reply to his motion for summary judgment and response to the City's cross-motion for summary judgment. R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart; Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet. at 11-13. Stragapede asserts that Sender jumped-in to oversee the “final preparation of the [c]ross [m]otions for [s]ummary [j]udgment while Ms. Stevenson was unavailable, ” and maintains that this type of oversight over complex motions is “reasonable and not merely overzealous overstaffing … .” Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet. at 11-13. The City objects to all 14.30 hours billed by Sender on this case. See Def.'s Resp. Br. at 4-5. This is because Sender's time “is block billed [and] billed concurrently with … time purportedly incurred by [two] other partners and one associate.” Id. at 4.

         Stragapede will not receive fees for Sender's work on the case. Sender had nothing to do with the case aside from the 14 hours she spent on one summary judgment brief. It would have been much more efficient for Stevenson, or even Gallegos (who was already familiar with the case), to edit and revise that brief. And although Stragapede asserts that Sender only worked on the case “wh[en] Ms. Stevenson was unavailable, ” Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet. at 12, there is no evidence to back that assertion up. Indeed, the Court granted Stragapede a 21-day extension (in addition to the 14 days initially allotted) to file the combined reply and response brief. See R. 28, 10/09/13 Minute Entry; R. 52, 12/09/13 Minute Entry. And even if Stevenson was wholly unavailable during that 35-day period-an assumption that the time entries disprove-Stragapede offers no explanation as to why Sender, and not Gallegos, was the appropriate person to oversee “the final preparation[s] … .”[7]Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet. at 11. The Court hastens to add that Sender's fees are unreasonable for another reason: Stragapede's counsel spent at least 85 hours (the Court calculated 87.90 hours) on the combined reply and response brief alone.[8] To be fair, the summary judgment briefing was fairly robust. And it is not unreasonable to credit time spent by more than one attorney on drafting and editing a court filing. See Dupuy, 648 F.Supp.2d at 1020 (rejecting the defendant's objections to duplicated effort after observing that “[o]ften, one attorney was obviously the draftsman of a court filing, and the other the primary editor”). But even so, this does not support Sender's work on the brief. Because Stevenson or Gallegos, and not Sender, should have been the partner in charge of overseeing the summary judgment briefs, the Court declines to award Stragapede any fees for Sender's work on the case.[9]

         c. Scott Spears

         Scott Spears began working on this case less than a month before trial.[10] His work included “assist[ing] [with] … final trial preparation, client preparation[, ] and witness coordination during trial and immediately before trial.” Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet. at 13. The City asserts that Stragapede is not entitled to any fees for this work because he was a late addition to the trial team who did not play any substantive role at trial. Def.'s Resp. Br. at 5.

         But the fact that Spears joined the case just weeks before trial is not, by itself, evidence of overstaffing. See Smith, 2015 WL 5675376, at *9 (declining to reduce counsels' fees by 20% solely based on “the addition of Ms. Yarusso to the trial team”). What matters is whether his work on the case was reasonable. See Schlacher, 574 F.3d at 858-59; see also, e.g., LaSalvia, 2012 WL 2502703, at *2 (disallowing award for a second attorney added shortly before trial after concluding that “Plaintiff has failed to establish that it was reasonable for Mr. Dolezel to bill 56.25 hours in this case”).

