Federal District Judge: “Proportionality and Overstaffing Justify a Reduction of 80% of the Lodestar Calculation”

Posted on August 8th, 2013 by Legal Fee Advisors

In a June, 2013 decision, the United Stated District Court, for the Northern District of Illinois, in the case of Richardson v City of Chicago, 2013 WL 2451107 [ND Ill 2013], awarded attorneys’ fees to the prevailing plaintiff in the amount of $123,165.24, representing a 80 percent reduction of the already reduced lodestar calculation.

In this case, the plaintiff filled a seven count complaint against the defendant, police officer, seven of his colleagues, and the City of Chicago, alleging excessive force and assault against the defendant, unlawful search and seizure, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and conspiracy against all of the eight police officers and a Monell claim against the City of Chicago.  At trial, the plaintiff lost all of the claims except the excessive force claim against the defendant and was awarded $1 in compensatory damages and $3,000 in punitive damages.

In calculating attorneys’ fees to be awarded, the District Court excluded the time entries that could have been identified as related to the claims on which plaintiff did not prevail, and reduced the requested lodestar amount from $675,363.75 to $615,826.20.  The Court further reduced this lodestar calculation by 80 percent, due to overstaffing and lack of proportionality.  In regards to the issue of overstaffing, the court held that “this was not a complicated case and it did not require five lawyers to handle it.”  In regards to the issue of proportionality, the Court analyzed disparity between the $500,000 settlement demand, the $200,000 trial demand and the $3,001 awarded to plaintiff.  The Court also took into account the facts that plaintiff prevailed on only one of the twenty-nine claims, and that a five day trial could have been avoided if plaintiff accepted a $20,000 settlement offer, from the City of Chicago.

The general principle is that courts will only award “reasonable attorneys’ fees.”  However, this case illustrates how broad the term “reasonable attorneys’ fees” is.  Reasonable attorneys’ fees awarded in this case are more than forty times greater than the damages awarded to the plaintiff, but also more than eighty percent lower than the requested attorneys’ fees.  Even though there is no clear formula of how to determine reasonable attorneys’ fees, the courts place a great weigh on proportionality of the issues in questions and the fees to be awarded.


Enisa Tutovic | David Paige

Legal Fee Advisors © 2013

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