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Broome v. Kohn Law Firm, SC

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

April 15, 2019

MICHAEL J. BROOME, Plaintiff,
v.
KOHN LAW FIRM, SC and JASON DONALD HERMERSMANN, Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES D. PETERSON, DISTRICT JUDGE

         This is a case brought under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act. In his complaint, plaintiff Michael J. Broome alleged that defendants Kohn Law Firm, SC and Jason Donald Hermersmann violated the FDCPA by filing a debt-collection lawsuit against him in the wrong venue. See Oliva v. Blatt, Hasenmiller, Leibsker & Moore LLC, 864 F.3d 492 (7th Cir. 2017); Suesz v. Med-1 Sols., LLC, 757 F.3d 636 (7th Cir. 2014). The court entered judgment for $2, 500 after Broome accepted defendants' offer of judgment.

         Now Broome's counsel have filed a motion for $18, 058.25 in attorney fees and $446 in costs. Dkt. 12. Defendants do not oppose counsel's request for costs, so the court will grant that aspect of counsel's motion as unopposed. As for counsel's fee request, defendants make three alternative proposals: (1) deny counsel's request in full because counsel hasn't shown that Broome consented to representation; (2) award $1, 735 for time expended before defendants made a settlement offer in April 2018; or (3) award $2, 595 for all of counsel's time to reflect awards in other cases.

         For the reasons discussed below, the court will grant the fee petition in full. Although there may have been ways that counsel could have reduced their fees, the court concludes that the claimed rates and hours are reasonable overall, particularly in light of defendants' own aggressive litigation tactics. The court will also approve counsel's supplemental request for an additional 11.5 hours of work to respond to defendants' 26-page opposition brief.

         ANALYSIS

         The parties do not dispute that the counsel of a prevailing plaintiff is entitled reasonable fees under the FDCPA. See 15 U.S.C. § 1692k(a)(3). The court uses a lodestar method to determine a reasonable fee, multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 639 (7th Cir. 2011). Defendants challenge both the rates and the amount of time claimed by counsel.

         A. Retainer agreement

         As a threshold matter, defendants question whether Broome's counsel are entitled to any fees because counsel failed to submit “evidence establishing that Plaintiff agreed to their services and/or rates, or that he was even aware of their involvement.” Dkt. 27, at 4-5. But Broome submitted a declaration with his reply brief in which he says that he retained each of the lawyers included in the fee petition and agreed to pay the requested rates. Dkt. 32, ¶¶ 4- 5. So that objection is moot.

         B. Rates

         Broome's counsel requests different hourly rates for three different lawyers: for DeVonna Joy, $450; for Nicholas Fairweather, $355 for work performed in 2018 and $400 for 2019; for Michael Godbe, $225 for 2018 and $250 for 2019. In support of her rate, Joy relies on the following:

• she has more than 31 years of legal experience and “exclusively practice[s] consumer protection law, ” Dkt. 14, ¶ 2;
• in affidavits, three other experienced Wisconsin consumer lawyers report that their hourly rates are between $400 and $475, Dkt. 20; Dkt. 24; Dkt. 26;
• in affidavits, two former clients aver that they paid Joy an effective rate of $450 an hour out of settlements they received, Dkt. 18 and Dkt. 21;
• according to the Consumer Law Fee Report, the median hourly rate for a lawyer with ...

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