         Based on the record, the Court concludes that, generally speaking, the time Spears spent preparing for trial and assisting Stevenson during the trial was reasonable. In terms of trial preparation, Spears, among other things, prepared witness examinations, worked through trial exhibit issues with Stevenson and Lamar (a paralegal), conducted research and prepared a motion on the use of deposition testimony at trial, and familiarized himself with the Court's rules on the presentation of evidence. R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart; see also Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet. at 13 (“Spears … was called upon to assist in the final trial preparation, client preparation and witness coordination during trial and immediately before trial.”). The billing records in no way suggest that these tasks were duplicative of other attorneys' work. And the City, for its part, makes no effort to “point out what a particular entry might duplicate.” Soleau v. Ill. Dep't of Transp., 2011 WL 2415008, at *8 (N.D.Ill. June 9, 2011); id. at *7 (“IDOT marked the time entries it believes are duplicative with a ‘D.' This approach is largely unhelpful because IDOT does not explain what each entry is duplicative of, leaving the court to-guess as to the basis for the objection.”). See also Def.'s Resp. Br. at 5 (“Simply put, the number of duplicative hours supposedly worked by Mr. Spears fails to equal the number of hours reasonably expended.”). Based on the Court's review of the billing records, it seems that (for the most part) Spears and Stevenson were the only attorneys working on the case as the trial approached[11] and the only two attorneys at counsel's table during trial.[12] True, Spears did not examine any witnesses or present before the jury, but there is nothing to suggest that his role at trial was that of a mere observer.[13] See Clark v. Oakhill Condo. Ass'n, Inc., 2011 WL 1296719, at *9 (N.D. Ind. Mar. 31, 2011) (overruling the plaintiff's objection after observing that “[n]othing in th[e] record supports a finding that … [a second attorney's] presence at the injunction hearing was merely as an observer”). Given the complexity of the case-in light of the factual and legal issues involved and the breadth of the evidence, including the number of witnesses presented at trial-it would have been very difficult for Stevenson to have done the job alone. Dupuy, 648 F.Supp.2d at 1020-21 (recognizing that “having a number of attorneys in court to handle a complicated civil rights matter … may be an appropriate expenditure of resources”). Spears's involvement leading up to and at the trial was not unreasonable.

         That being said, there are a few entries that the Court takes issue with- namely, the 4.00 hours that Spears billed on March 2, 2015 to “[m]eet with client for trial preparation, ” and the 8.00 hours he billed two days later to the same. R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. As the City points out, these entries, which cover several hours of time, “leave[] the Court without any means of discerning what, if any, compensable legal work he contributed during those [12] hours.” Def.'s Resp. Br. at 5 (emphasis in original); see also Soleau, 2011 WL 2415008, at *9 (concluding that attorney's entries, which stated, “[r]eview and work on trial preparation planning and related matters, ” was sufficient in part because “she did not block bill for the time[.] Instead, she billed for times ranging from 0.5 to 1.5 hours”). So, the Court grants the City's objection as to those two entries, and as a result, strikes 12.00 hours of Spears's time from the fee request.

         One final point: although it was reasonable for Spears to bill for the trial, there is no reason why Stragapede needed two attorneys, plus a paralegal and a research clerk there. This amounted to overstaffing. See Smith, 2015 WL 5675376, at *9 (“[T]hroughout the trial it was clear that the three attorneys at counsel table, plus the additional associate and law clerk sometimes in attendance, was overstaffing … .”). The billing records (along with the Court's memory of the trial) can account for the roles that Stevenson, Spears, and the paralegal played in the trial. The records do not, however, sufficiently identify what legal tasks the research clerk worked on while at trial on March 9 and 10, 2015. See R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. So, the Court will reduce the legal clerk's hours by 11.00 hours.[14]

         2. Excessive Time

         Next, the City objects to Stragapede's fee request on the grounds that “many entries seek[] clearly unreasonable, excessive time.” Def.'s Resp. Br. at 6. For the most part, these objections concern time that Desiree Lauricella billed to internal conferences and time that Christine Frymire billed to attending the post-trial settlement conference and damages hearing.[15] Id. at 6-7. Both Lauricella and Frymire were associates who worked on the case. Id.

         a. Desiree Lauricella

         Lauricella was in charge of the nuts-and-bolts of discovery and drafted Stragapede's summary judgment briefs. The City emphasizes that “former associate Lauricella … billed for at least 32 ‘internal' conferences over 2 years (but only [once] … did Lauricella ‘no-charge' an internal conference).” Def.'s Resp. Br. at 6.

         Courts may award fees for inter-office communications so long as the time spent communicating is “reasonably expended.” Tchemkou v. Mukasey, 517 F.3d 506, 511-12 (7th Cir. 2008); see also, e.g., Bd. of Educ. of Chi. v. Walker, 800 F.Supp.2d 917, 925 (N.D.Ill. 2011). In fact, the Seventh Circuit has recognized that “[t]he practice of law often, indeed usually, involves significant periods of consultation among counsel.” Tchemkou, 517 F.3d at 511. This is because “[t]alking through a set of authorities or seeking advice on a vexing problem is often significantly more efficient than one attorney's trying to wade through the issue alone.” Id. at 511-12. To ensure that the amount of time billed to internal communications was “reasonably expended, ” attorneys should “identify explicitly the subject matter of their discussions … .” Id. at 512.

