578 F.3d 542 (7th Cir. 2009), 08-2102, Anderson v. AB Painting and Sandblasting Inc.
|Citation:||578 F.3d 542|
|Opinion Judge:||BAUER, Circuit Judge.|
|Party Name:||Charles E. ANDERSON, Trustee on behalf of Painters' District Council No. 30 Health and Welfare Fund, et al., Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. AB PAINTING AND SANDBLASTING INCORPORATED, an Illinois Corporation, Defendant-Appellee.|
|Attorney:||William W. Leathem (argued), Attorney, Jacobs, Burns, Orlove, Stanton & Hernandez, Chicago, IL, for Plaintiffs-Appellants. M. Anne Hannigan, Attorney, Chicago, IL, for Defendant-Appellee.|
|Judge Panel:||Before BAUER, MANION and SYKES, Circuit Judges.|
|Case Date:||August 20, 2009|
|Court:||United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit|
Argued Feb. 20, 2009.
The Painters' District Council No. 30 Health and Welfare Fund and two other multiemployer employee benefit plans (collectively " the Funds"), through their trustee Charles E. Anderson, successfully sued to collect delinquent contributions from AB Painting and Sandblasting, Inc., a Fund participant. The district court
awarded attorney's fees to the Funds, as required by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), but in an amount much lower than requested because the court was not comfortable with what it perceived to be the disproportionate amount of money spent litigating the Funds' relatively small claim. The Funds argue that this concern with proportionality was misplaced and that a new fee calculation is required. We agree.
Collective bargaining agreements with the local painters' chapter of the AFL-CIO required AB Painting to make regular contributions to the Funds. Under the agreements, AB Painting was to self-report its obligations to the Funds based on certain factors. AB Painting failed to fully report or pay its required contributions. After discovery, which was frequently delayed by AB Painting's lack of cooperation, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the Funds for the entire amount of the claimed delinquency plus interest, for a total of approximately $6,500. However, the court reduced the Funds' attorney's fees award from the requested $50,885.90 to $10,000. The court labeled the fee request " disproportionate" to the damages claimed and explained that " in view of the small amount involved ... the time spent on the case was excessive. Charging over $50,000.00 in attorney's fees to collect, at most, $5,000.00 cannot be justified."
On appeal, the Funds argue that the district court did not conduct a proper fee analysis and was wrongly concerned with the relationship between the actual damages and the requested attorney's fees. We review an award of attorney's fees for an abuse of discretion. People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., 90 F.3d 1307, 1311 (7th Cir.1996). But we review a district court's legal analysis and methodology de novo. Jaffee v. Redmond, 142 F.3d 409, 412-13 (7th Cir.1998); Montgomery v. Aetna Plywood, Inc., 231 F.3d 399, 408 (7th Cir.2000).
When a trustee of an ERISA benefit plan prevails in an action to recover delinquent contributions, the district court is required to award " reasonable attorney's fees." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(g)(2)(D). " The most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76...
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