United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
MATTHEW F. KENNELLY UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
Cloutier prevailed at trial against his former employer,
GoJet Airlines, LLC, on claims that GoJet interfered with his
exercise of rights under the Family and Medical Leave Act
(FMLA) and terminated him in retaliation for exercising his
FMLA rights. Cloutier has moved to recover attorneys'
fees and costs. For the reasons set forth below, the Court
grants the motion but reduces the amount of the requested
an airline pilot, sued GoJet for violations of the FMLA,
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and Age Discrimination
in Employment Act (ADEA). Cloutier asserted 13 claims, all
related to his leave and eventual termination from his job
after he was diagnosed with, and began taking medication for,
diabetes. The Court dismissed one FMLA claim, Cloutier v.
Trans States Holdings, Inc., No. 16 C 1146, 2016 WL
3181708, at *1 (N.D. Ill. June 8, 2016) (Der-Yeghiayan, J.),
and later granted summary judgment in favor of GoJet on some
of Cloutier's other FMLA claims, Cloutier v.
GoJet Airlines, LLC, 311 F.Supp.3d 928, 930
(N.D. Ill. 2018). The parties jointly stipulated to dismissal
of the sole ADEA claim.
trial, a jury considered Cloutier's remaining claims for
interference and retaliation under the FMLA and for failure
to accommodate a disability and termination due to that
disability under the ADA. The jury found in Cloutier's
favor on both FMLA claims and in GoJet's favor on both
ADA claims. With respect to the FMLA claims, the jury found
that GoJet acted in good faith only on the retaliation claim;
it did not find good faith on the interference claim.
Cloutier v. GoJet Airlines, LLC, 357 F.Supp.3d 675,
679 (N.D. Ill. 2019). Consequently, Cloutier was not entitled
to liquidated damages on the retaliation claim. Id.
at 677. The Court awarded him damages in the amount of $426,
493.46. Cloutier v. GoJet Airlines, LLC, No. 16 C
1146, 2019 WL 316807, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 24, 2019). Both
parties filed post-trial motions, which the Court denied.
Cloutier v. GoJet Airlines, LLC, No. 16 C 1146, 2019
WL 1762899, at *1 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 21, 2019)
was represented at trial by two law firms: Maduff &
Maduff, LLC, which is based in Chicago, Illinois, and Smith
Law Firm, which is based in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Sixteen
attorneys and paralegals from those firms worked on his case.
Five attorneys did most of the work: Aaron B. Maduff and
Walker R. Lawrence of Maduff & Maduff, and Joseph Arthur
Smith, III ("Smith"), Joseph Arthur Smith, IV, and
Rob Schmidt of Smith Law Firm.
now seeks an award of attorneys' fees and expenses. He
originally requested $488, 941.26 in attorneys' fees but
later reduced his request to $474, 312.76. This figure is
based on 988.17 of the 1, 116.20 hours that attorneys and
paralegals spent on the litigation; they have waived fees as
to remainder of the time. GoJet objects to that award and
contests Smith's hourly rate, the reasonableness of
certain hours expended by Cloutier's attorneys, and the
appropriate overall amount of fees based on Cloutier's
level of success at trial. Cloutier also seeks to recover $1,
765.96 in costs related to the litigation, and GoJet does not
object to those costs.
prevailing party in a case under the FMLA shall recover
"a reasonable attorney's fee." 29 U.S.C. §
2617(a)(3); see also Franzen v. Ellis Corp., 543
F.3d 420, 430 (7th Cir. 2008). "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). "Although there is no precise formula
for determining a reasonable fee," a district court
generally begins by multiplying the hourly rate by the hours
worked to calculate a "lodestar" amount.
Schlacher v. Law Offices of Phillip J. Rotche &
Assocs., P.C., 574 F.3d 852, 856 (7th Cir. 2009);
see also Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433
(1983). The district court may then adjust the lodestar
figure to account for various considerations, including the
degree of success obtained by the plaintiff.
Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 ("[The degree of
success] is particularly crucial where a plaintiff is deemed
'prevailing' even though he succeeded on only some of
his claims for relief.")
initially disputed Maduff's and Smith's requested
hourly rates of $675, but it has since dropped its objections
to Maduff's requested hourly rate. GoJet argues that
Smith is entitled to $350 per hour, which is his established
rate in his regular practice in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Cloutier contends that an out-of-town lawyer's rate
should be commensurate with the rate charged by
similarly-experienced attorneys practicing in the forum where
the litigation occurred. He argues that a Chicago-based
attorney with Smith's experience would charge $675 for a
attorney's reasonable hourly rate is "based on the
local market rate" for his services. Montanez v.
Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 553 (7th Cir. 2014). "The best
evidence of the market rate is the amount the attorney
actually bills for similar work." Id. If a
district court cannot determine the attorney's typical
billing rate, 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.
Court concludes that Smith is entitled to the rate he charges
clients for employment cases: $350 per hour. Cloutier has
shown no reason, such as Smith's use of contingent fee
agreements, for the Court to depart from the presumption that
his standard hourly rate is his market rate. Pickett v.
Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 640 (7th Cir.
2011) (when an attorney uses contingent fee agreements,
courts may rely on evidence other than his standard hourly
rates due to "the difficulty of determining the hourly
rate of an attorney who uses" such agreements);
Gusman v. Unisys Corp., 986 F.2d 1146, 1151 (7th
Cir. 1993) ("A judge who departs from this presumptive
rate must have some reason other than the ability to identify
a different average rate in the community."); see
also Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 175 F.3d 544,
556 (7th Cir. 1999) (the fee applicant bears the burden of
establishing his attorney's market rate). Because the
Court presumes that Smith's standard rate is his market
rate, the Court declines to give any significant weight to
the affidavits discussing a reasonable rate for someone of
his skill, experience, and reputation. Cf. Pickett,
664 F.3d at 641 (discussing the use of affidavits to
establish market rates for contingent-fee-earning attorneys).
cites to only two cases applying a forum's rate to an
out-of-state attorney who charges a lower standard rate;
neither is binding precedent. See Garmong v. Montgomery
County, 668 F.Supp. 1000, 1007 (S.D. Tex. 1987);
Donnell v. United States, 682 F.2d 240, 251 (D.C.
Cir. 1982). The cases in this Circuit addressing out-of-state
attorneys' fees generally involve the inverse scenario:
an out-of-state attorney with a standard rate higher than the
forum's average rate seeking fees based on the
attorney's standard rate. E.g., Chrapliwy v.
Uniroyal, Inc., 670 F.2d 760, 768 (7th Cir. 1982). In
Chrapliwy, the Seventh Circuit found that courts may
award an out-of-state attorney's higher rate where doing
so would encourage talented attorneys to take on complex or
specialized cases for which local attorneys lack the
requisite availability or skills. Id. The court did
not approve of giving out-of-state attorneys more than their
standard rates. See Id. Further,
Chrapliwy's rationale for allowing higher rates
does not apply to this case because there is no indication
that local attorneys lack the availability or skills to take
on cases such as Cloutier's. Indeed, applying Smith's
typical hourly rate to his work in this litigation aligns
with the purpose of fee-shifting statutes by ensuring that he
does not receive a windfall. See City of Riverside v.
Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 580 (1986) (Congress intended for
fee-shifting statutes in civil rights litigation to give
litigants access to competent counsel without producing
windfalls to attorneys).
GoJet no longer challenges Aaron Maduff's requested rate
of $675, the Court need not address the point. The Court
adopts that rate based on GoJet's implicit concession
that it is appropriate.
the Court concludes that Smith's reasonable hourly rate
is $375. Applying that rate to Cloutier's fee request,
the Court finds that the baseline amount for Cloutier's
fee request is $423, 893.06.
Hours reasonably expended
calculating the lodestar amount, a court must exclude hours
that were not "reasonably expended," including
"hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise
unnecessary." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. GoJet
contests particular categories of attorneys' hours that
it contends are not ...