United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
Morris prevailed at trial against his former employer BNSF
Railway on his claim that he was terminated because of his
race in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1981 and Title VII of
the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Morris has moved to recover
attorney's fees and costs. In addition, his former
attorney who represented him at an earlier stage of the case
has moved to enforce an equitable lien. For the reasons set
forth below, the Court grants both motions but modifies the
amounts of the requested awards.
Court assumes familiarity with this case's factual
background and procedural history, which are summarized in
the Court's previous written opinions. See Morris v.
BNSF Railway Co. (Ruling on Post-Trial
Motions), No. 15 C 2923, 2019 WL 3956231 (N.D. Ill. Aug.
22, 2019); Morris v. BNSF Railway Co. (Summary
Judgment Ruling), No. 15 C 2923, 2018 WL 4742105 (N.D.
Ill. Oct. 2, 2018). Having prevailed at trial, Morris now
seeks an award of attorney's fees and expenses. His
former attorney, Chiquita Hall-Jackson, who represented
Morris for about eight months in 2017 and 2018, has also
filed a motion to recover a portion of Morris's award in
connection with services she provided in his
preliminary matter, the Court notes that contrary to the
parties' repeated characterizations, Hall-Jackson cannot
directly recover an attorney's fee or costs from BNSF;
only Morris, the prevailing party in the litigation, may do
so. See Venegas v. Mitchell, 495 U.S. 82, 87-88
(1990) (explaining that "it is the party, rather than
the lawyer," eligible for a discretionary award of
attorney's fees). As the Court will discuss,
Hall-Jackson's equitable remedy is quantum meruit, which
permits her to recover against Morris in particular. See
Elusta v. City of Chicago, 696 F.3d 690, 694-95 (7th
Cir. 2012). The Court will therefore consider the motion for
attorney's fees and costs- including those incurred by
Hall-Jackson-before determining what Hall-Jackson may recover
Motion for attorney's fees and costs
prevailing party in an employment discrimination case under
Title VII or section 1981 may recover "a reasonable
attorney's fee." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k); 42
U.S.C. § 1988(b). "The award's size is a
function of three numbers: the hours worked, the hourly rate,
and any overall adjustments up or down." Sommerfield
v. City of Chicago, 863 F.3d 645, 650 (7th Cir. 2017).
The product of "the hours reasonably expended multiplied
by the reasonable hourly rate" yields a
"lodestar" amount. Id. "[A] plaintiff
who achieves excellent results should receive the entire
has moved to recover an attorney's fee of $123, 525 for
work performed by Garrett Browne and Edward Fox, the
attorneys who represented him at trial. This figure is based
on the hours Browne and Fox expended (totaling 268.75) at
hourly rates of $450 and $500, respectively. Morris also
seeks $3, 106.58 in costs related to their representation.
BNSF has not objected to the suggested lodestar calculation
for Browne and Fox or to their requested costs. The Court
deems the fee request reasonable in terms of both the number
of hours worked and the attorneys' hourly rates, which
accord with the rates they have been awarded in prior cases.
See Fox Decl., Morris's Ex. B., dkt. no. 280-2,
¶ 10; Browne Decl., Morris's Ex. C, dkt. no. 280-3,
¶¶ 10, 12. No. departure from the lodestar amount
is called for in light of Morris's overwhelming success
in this case. See Sommerfield, 863 F.3d at 650. The
Court therefore awards Morris a total of $126, 631.58 in fees
and costs in connection with Fox and Browne's
also seeks fees and costs incurred by his previous attorney,
Chiquita Hall-Jackson. Hall-Jackson represented Morris from
about October 2017 to June 2018. Morris has moved to recover
a fee totaling $54, 945 for 226.3 hours of Hall-Jackson's
work, in addition to $382.90 in costs. BNSF objects to about
$20, 000 of the total request. It does not contest
Hall-Jackson's hourly rate of $275, but it cites
particular categories of attorney time and expenses that it
contends are not properly recoverable. The Court discusses
each such category below.
Administrative tasks and work performed by law student
objects to $2, 392.50 in fees for 8.7 hours that Hall-Jackson
spent on administrative tasks related to preparing exhibits
to file with Morris's response to BNSF's summary
judgment motion. Morris, citing Pouncy v. City of
Chicago, No. 15 C 1840, 2017 WL 8205488 (N.D. Ill.Dec.
11, 2017), contends that it was appropriate for Hall-Jackson
to perform those tasks because they were important to the
case. See Id. at *11 (holding that it was reasonable
to have a paralegal, rather than a non-professional, perform
certain important administrative tasks). But he does not
explain why it is appropriate to bill for that work at her
regular rate of $275 per hour, rather than at a paralegal
rate that more accurately reflects the nature of the work
performed. See Gibson v. City of Chicago, 873
F.Supp.2d 975, 988-89 (N.D. Ill. 2012) (reducing an
attorney's hourly rate because certain tasks "are
more appropriately reimbursed at a paralegal rate").
also contends that Morris has not provided evidence to
substantiate a rate of $137.50 per hour for work performed by
a law student intern in Hall-Jackson's office who
interviewed witnesses and conducted legal research. Morris
provides no evidence, analysis, or authority supporting this
billing rate. Instead, he contends that the obligation to
provide evidence to demonstrate the appropriateness of a
billing rate extends only to attorneys, not to paralegals.
But this argument contradicts Supreme Court precedent.
See Missouri v. Jenkins, 491 U.S. 274, 288 (1989)
(holding, in the analogous fee-shifting context of 42 U.S.C.
§ 1988, that a paralegal's work is compensable at
"the prevailing rates for such services").
Court concludes that the time Hall-Jackson spent on
administrative tasks and the hours logged by the law student
intern are appropriately billed at a paralegal rate of $100
per hour. See Blackwell v. Kalinowski, No. 08 C
7257, 2012 WL 469962, at *9 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 13, 2012);
Gibson, 873 F.Supp.2d at 989. Applying that reduced
rate to the time Hall-Jackson spent on administrative tasks
and the hours worked by the law student intern, Morris is
entitled to only $1, 750 for work in this category, not the
requested award of $3, 602.50.