United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
DR. DENEAN ADAMS, Plaintiff,
BOARD OF EDUCATION HARVEY SCHOOL DISTRICT 152, GLORIA JOHNSON, in her individual capacity, BETTY JOHNSON, in her individual capacity, DR. KISHA MCCASKILL, in her individual capacity, JANET ROGERS, in her individual capacity, TYRONE ROGERS, in his individual capacity, LINDA HAWKINS, in her individual capacity, FELICIA JOHNSON, in her individual capacity, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOHNSON COLEMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Dr. Denean Adams brought this action against Defendants Board
of Education Harvey School District 152 and its individual
members, alleging retaliation in violation of her First
Amendment and due process rights. The Court granted summary
judgment to Defendants on Count III for First Amendment
retaliation based on the filing of this lawsuit. Pursuant to
Defendants' Rule 50(a) Motion, the Court granted judgment
as a matter of law in favor of Defendants on Count II, the
Due Process claim. Following trial, the jury found in favor
of Adams on the remaining claim for First Amendment
retaliation based on Adams' police reports, awarding
$400, 000 in compensatory damages. Currently before the Court
is Adams' post-trial Petition for Attorney's Fees and
Bill of Costs. For the following reasons, the Court grants in
part and denies in part Adams' Amended Petition for
Attorney's Fees  and Bill of Costs
to the Court's Order Regarding Fee Petition (Dkt. 174),
Adams sent Defendants her fee and costs information and
Defendants timely responded with their objections and
provided their billing records shortly thereafter. Adams did
not respond to Defendants' argument on this point, so it
is unclear whether the billing records were timely provided.
Although the Court cautions Defendants regarding the
importance of abiding by all Court deadlines, the Court notes
that the possibility of a slightly delayed response does not
warrant any sanction. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11. Adams
moves for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1988(b), Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), and
Local Rule 54.3. Adams seeks $552, 887.50 in attorney's
fees for 1005.25 hours of work. Defendants object, proposing
that the Court reduce Adams' counsel's hourly rate
and drastically decrease the number of hours of work for
which he receives fees.
requests an hourly rate of $550 for her attorney Jerome
Davis. In support, Adams has provided the Court with an
affidavit from Davis stating that he has represented clients
in civil rights matters since 2003 and worked almost
exclusively on civil rights cases since 2013. (Dkt. 196 at
8-9 ¶¶ 4, 7.) Davis represents that he has charged
and been paid $265/hour in recent cases, with time spent in
transit billed at half the hourly rate. (Id. at 9
¶ 8.) For this case, Davis states that Adams and Davis
agreed to a modified contingency agreement whereby Adams paid
the $265 rate and expenses and Davis would seek to have his
fees paid through a fee petition if successful at trial.
Davis notes that approximately 80% of his attorney's fees
in the matter remain unpaid. (Id. at 9 ¶ 9.)
Adams also seeks $8, 515.17 in costs.
precise formula exists for determining a reasonable fee,
although the Court “generally begins by calculating the
lodestar-the attorney's reasonable hourly rate multiplied
by the number of hours reasonably expended.”
Schlacher v. Law Offices of Phillip J. Rotche &
Assocs., P.C., 574 F.3d 852, 856 (7th Cir. 2009) (citing
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-37, 103
S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983)). The Court has an
obligation to “exclude from this initial fee
calculation hours that were not reasonably expended” on
the litigation. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. The party
seeking the fee award must prove the reasonableness of the
hours worked and the hourly rates claimed. Id. at
433. However, the Court is “not obligated to conduct a
line-by-line review of the bills to assess the charges for
reasonableness.” Rexam Beverage Can Co. v.
Bolger, 620 F.3d 718, 738 (7th Cir. 2010).
lodestar figure is the starting point, which the court may
then adjust 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. Thorncreek Apartments III, LLC v. Mick,
886 F.3d 626, 638 (7th Cir. 2018). Downward adjustment may be
appropriate if a plaintiff achieved “only partial or
limited success.” Montanez v. Simon, 755 F.3d
547, 556 (7th Cir. 2014). Where a court uses its discretion
to adjust a fee award, it must “provide a concise but
clear explanation of its reasons.” Small v. Richard
Wolf Med. Instruments Corp., 264 F.3d 702, 708 (7th Cir.