         After reviewing Lauricella's billing records, the Court finds that the amount of time she spent on the 32 or so internal conferences was reasonable. To start, 32 internal conferences over a period of two years that spanned both the discovery and summary judgment phases of the litigation is not overkill-that averages out to 1.33 internal conferences per month. See Koziara v. BNSF Ry. Co., 2016 WL 4435299, at *2-3 (W.D. Wis. Aug. 19, 2016) (reducing the amount of time billed for internal conferences based on their frequency-the defendant's attorneys spent between 170 and 185 hours on “inter-office conferences”). That these conferences were generally brief-many were only 0.10 or 0.20 hours long-also suggests that the time Lauricella billed for these conferences was not excessive. More importantly, Lauricella's entries identify the particular legal task or stage of litigation actually discussed during these conferences, such as document review and production, deposition prep, or summary judgment briefing.[16] In short, it is reasonable that Lauricella, the only associate on the case at the time, would have regularly discussed work assignments and her work product with Stevenson and Gallegos, the two main partners on the case.

         There is one problematic entry, however. Specifically, the 0.40 hours that Lauricella billed on August 2, 2013 to “[m]eet with … Gallegos re: outcome of deposition of Judy Napoleon.” R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. If “neither Gallegos nor Lauricella prepared for or even attended the Napoleon deposition, ” as the City contends, see Def.'s Resp. Br. at 6 (and the billing records do suggest that the City is right, see R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart), then there is reason to question the purpose of this follow-up meeting. If Lauricella had explained in the entry why she and Gallegos met to discuss the Napoleon deposition-for example, maybe the discussion was necessary in order to adequately prepare for other witnesses' depositions-then perhaps the meeting would constitute “reasonably expended” time. But Lauricella did not do this, so those 0.40 hours will not count. Aside from that one entry, there is nothing to suggest that Lauricella wasted time corresponding with other attorneys, so the Court will only reduce the hours she billed for internal conferences by 0.40 hours.

         b. Christine Frymire

         Frymire started working as an associate on the case in May 2015. (Before that, Frymire worked as a law clerk on Stragapede's case.) The City contends that her “mere ‘attendance'” at the settlement conference and damages hearing in spring 2015 “is clearly not compensable under the case law … .” Def.'s Resp. Br. at 7. Stragapede disagrees. He asserts that “it is not … unusual or improper to have a junior associate … attend [a] settlement conference[] or damages hearing[], both of which included attendance by [Stragapede].” R. 239, Pl.'s Reply Br. at 5.

         As the Court has already pointed out, see supra Section III.1.c., whether it is reasonable to have more than one attorney at a court proceeding depends on the complexity of the case. Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. v. Mut. Trading Corp., 63 F.3d 516, 525 (7th Cir. 1995) (affirming trial court's assessment that “it was not unreasonable for more than one attorney to attend certain pretrial motions in a complex litigation which spanned over four years and entailed substantial discovery”). And while simply billing to “attend” a court proceeding may be cause for concern, surrounding entries can help provide necessary context. See Berberena, 753 F.2d at 634 (“The entries that the defendants single out, although vague when read in isolation, are not impermissibly vague when viewed in the context of the surrounding documentation.”); Soleau, 2011 WL 2415008, at *8 (“Each entry should be considered in context of the surrounding entries.” (citing Berberena, 753 F.2d at 634)).

