Robert Duff began representing James and Christy Gastineau approximately three years after they filed suit in the Southern District of Indiana raising Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (“FDCPA”) claims. Duff was the third attorney to represent the Gastineaus in the case. Although Duff claimed that he had thirteen years of litigation and consumer law experience, his only other FDCPA case resulted in a default judgment. In the Gastineaus’ case, Duff’s representation began after substantial discovery and motion practice had already been completed. Nonetheless, Duff successfully negotiated a $45,000 settlement on the first scheduled day of trial. Duff requested a fee award in excess of $140,000, based in part on his hourly rate of $250 per hour. Citing Duff’s lack of experience and late entry into the case, the District Court reduced Duff’s hourly rate to $150 per hour and cut the number of hours he was allowed to recover. Duff appealed.
The Seventh Circuit observed that the calculation of attorney’s fees is driven by the ”lodestar method,” which is simply the mutliplication of a reasonable hourly rate by the number of hours reasonably expended by the attorney. Further, the Seventh Circuit noted that the federal district court’s have the discretion to adjust the result of the lodestar method based on factors such as the complexity of the legal issues, the degree of success, and the public interest advanced by the litigation.
In affirming the District Court, the Seventh Circuit noted that, particularly because of Duff’s late entry into the proceedings, the case “should have been a relatively straightforward FDCPA action.” Further, the Seventh Circuit held that the District Court did not commit clear error when it concluded that a substantial portion of the hours Duff billed on the case — over 500 total — were for learing the law. In closing, the Seventh Circuit found that “[t]his is clearly the case of an experienced district judge that considered the various factors in setting a reasonable attorney’s fee and provided a sufficient explanation.” Based on this, the Seventh Circuit found no abuse of discretion.
The Seventh Circuit’s written opinion in the case — Gastineau v. Wright.