Federal Magistrate Reduces Total Fees By 50%

Posted on June 26th, 2013 by Legal Fee Advisors

In March, 2013 the United States Magistrate Judge, Sheila Finnegan, in the case of Montanez v Chicago Police Officers Fico (Star No. 6284), Simon (Star No. 16497), 10 C 4708, 2013 WL 1110870 [ND Ill Mar. 18, 2013], awarded attorneys’ fees to the prevailing plaintiff in the amount of $108,350.87, representing a 50 percent reduction of the court determined loadstar amount.

In this action, plaintiff, Andy Montanez, filed a suit for alleged use of excessive force, related to his arrest from March, 2009. In June, 2012 following a 3 ½ day trial, the jury decided in plaintiff’s favor and awarded plaintiff $1,000 in compensatory damages and $1,000 in punitive damages.

In response to plaintiff’s request for attorneys’ fees in the amount of $426,379.69, the court conducted an extensive analysis of the submitted billing records, and made reductions of the hours claimed and hourly rates, for all of the participating attorneys.

The court first discussed if the plaintiff’s attorneys’ rates are “in line with those prevailing in the community” for attorneys with comparable experience. Hourly rates for four of the participating attorneys were reduced by from $25 to $125 off of their submitted rates, depending on the experience of the attorney. The court completely disallowed hours submitted for one of the attorneys who spent only little more than 3 hours working on the case, and for two partners because this case was neither “complicated” nor “large as to justify having more than one partner.”

The court then determined that the reasonable hours that should have been expended on this matter should be reduced from 1,051.55 to 868.80. This reduction was a consequence of such factors as: two partners doing the same task, intra-office conferences, time spent on non-legal tasks, mock trial or vague and unrelated billing entries, such as researching unrelated statute, or shopping for clothes for witness.

Moreover, upon determining the total lodestar amount, the court decided that compensable fees should be further reduced by 50 percent, due to plaintiff’s limited success on the merits, the difference between the amount of fees requested and the actual damages awarded, the undesirability and low difficulty of the case, and the “minimal impact on the public interest” since the issue is “isolated to one particular situation, on one specific date with one specific group of officers”.

This case illustrates that courts are not afraid to go a step further than just calculating the reasonable lodestar amount. Here, even though the court conducted extensive analysis of the submitted billing records, in order to award the reasonable attorneys’ fees to a prevailing plaintiff, proportionate to the issue in question and to the actual damages awarded, the court cut their own lodestar calculation in half.

E. Tutovic | D. Paige

Legal Fee Advisors © 2013

Comments are closed.