         Based on the complexity of the case and the role that Frymire played in preparing for the settlement conference and damages hearing, it was reasonable that both she and Stevenson attended those proceedings. To start, after the jury trial, the Court “set[] th[e] case on two tracks at the same time: additional post-trial litigation and a settlement-conference referral.” R. 131, 03/30/15 Minute Entry. The parties then had to prepare for both proceedings simultaneously. After the parties failed to reach a settlement by June 2, 2015, see R. 143, the Court held the evidentiary hearing on equitable damages just one week later, see R. 144. Stragapede testified at that hearing. Id. Not only was a lot going on during this time, but the proceedings were high-stakes and highly substantive. What's more, Frymire's billing record shows that she played a substantial role in researching damages-related issues and drafting the post-trial briefs in support of damages. See R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. Though Frymire may not have presented Stragapede's case at the post-trial proceedings, her familiarity with the issues warranted her presence. The City's objections are overruled.

         3. Block Billing and Vague Entries

         The City complains about “block-billing” and vague entries. See Def.'s Resp. Br. at 7-9. It asserts that many entries “mak[e] it impossible to determine whether the time spent [on a task] was reasonable and allowable.” Id. at 7. Of the nearly 150 entries that the City objects to, it maintains that over half of those entries should be struck for block-billing or vagueness. See R. 225-2 at Exh. 1, Def.'s Local Rule 54.3(d) Objections to Pl.'s Am. Fee Pet. In its response brief, the City further highlights ten or so block-billed entries that it contends are particularly troublesome. These entries include 28.20 hours Spears billed for attending the trial; 10.20 hours Lauricella billed over a two-day period in October 2013 for drafting Stragapede's Rule 56.1 statement of facts in support of his summary judgment motion; and 13.90 hours Stevenson billed over three days to “trial preparation, ” as well as 11.00 hours she billed on the final day of trial. See Def.'s Resp. Br. at 8-9; see also R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. The Court will address these particular objections-except for the hours Spears billed while at trial, which the Court has already ruled were reasonable, see supra Section III.1.c.-before analyzing whether any other entries the City objected to as block-billed or vague should be struck.

         Courts refer to “the market-that is, the level of detail paying clients find satisfactory” when scrutinizing the level of detail in attorneys' time entries. Delgado v. Mak, 2009 WL 211862, at *4 (N.D.Ill. Jan. 29, 2009) (quotation marks and citation omitted); accord In re Synthroid Mktg. Litig., 264 F.3d 712, 722 (7th Cir. 2001) (“[T]he amount of itemization and detail required is a question for the market. If counsel submit bills with the level of detail that paying clients find satisfactory, a federal court should not require more.”). Attorneys, at a minimum, “should identify the general subject matter of [their] time expenditures.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437 n.12. Generally, this means “a description of ‘the tasks performed, the people involved, and a general statement of the topic of conversation or review.'” Soleau, 2011 WL 2415008, at *8 (quoting Clark, 2011 WL 1296719, at *8). Importantly, the Seventh Circuit has observed that “[a]lthough ‘block billing' does not provide the best possible description of attorneys' fees, it is not a prohibited practice.” Farfaras v. Citizens Bank and Trust of Chi., 433 F.3d 558, 569 (7th Cir. 2006).

         Lauricella “block-billed” 3.30 hours to “[b]egin drafting Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts” on October 29, 2013 and another 6.90 hours the next day to “[c]ontinue drafting Rule 56.1 Statement of Facts.” R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. To be sure, Lauricella could have broken this description down into sub-tasks-for example, the number of hours spent on particular events or issues-but there is no reason to doubt that the 10.20 hours she spent on that portion of Stragapede's summary judgment motion was reasonable. Though the City tries to minimize the amount of work that goes into generating a Rule 56.1 statement of facts, see Def.'s Resp. Br. at 8 (“Ms. Lauricella block billed over 10 hours to prepare a 63 item [Rule] 56.1 statement of facts. It is impossible to decipher … whether that amount of time is reasonable (but it appears at least 10 minutes were billed for each item, some of which were simple jurisdictional notes).”), the Court is well aware that Rule 56.1 statements, particularly 63-item ones, require a lot of effort to generate. Each paragraph in the statement must be tied back to a part of the discovery record, and often judgment must be used in crafting the paragraph so that it is helpful to the client yet precise enough that the opposing side must admit the fact (or if the opposing side denies the paragraph, the denial is not persuasive). Because “the hours are not out of line here, ” Delgado, 2009 WL 211862, at *5 (quotation marks and citations omitted), the Court declines to reduce Stragapede's fees based on these time entries.

