7th Circuit cuts attorney fees in Indy skyline photo case

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found the District Court did not calculate attorney fees correctly in a dismissed copyright lawsuit and remanded the case so the correct amount could be awarded.

Richard Bell brought a copyright lawsuit against Charles Lantz and 46 other defendants alleging each of them violated the Copyright Act in using a photo of the Indianapolis skyline on their websites. After interrogatories it was confirmed Lantz did not violate the copyright and the District Court granted Lantz’s motion to dismiss the claim with prejudice.

Lantz then filed a motion as the prevailing party for costs and attorney fees under the Copyright Act. Bell did not challenge the fact that attorney fees should be awarded, but challenged the amount of fees.

In the decision written by Circuit Judge Ilana Rovner, the panel said the District Court incorrectly calculated the attorney fees that were awarded Lantz. Fees of $250 an hour should have been awarded, not the $410 that was awarded by District Judge Tanya Walton Pratt, who found there was no evidence for the $250 fee. Rovner wrote evidence was submitted for the $250 rate, but it was under seal, so Pratt may not have noticed it.

The evidence included an engagement letter from Overhauser Law Office LLC to Lantz confirming the engagement of the firm in the case at $250 per hour. It also said the firm would direct its invoices to LegalShield “for now.” There were also many invoices with the $250 rate on them that Bell submitted as evidence.

Lantz argued the $250 rate invoices were those sent to LegalShield and copied to him because LegalShield’s hourly cap was $250, and Lantz was liable for the rest of the fees up to $410 an hour, but the 7th Circuit did not accept this argument. The engagement letter said Overhauser would direct his invoices to LegalShield, and if there were more to pay, Overhauser would have sent invoices to Lantz directly. Also, invoices showed the $250 rate and not the $410 rate.

Bell also argued that the District Court erred in refusing to reduce the fee award based on Lantz’s failure to mitigate his own costs and fees. However, the 7th Circuit noted there was no factual basis for this allegation and dismissed it. The 7th Circuit also rejected an argument that fees spent by defense counsel defending the fee petition should not be charged.

The case is Richard N. Bell v. Charles Lantz,15-2341.

 

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