United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
OPINION AND ORDER
L.ELLIS, United States District Judge
years of litigation over Plaintiff Christian Assembly Rios de
Agua Viva's (the “Church”) failed attempt to
purchase property in the City of Burbank, Illinois (the
“City”) with the intent to use that property for
religious purposes, the parties reached a settlement on
January 8, 2018 on the eve of a damages trial. The Court had
previously found that the City's prior zoning ordinance
violated the equal terms provision of the Religious Land Use
and Institutionalized Persons Act (“RLUIPA”), 42
U.S.C. § 2000cc, and that the Church could recover
damages on this specific claim. See Doc. 113 at
16-24. Pursuant to the terms of the settlement, the City
agreed to pay the Church $176, 000, with the Court resolving
the matter of attorneys' fees and costs. The parties
further agreed that the Church would only seek fees related
to the litigation of the case in federal court, and not its
state court component, and that the Church could recover fees
for litigating the fee petition. The Church filed its fee
petition on February 8, 2018, requesting $747, 025.00 in
attorneys' fees and $10, 202.45 in costs. Having reviewed
the Church's petition and the City's objections, the
Court finds reasonable a reduced award of $234, 627.75 in
attorneys' fees, with additional fees for the litigation
of the fee petition and costs to be determined upon the
submission of additional documentation.
Court may, in its discretion, award reasonable attorneys'
fees to the prevailing party in an RLUIPA action. 42 U.S.C.
§ 1988(b). In deciding the reasonable award of
attorneys' fees, the Court begins by calculating the
lodestar amount. Johnson v. GDF, Inc., 668 F.3d 927,
929 (7th Cir. 2012). The lodestar amount is calculated by
multiplying the hours reasonably expended by the
plaintiff's attorneys by their reasonable hourly rates.
Id. The Court may then adjust the lodestar amount
depending on a variety of factors, including the degree of
success, the novelty and difficulty of the issues, awards in
similar cases, and the relationship between the lodestar
amount and the damages awarded. Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 430 n.3, 434, 103 S.Ct. 1933,
76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983).
Attorney Billing Rates
reasonable hourly rate is based on the local market rate for
the attorney's services, ” with “[t]he best
evidence of the market rate . . . the amount the attorney
actually bills for similar work.” Montanez v.
Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 553 (7th Cir. 2014). If not
available, then the Court “may rely on evidence of
rates charged by similarly experienced attorneys in the
community and evidence of rates set for the attorney in
similar cases.” Id. “The fee applicant
bears the burden of ‘producing satisfactory evidence-in
addition to the attorney's own affidavits-that the
requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the
community.'” Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care
Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 640 (7th Cir. 2011) (quoting
Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11, 104 S.Ct.
1541, 79 L.Ed.2d 891 (1984)). If the fee applicant does not
satisfy its evidentiary burden, then “the district
court can independently determine the appropriate
rate.” Montanez, 755 F.3d at 553.
the City does not challenge the Church's requested rates,
but the Court nevertheless examines them to determine whether
the Church has adequately met its evidentiary burden. The
Church has submitted the affidavits of its attorneys, setting
forth their experience, but these affidavits alone are not
sufficient to establish the market rates. See Harper v.
City of Chicago Heights, 223 F.3d 593, 604 (7th
Cir.2000) (“[A]n attorney's self-serving affidavit
alone cannot establish the market rate for that
attorney's services[.]”). It also submits a
declaration from Daniel Dalton, another attorney who
litigates RLUIPA cases. As another court in this district
recently concluded, however, Dalton's declaration has
“little value” in establishing that the
attorneys' rates in this case are reasonable,
particularly in light of the fact that he himself has been
awarded much lower rates in RLUIPA cases than he claims in
his declaration. See World Outreach Conference Ctr. v.
City of Chicago, 234 F.Supp.3d 904, 911 (N.D. Ill.
2017). The Court briefly examines each attorney's
requested rate to determine the appropriate hourly rates,
taking into consideration rates awarded in similar cases.
See People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., Sch. Dist.
No. 205, 90 F.3d 1307, 1312 (7th Cir. 1996)
(“[R]ates awarded in similar cases are clearly evidence
of an attorney's market rate.”).
John W. Mauck
Church requests $650 per hour for Mr. Mauck's work. The
Court, however, finds that the submitted documentation and
prior fee awards for Mr. Mauck support a rate of $600 per
hour for Mr. Mauck. Most recently, a court in this district
found $600 to be a reasonable rate for Mr. Mauck in 2017.
Id. at 912. Although Mr. Mauck submits in his
declaration that he recently billed $750 per hour in
representing a limited partnership in its sale of a hotel in
Memphis, Tennessee, that rate has no relevance to determining
the reasonable rate for his services in this case or the rate
charged by similarly experienced attorneys practicing RLUIPA
litigation. See Id. at 911 (finding Mr. Mauck's
tendering of the $750 per hour rate
“inapplicable” and “not indicative of a
reasonable rate in the relevant community”). Although
the Court acknowledges that in setting hourly rates, courts
typically use the attorney's current hourly billing rate,
see Pickett, 813 F.3d at 647, the Court finds no
basis for the requested $50 increase from the amount awarded
in World Outreach and so will use the $600 rate for
Mr. Mauck's time.
Richard C. Baker
Church requests $500 for Mr. Baker's hourly rate, which
the Court finds reasonable. Mr. Baker sets forth his
experience in church zoning litigation in his declaration and
indicates that, in 2010, a client paid him $550 per hour for
reviewing an administrative law claim in litigation pending
in New Jersey. The Court finds Mr. Baker's request for a
lower rate eight years later reasonable. See World
Outreach, 234 F.Supp.3d at 913 (finding $500 per hour
rate for Mr. Baker reasonable).
Noel W. Sterett
Church requests that Mr. Sterett be compensated at a $500
hourly rate. The Court finds the $400 rate awarded to Mr.
Sterett in World Outreach reasonable instead.
See Id. at 912- 13. Although Mr. Sterett's
submitted declaration demonstrates significant experience
with RLUIPA litigation, Mr. Sterett does not provide any
support for the requested $100 increase from the rate awarded
in 2017, and so the Court finds it appropriate to use that
previously awarded rate in this case as well.