         Stevenson's “block-billed” entries also pass muster. Beginning on February 12, 2015, Stevenson billed 13.90 hours to “trial preparation” over a three-day period. See R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. The lack of detail in these entries is permissible because of the context and because Stevenson was the lead trial counsel. As the lead trial attorney for Stragapede, it is unsurprising that Stevenson worked long hours before the trial. What's more, the total time that Stevenson spent on trial prep, including pre-trial filings, between February and March 2013 is more than reasonable, further confirming that Stevenson did not waste time billing to frivolous, non-legal tasks. See Duran, 2012 WL 1279903, at *9 (refusing to make reductions for block-billed entries after observing that “th[e] five-month period right before trial is unlikely to have involved much wasted time (on either side). The court is therefore inclined to be much more tolerant of time entries for this period that are lacking in specificity.”).

         The same goes for the 11.00 hours Stevenson block-billed on March 13, 2015 (the final day of trial) to “[a]ttend trial; JoEllen Earl and closings; research and prepare for new damages.” R. 225-1, Stevenson Aff. at Exh. B, Fees Chart. See Duran, 2012 WL 1279903, at *9 (crediting attorney's time for “trial preparations; trial” after noting that “[w]e know what [the attorney] was doing because, in large part, we saw him doing it. That he worked long hours before and after the close of each trial is no surprise; it is what a trial lawyer must to do [sic] to be successful, and we have no doubt that he did it.”). And even if some of this time was actually spent waiting for a jury verdict, as the City contends (and notably Stragapede does not deny it), the Court still declines to discount any portion of this 11.00 hour block-billed entry. To be sure, there are a few courts in this District that have declined to award fees for time spent awaiting the jury's verdict. See Gibson v. City of Chi., 873 F.Supp.2d 975, 987, 991 (N.D.Ill. 2012) (discounting attorneys' time spent waiting for the verdict after observing that “[the plaintiff] makes no arguments in support of his request for recovery of fees for the time expended waiting for and speaking with the jurors after the verdict”); LaSalvia, 2012 WL 2502703, at *3 (“Not only does this description somewhat obfuscate the specific tasks that counsel performed over the 7.5 hour period, but counsel's time appears to include time awaiting the jury's verdict, which courts have held is not compensable.”); Warfield v. City of Chi., 733 F.Supp.2d 950, 959-60 (N.D.Ill. 2010) (“The Court will also deduct 9 hours of time spent ‘waiting for the verdict' from Thompson's billed hours as these hours were not ‘reasonably expended.'”). In at least one of those cases, Warfield v. City of Chicago, counsel billed an entire day-time that easily could have been spent working on another case-solely to waiting for the verdict (in other words, no time was spent on presenting the case itself for that day). 733 F.Supp.2d at 959-60. In contrast, here, the timing of closing arguments and the Court's instructions to the lawyers would have made it unreasonably difficult to work on other matters. Specifically, closing arguments ended around 3:30 p.m. on March 13, 2015. In order to expedite the handling of any notes or questions from the jury, and because the end of the day was arriving relatively soon, the Court ordered the parties to stay in the courthouse and check-in at 4:30 p.m. See R. 176, 03/13/15 Trial Tr. at 1188:16-17 (“The Court: Please stay in the building and check back in at 4:30.”). The Court gave the jury the option to deliberate past 4:30 p.m., which the jury did (they returned a verdict around 6:30 p.m.). It would have been nearly impossible for Stevenson to work on another case during this time (or even have the foresight to bring other work to do). So, even if Stevenson billed time to waiting for the jury's verdict, under these circumstances, the Court finds that these hours were reasonably billed.

         The City objects to a plethora of other entries for improper block-billing and vagueness. The Court has reviewed these entries-both the descriptions contained therein and their context-and concludes that “the hours expended were reasonable and necessary to the conduct of the litigation.” Crispin R., Jr. v. Bd. of Educ. of Chi., Dist. 299, 2010 WL 3701328, at *6 (N.D.Ill. Sept. 10, 2010). The City's claim that the entries are too sparse is therefore rejected.

         4. ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.