to Rule 54(d)(1), “costs . . . should be allowed to the
prevailing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). A court
awarding costs asks first “whether the cost imposed on
the losing party is recoverable” and “if so,
whether the amount assessed for that item was
reasonable.” Majeske v. City of Chicago, 218
F.3d 816, 824 (7th Cir. 2000). Recoverable costs include: (1)
fees of the clerk and marshal, (2) fees for transcripts, (3)
witness fees and expenses, (4) fees for copies of papers
necessarily obtained for use in the case, (5) docket fees,
and (6) compensation for court-appointed experts and
interpreters. See Republic Tobacco Co. v. N. Atl. Trading
Co., Inc., 481 F.3d 442, 447 (7th Cir. 2007) (citing 28
U.S.C. § 1920). Although a district court has discretion
when awarding costs, the “discretion is narrowly
confined because of the strong presumption created by Rule
54(d)(1) that the prevailing party will recover costs.”
Graham v. AT&T Mobility, LLC, 247 Fed.Appx. 26,
31 (7th Cir. 2007) (citation and internal quotation marks
reasonable hourly rate is to be “derived from the
market rate for the services rendered.” Pickett v.
Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 640 (7th Cir.
2011). The Seventh Circuit has “indicated a preference
for third party affidavits that attest to the billing rates
of comparable attorneys.” Id. Adams requests
an hourly rate of $550 for her attorney Jerome Davis. Adams
submits an affidavit from Davis stating his hourly rate of
$265, but did not submit any invoices from Davis' prior
clients or third-party affidavits. Adams contends that her
counsel should receive a bonus to compensate for the
difficulty of and the amount of time he dedicated to the case
and that the rate he seeks is within the market rate.
Defendants raise a series of objections, including that the
Court should reduce Davis' rate to $200/hour, the case
was not novel and does not warrant a bonus or rate increase,
and Davis did not devote so much time to the case that he
could not take on other cases.
Court finds that $265 is the appropriate hourly rate for
Davis. Although the evidence submitted by Adams is limited,
Davis has filed a sworn affidavit stating that he has been
paid this amount in this case and for similar work.
Additionally, $265 is an appropriate market rate in light of
the rate awarded to counsel in civil rights cases that the
parties presented to the Court. For example, in Smith v.
City of Chicago, this Court awarded counsel hourly rates
of $400, $200, and $175/hour. See 9-cv-4754 (N.D.
Ill.Dec. 29, 2011), ECF No. 226 (Coleman, J.). The Court
awarded $400/hour for lead trial counsel with extensive civil
rights experience and $200/hour for an experienced associate.
Id. In Spina v. Forest Pres. Dist. of Cook
Cty., the court awarded $325/hour and $350/hour for
court time to the lead attorney because plaintiff presented
sufficient evidence to substantiate the billing rates,
including counsel's own affidavit, affidavits of three
well-known civil rights attorneys, and evidence of fees
awarded to the counsel in other cases. No. 98-C-1393, 2002 WL
1770010, at *2 (N.D. Ill. July 31, 2002) (Keys, M.J.).
Davis' evidence does not support the higher rate that he
requests, but the comparator cases demonstrate the $265 rate
that Davis contends he has been paid by Adams and other
clients is appropriate and in line with the market and
Davis' litigation experience and shorter term focus on
civil rights cases. The Court finds that no bonus is
appropriate. The Court agrees with Defendants' suggestion
that the number of hours billed left sufficient time for
Davis to pursue other cases alongside his representation of
Adams. The blended contingency rate that Adams and Davis
agreed to also does not support increasing Davis' rate.
See Blanchard v. Bergeron, 489 U.S. 87, 94, 109
S.Ct. 939, 103 L.Ed.2d 67 (1989). Moreover, this case was not
so novel or difficult that it warrants an increase to
Davis' established billing rate, especially where two of
the counts were dismissed late in the litigation at the
summary judgment and Rule 50(a) motion junctures.
Court next considers the reasonableness of the requested
time. A fee applicant is expected to exercise “billing
judgment” in deciding which hours should be billed to
defendants. See Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of
Chicago, 175 F.3d 544, 552 (7th Cir. 1999). Defendants
object that Davis bills for a number of inappropriate items
and request that the Court make the following reductions:
strike 34.4 hours of unrelated work; strike 94.95 hours of