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Battle v. Midland Funding, LLC

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

July 29, 2019

TERRY BATTLE, Plaintiff,
v.
MIDLAND FUNDING, LLC, et al, Defendants.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S PETITION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES AND COSTS

          Matthew F. Kennelly United States District Judge.

         Terry Battle retained attorneys Michael J. Wood and Celetha C. Chatman of Community Lawyers Group, Ltd. regarding a debt collection suit filed against her by Midland Funding, LLC, Midland Credit Management, Inc., and Encore Capital Group, Inc. (collectively, Midland). Counsel sent a letter to Midland on June 28, 2017 disputing the debt, which originated from a defaulted Citibank N.A. consumer credit account. On August 14, 2018, Battle filed suit against Midland in federal court under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, alleging that Midland had failed to communicate to a credit reporting agency that the debt was disputed.

         On October 13, 2018, Midland served Battle with an offer of judgment, proposing entry of judgment in her favor in the amount of $1, 100 in statutory damages, plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs. Battle filed an acceptance of the offer on October 15, 2018, and the Court directed entry of judgment that same date. Battle, as the prevailing party, then filed a petition for attorney's fees and costs, seeing compensation for 13.4 hours by attorneys Wood and Chatman, plus $500 in costs consisting of the filing fee and the cost of service of summons. Midland opposes the fee petition on various grounds.

         Discussion

         A plaintiff who prevails in a FDCPA suit is entitled recover to costs and reasonable attorney's fees. 15 U.S.C. §1692k(a)(3); Schlacher v. Law Offices of Phillip J. Rotche & Assocs., P.C., 574 F.3d 852, 856 (7th Cir. 2009). In calculating reasonable attorney's fees, a court generally begins by determining the so-called lodestar, that is, the attorney's reasonable hourly rate multiplied by the number of hours reasonably expended. Schlacher, 574 F.3d at 856 (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433-37 (1983)). In determining the lodestar, a court should exclude any hours that were not "reasonably expended." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. The moving party should make a good faith effort to exclude from a fee request any hours that were "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Id. at 434.

         In this case, the parties have stipulated to a rate of $300 per hour for both Wood and Chatman. At this rate, the amount of fees Battle has requested is $4, 020.

         As an initial matter, the Court overrules Midland's request to deny the fee petition outright on the ground that Battle's counsel failed to comply with Local Rule 54.3. Battle has provided Midland with records specifying the hours for which Battle sought compensation and supporting the requested costs, making any technical noncompliance harmless.

         Midland also contends that the attorneys' billing records are unreliable; the attorney time claimed is excessive; some of the time claimed involves administrative tasks not properly compensable at attorney rates; and the lodestar should be reduced based on the factors listed in Hensley. The Court will deal with each argument in turn.

         1. Errors in billing records

         First, Midland asks the Court to overrule the fee petition or reduce the fee award because counsel's billing records are unreliable and contain falsehoods. The billing records attached to Battle's original motion did contain a number of errors, but after this was called to counsel's attention, the Court granted Battle leave to withdraw these records and resubmit the motion with the corrected records attached. The errors in the original submission involved an attachment unrelated to this case.

         Midland also says that Battle's counsel has a history of misrepresentations regarding billing records and fee petitions, but the Court sees no reason to address anything other than the submission presented here and thus will not strike the fee petition on this basis.

         Midland identifies three claimed errors with the corrected billing records: the entry of a client intake date about a year after counsel first took on Battle's case; a claimed discrepancy between the complaint and the billing records regarding the date when Battle or counsel obtained her credit report; and inconsistent information stating that Battle rejected a settlement offer.

         First, Midland questions an entry for client intake dated July 24, 2018, pointing out that counsel wrote a dispute letter to Midland on her behalf over a year earlier. Battle responds, however, that counsel represented her in separate state and federal cases and conducted independent intake meetings to address each. This is a reasonable explanation; the Court finds no error in the records.

         Second, Midland contends that Battle alleges in her complaint that she obtained her credit report on July 16, 2018, but the billing records say that counsel obtained it on August 4, 2018. This is a misreading of the complaint. It alleges that "[o]n July 16, 2018, Midland communicated credit information regarding the alleged debt." Compl. ¶25. That statement, supported by Exhibit G, is an allegation that Midland reported debt ...


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