789 F.Supp. 914 (N.D.Ill. 1992), 88 C 9803, Littlefield v. Mack

Docket Nº:88 C 9803
Citation:789 F.Supp. 914
Party Name:Littlefield v. Mack
Case Date:April 01, 1992
Court:United States District Courts, 7th Circuit, Northern District of Illinois

Page 914

789 F.Supp. 914 (N.D.Ill. 1992)

Susanne LITTLEFIELD, Plaintiff,

v.

Wally MACK, Santa Maria Realty and Malcolm McGuffey, Defendant.

and

State Farm General Insurance Company, Garnishee Defendant.

No. 88 C 9803.

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division.

April 1, 1992

Page 915

Aram A. Hartunian, Steven P. Schneck, Hartunian, Futterman & Howard, Chtd., Chicago, Ill., for plaintiff.

Richard H. Hoffman, Querrey & Harrow, Ltd., John T. Harris, James T. Elsesser & Associates, Ltd., Chicago, Ill., for defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

ANN CLAIRE WILLIAMS, District Judge.

Susanne Littlefield ("Littlefield"), who is white, sued Malcolm McGuffey, also known as Wally Mack ("Mack") among other persona, claiming he denied her rental housing and harassed and intimidated her because her boyfriend, the father of her daughter, is black. She sued Mack for violation of the civil rights laws and the Fair Housing Act under 42 U.S.C. §§ 1982, 3604, 3613, 3617, and for intentional infliction of emotional distress under Illinois common law. On July 26, 1990, a jury found for Littlefield and awarded her $50,000 in compensatory damages and $100,000 in punitive damages. 1

The plaintiff brought a motion to recover attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 ("Section 1988") and § 3613(c)(2), and on November 16, 1990, the court granted plaintiff Littlefield's motion and determined that Littlefield was entitled to recover attorney's fees in the amount of $138,252.50 and expenses in the amount of $9,676.98. Because $1,361.50 had already been paid, the court found defendant Mack liable for attorney's fees in the amount of $146,567.98. In a subsequent order dated December 10, 1990, the court awarded the plaintiff an additional $16,636.50 in attorney's fees and $10,797.88 in expenses. 2

On January 23, 1991, the plaintiff served State Farm General Insurance Company ("State Farm"), defendant Mack's insurance company, with a garnishment summons seeking the recovery of $174,002.36 in fees and expenses previously awarded to the plaintiff. The parties subsequently brought cross-motions for summary judgment on the sole remaining issue of whether State Farm was obligated to pay on defendant's behalf the attorney's fees and expenses awarded to the plaintiff under Section 1988. On February 6, 1992, this court granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and ordered State Farm to pay the fees and expenses previously assessed against defendant Mack in this case. 789 F.Supp. 909.

This case is currently before the court on plaintiff Littlefield's motion to supplement garnishment and for entry of judgment. Since the court's order granting the plaintiff fees and expenses in September 1990, the plaintiff's attorneys have defended the appeal taken by State Farm on Mack's behalf and expended efforts to enforce the judgment in this case. On January 27, 1992, the Court of Appeals affirmed this court's decisions denying defendant's post-trial motions and awarding fees and expenses to the plaintiff. The plaintiff now seeks to recover $42,577.50 in attorney's fees and $1,302.52 in expenses incurred in litigating these matters. For the reasons stated below, the plaintiff's motion is granted and the defendant is ordered to pay the plaintiff $42,577.50 for attorney's fees and $1,302.52 for expenses incurred in the litigation of this case since September 1990.

THE MOTION TO SUPPLEMENT GARNISHMENT AND FOR ENTRY OF JUDGMENT

The defendant argues that the plaintiff's motion is procedurally improper. Defendant

Page 916

Mack filed for bankruptcy on April 25, 1991. As the defendant suggests, this bankruptcy action imposes an automatic stay on the enforcement of judgments previously awarded against Mack. However, in this instance, the bankruptcy court has modified the automatic stay to permit this court to enter judgment in favor of the plaintiff and against defendant Mack for the award of attorney's fees and related expenses incurred since September 27, 1990. See In re Malcolm McGuffey a/k/a Wally Mack, 91 B 8924 (March 20, 1992). Therefore, the defendant's argument regarding the procedural impropriety of this motion is moot.

The defendant also argues that the plaintiff's attorneys are not entitled to recover the requested fees. Section 1988 gives courts discretion to award prevailing parties, such as the plaintiff in this case, reasonable attorney's fees as part of the costs. 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Under Section 1988, reasonable attorney's fees are to be established in light of all the circumstances, including the time and effort expended by counsel for the prevailing party, as well as the prevailing market rate for attorneys in the relevant community. Westfield Partners, Ltd. v. Hogan, 744 F.Supp. 189, 192 (N.D.Ill.1990). An initial estimate of a reasonable fee is made by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the case by a reasonable hourly rate. This amount then may be increased or decreased to reflect factors not subsumed by the initial calculation. Id. 3

In this instance, the plaintiff has provided the court with this initial calculation. As already stated, the plaintiff claims that she is entitled to recover $42,577.50 in attorney's fees and $1,302.52 in expenses incurred in litigating this case since September 28, 1990. In support of this claim, the plaintiff has provided this court with a chronological breakdown of attorney's fees. The plaintiff has also provided the affidavit of Aram Hartunian ("Hartunian"), the attorney supervising her case, stating that he reviewed the time sheets submitted by the attorneys working on Littlefield's case and that they are accurate.

The question remaining is whether the amount established by the plaintiff is reasonable or should be adjusted to take into account factors not reflected in the plaintiff's calculation. The defendant argues that the plaintiff's fee calculation should not be accepted because the number of hours of legal work sought to be recovered by the plaintiff is unreasonable. The Seventh Circuit has stated that the standard of service to be rendered and compensated in cases such as this one is not one of perfection. Rather, "a litigant is entitled to attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 for an effective and completely competitive representation but not one of supererogation." Charles v. Daley, 846 F.2d 1057, 1076 (7th Cir. 1988) (citing Grendel's Den, Inc. v. Larkin, 749 F.2d 945 (1st Cir. 1984)).

Based upon this court's careful review of the time records submitted by the plaintiff's attorneys, we find that the number of hours of legal work claimed by plaintiff's attorneys is reasonable. Plaintiff's counsel have worked a total of 281.4 hours on Littlefield's case since September 28, 1990. This figure represents the work of four attorneys and a third year law student working for the law firm representing Littlefield. The majority of the hours of work claimed represent work on the brief and the oral argument of the defendant's appeal. Contrary to the defendant's contention, the numerous hours expended on the brief do not appear unreasonable. As the plaintiff suggests, the plaintiff was...

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