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Kelty v. Patterson

United States District Court, E.D. Wisconsin

July 3, 2019

RACHEL KELTY, Plaintiff,



         On June 10, 2019, I submitted a report and recommendation that Rachel Kelty's motion for default judgment against defendant John M. Patterson be granted, with compensatory and punitive damages totaling $2.4 million. (Docket # 26.) I deferred making a recommendation on counsel's request for attorney's fees and costs, ordering counsel to submit information demonstrating the reasonableness of the requested amounts. (Id. at 16.) On June 20, 2019, Attorney Matthew Pinix filed the requested supplement. (Docket # 37.)

         1. Legal Standard

         Section 1988(b) of Title 42 provides that in any action to enforce a provision of § 1983, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party a reasonable attorney's fee. “A person is considered to be a prevailing party only if he receives ‘some relief on the merits of his claim.'” Mounson v. Moore, 117 Fed.Appx. 461, 462 (7th Cir. 2004) (quoting Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111 (1992)). In other words, a prevailing party is one who “‘obtain[s] an enforceable judgment against the defendant from whom fees are sought.'” Id. (quoting Farrar, 506 U.S. at 111).

         The general rule for calculating attorney's fees awards under fee-shifting statutes is applicable here. The starting point for determining reasonable attorney's fees is the lodestar, which is calculated by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended by the reasonable hourly rate. Johnson v. GDF, Inc., 668 F.3d 927, 929 (7th Cir. 2012). There is a “strong presumption that the lodestar represents the reasonable fee.” City of Burlington v. Dague, 505 U.S. 557, 562 (1992) (internal quotation marks omitted); Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 639 (7th Cir. 2011). However, once the lodestar is determined, the court may adjust the fee upward or downward based on a variety of factors, the most important of which is the degree of success obtained. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 430 n.3, 436 (1983). Other factors to be considered include:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the question; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to the acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) any time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the plaintiff's attorney; (10) the “undesirability” of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

Tolentino v. Friedman, 45 F.3d 645, 652 (7th Cir. 1995) (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 441). In sum, “[t]he standard is whether the fees are reasonable in relation to the difficulty, stakes, and outcome of the case.” Connolly v. Nat'l Sch. Bus Serv., Inc., 177 F.3d 593, 597 (7th Cir. 1999). The fee applicant bears the burden of “produc[ing] satisfactory evidence-in addition to the attorney's own affidavits-that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community.” Id. (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984)). If the fee applicant satisfies this burden, the burden shifts to the other party to offer evidence that sets forth “a good reason why a lower rate is essential.” Id. (internal quotation and citations omitted).

         2. Calculating the Lodestar

         Attorney Pinix seeks fees for three attorneys, himself and two others from his office. He requests a rate of $350 per hour multiplied by 45 hours for himself (totaling $15, 750), 1.1 hours for Attorney Michael G. Soukup (totaling $385.00), and 0.9 hours for Attorney Rebecca R. Lawnicki (totaling $315.00). (Docket # 35 at 2, 35-2, 35-3.)

         2.1. Reasonable Hours Worked

         In calculating the reasonable hours worked, I must first determine the actual time Kelty's attorneys spent on her claim against Patterson. “Where the hours spent on successful claims can easily be distinguished from those spent on unsuccessful claims, the court can simply strike the latter entries when computing the lodestar.” Montanez v. Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 553 (7th Cir. 2014); see also Muscare v. J. Quinn, 614 F.2d 577, 580-81 (7th Cir. 1980) (the court can only consider the time spent on issues upon which the plaintiff prevailed).

         Kelty filed her complaint against the defendants on May 18, 2018. (Docket # 1.) After Patterson neither appeared nor responded to her complaint, Kelty requested an entry of default against Patterson on June 26, 2018. (Docket # 10.) After settling matters with the other defendants, Kelty moved for an entry of default judgment against Patterson on February 6, 2019 (Docket # 28), and has been litigating towards entry of that judgment since. Thus, the timeline for attorney's fees and costs would properly include 1) the reasonable hours worked from the initiation of Kelty's lawsuit to the time of the entry of default against Patterson and 2) the reasonable hours worked from the time of her filing the motion for default judgment against Patterson to the present.

         Attorney Pinix attached to his declaration for attorney's fees and costs copies of the fee agreement signed by Kelty on January 3, 2018 (Docket # 35-1 at 9) and the time entries for the attorneys' work associated with Kelty's case (Docket # 35-2, 35-3). Notably, the time sheets coincide with the timeline I found appropriate. The dates span February 2, 2018 to June 13, 2018 and February 6, 2019 to April 10, 2019. (Docket # 35-2, 35-3.) Thus, I do not need to exclude any of the time based on it being outside the proper time frame.

         I next determine whether any of the noted hours worked were “excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Johnson, 668 F.3d at 929 (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434). Attorney Pinix asserts that the three attorneys, but mostly him, worked a total of 47 hours on Kelty's case. Included in these hours are entries for complaint drafting, reviewing, and editing; telephonic meetings with Kelty; research and review of a police report and Patterson's court file; research and review of Kelty's incarceration and medical records; and preparing for Kelty's damages hearing. (Docket # 35-2, 35-3.) None of this work appears excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary. In most cases, the entries do not exceed half an hour and ...

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