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Federal Bar Update: Northern District order changes judicial assignments

May 31, 2017

FedBarMaley-sigThe Northern District of Indiana has implemented new protocols for assignment of cases to judges, both for certain pending cases and for newly filed cases. Specifically, the court issued General Order No. 2017-4 in late March, effective May 1.

Newly filed cases — The order provides that “all civil cases filed in the Northern District of Indiana shall be randomly assigned to a United States district judge then resident in the division in which the case is filed, with one exception: Judge Philip P. Simon will be treated as a judge sitting in the South Bend Division. As there is no resident judge currently in Lafayette, all civil cases filed in the Lafayette courthouse shall be randomly assigned to a district judge located in Hammond.”

The order then sets forth, “Except as hereinafter provided, civil cases filed in Fort Wayne will be assigned to Judge William C. Lee or Judge Theresa L. Springmann. Civil cases filed in Hammond and Lafayette will be assigned to Judge James T. Moody, Judge Rudy Lozano or Judge Joseph S. Van Bokkelen. Civil cases filed in South Bend will be assigned to Judge Jon E. DeGuilio, Judge Philip P. Simon or Judge Robert L. Miller, Jr.”

Senior judges — As for senior judges (Judges William Lee, Rudy Lozano, Robert Miller and James Moody), the order provides that each “senior judge shall receive a percentage of the total number of cases assigned to an active judge. The percentage of any senior judge’s caseload is subject to change and shall be based upon the judge’s annual request for certification under the Ethics Reform Act of 1989, 28 U.S.C. § 371, the Judicial Conference rules implementing § 371, see Guide to Judiciary Policies and Procedures, Vol. 12, § 620.45, and the Seventh Circuit Guidelines to Determine the Staffing Requirements of Senior and Recalled Judges.”

The order then delineates that Judge Moody “will share in a combined civil and criminal caseload equal to 50% of the total number of cases assigned to an active judge,” but will not be assigned certain enumerated case types (e.g., class actions). Judge Lee will share in civil caseload equal to 50 percent of the total number of cases assigned to an active judge with the same exceptions. Judge Lozano will continue to share in a full civil caseload, but will not be assigned the same enumerated case types as Judge Moody and Judge Lee. Judge Miller will share in a civil caseload equal to 50 percent of the total number of cases assigned an active judge, but will not be assigned environmental actions.

Reassigned cases — Many counsel with civil cases in the Northern District of Indiana recently received orders reassigning cases from one district judge to another. Although not expressly part of the new standing order, the court’s transmittal notice to counsel explains, “Pending cases in which the discovery period has not concluded will be transferred to a district judge sitting in the filing division, unless the presiding judge feels there is a reason the case should not be transferred.”

Magistrate Judge Cherry — Finally, the notice to counsel with the general order discusses Magistrate Judge Cherry’s assignments, stating, “Given the significant caseload in Fort Wayne, Magistrate Judge Paul R. Cherry, as of May 1, will begin sharing in civil and criminal magistrate judge responsibilities in the Fort Wayne Division and will no longer be assigned to new cases in the Hammond Division. Magistrate Judge Cherry will retain all of his pending civil cases.”

Appellate attorney fees — For those seeking or resisting attorney fees on appeal, Judge Richard Posner’s opinion in Prather v. Sun Life and Health Ins. Co., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 5898 (March 30, 2017), is a must read. An ERISA case in which appellate fees were deemed to be recoverable, the 7th Circuit (Posner, Wood, Williams) ruled that the claimed $37,170 in appellate attorney fees was almost $7,000 too high.

The panel wrote: “It remains to consider Sun Life’s challenge to the amount of the award of attorneys’ fees ($37,170). We are persuaded by its argument that 3.6 hours of the attorney’s work should be subtracted because they were hours devoted to simple administrative tasks such as preparing the table of contents and appendix of the brief, and formatting the brief; 4.4 hours incurred by failing to delegate portions of the research, drafting, and editing of the brief to a more junior attorney; and 2 hours for preparation for oral argument, which was too much time given the lawyer’s experience in arguing in the courts of appeals. The result of these adjustments is to reduce the number of hours on which the $37,170 fee award is based from 59 to 49, yielding (with a further adjustment, reducing the attorney’s billing rate from $630 to $620, on the ground that the $630 rate reflected an excessive rate increase of 5 percent from his hourly rate of $600 in 2015) a total fee award of $30,380 — which is the amount we award the plaintiff.”•

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John Maley (jmaley@btlaw.com) is a partner with Barnes & Thornburg LLP, practicing federal and state litigation, employment matters, and appeals. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

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