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Dallefeld v. The Clubs At River City, Inc.

United States District Court, C.D. Illinois, Peoria Division

November 30, 2017



          James E. Shadid, Chief United States District Judge

         Now before the Court is the Plaintiff, Jason Dallefeld's, Petition for Attorney Fees, Expert Witness Fees, and Costs. (D. 68).[1] The Defendant, The Clubs at River City, Inc., filed a Response (D. 72) and the Plaintiff filed a Reply (D. 74). For the reasons set forth below, the Plaintiff's Petition is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


         The Court and the parties have briefed the background of this case extensively in several prior motions. What follows, are portions of the background relevant to the pleadings presently before the Court.

         The Plaintiff filed the instant suit in June 2015. (D. 1). He claimed two violations of the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), 29 U.S.C. § 2601 et. seq.; two violations of Title I of the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990, 42 U.S.C. § 1211 et. seq.; and retaliatory discharge under Illinois common law. (D. 1 at pg. 1). His claims involved a common core set of facts.

         In August 2017, the Court presided over the Plaintiff's jury trial. The parties stipulated that if the Plaintiff prevailed, the Court would determine his entitlement to “lost compensation, the amount of interest, whether liquidated damages should be reduced, front pay, and reasonable attorney fees and costs of litigation.” (D. 45 at pg. 8). After the Plaintiff presented his case, the Court ruled that one of his FMLA claims failed as a matter of law. The jury subsequently found for the Plaintiff on his other FMLA claim, and for the Defendant on the three remaining counts. (D. 53). Thus, the Plaintiff was successful in one out of five of his claims.

         The Plaintiff filed a Motion for Back Pay shortly after trial concluded (D. 56), asserting that he was entitled to a host of damages-in excess of $417, 000 (D. 57 at pg. 19). The Court granted the Motion in part and denied it in part, awarding him $12, 846.84 in back pay and benefits and $1, 430.62 in prejudgment interest. (D. 67). Shortly thereafter, the Plaintiff filed the instant Petition, arguing that he is entitled to recover $108, 994.32 in reasonable attorney fees and litigation costs. (D. 68).

         Standard of Review

         Once a plaintiff has obtained a judgment on an FMLA claim, the Court must allow the plaintiff to recover “a reasonable attorney's fee, reasonable expert witness fees, and other costs of the action to be paid by the defendant.” 29 U.S.C. § 2617(a)(3); Franzen v. Ellis Corp., 543 F.3d 420, 430 (7th Cir. 2008). “The district court may then, at its discretion, increase or reduce the [] amount by considering a variety of factors. If a district court elects to reduce a fee award, it must provide a concise but clear explanation of its reasons.” Baier v. Rohr-Mont Motors, Inc., 175 F.Supp.3d 1000, 1019 (N.D. Ill. 2016) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424 (1983); Small v. Richard Wolf Med. Instruments Corp., 264 F.3d 702, 708 (7th Cir. 2001)).

         Generally speaking, courts determine the reasonableness of attorneys' fees using the “lodestar method” articulated in Hensley. 461 U.S. at 433. “There is a strong presumption that the lodestar calculation yields a reasonable attorneys' fee award.” Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 639 (7th Cir. 2011) (citations omitted). Under loadstar, the starting point for calculating fees is “the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433.

         Critical in determining the reasonableness of a fee recovery is “the degree of success” the prevailing party obtained at trial. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 436. The district court can reduce or eliminate the fees awarded as a result of the prevailing party's limited success. Id. This reduction, however, is not automatic. Id. at 424. Even time spent on unrelated contentions stemming from the same set of facts and based on related legal theories which were ultimately unsuccessful are not subject to automatic dismissal. Spanish Action Comm. of Chicago v. City of Chicago, 811 F.2d 1129, 1133 (7th Cir. 1987). Ultimately, however, “where the plaintiff achieved only limited success, the district court should award only that amount of fees that is reasonable in relation to the results obtained.” Hensley, 461 U.S. at 440.


         The events giving rise to this litigation all center on the Plaintiff's fluctuating status as a working employee for the Defendant while recovering from a knee injury and eventually getting surgery to repair it. This culminated in the Defendant's decision to terminate the Plaintiff's employment. Given the common core of facts in the case, the Court is not free to mechanically adjust the Plaintiff's award. Id. at 439. Here, the Defendant does not dispute the reasonableness of the rates asserted by the Plaintiff. (D. 72 at pg. 2). Rather, the parties dispute the extent to which the Plaintiff is entitled to reimbursement.

         Thus, the Plaintiff's success hinges on the Court's determination of whether or not he achieved substantial relief at trial. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 424. In light of the Plaintiff's failure to obtain a favorable verdict in a decisive majority of his claims, the Court finds that a reduction is appropriate. The majority of the Plaintiff's ...

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