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Bob Coop and Rhonda Coop v. City of South Bend

decided: December 12, 1980.

BOB COOP AND RHONDA COOP, PLAINTIFFS-APPELLEES,
v.
CITY OF SOUTH BEND, DAVID SHOCK AND VINCENT LAURITA, DEFENDANTS-APPELLANTS .



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division. No. S 78-C-241 -- Allen Sharp, Judge .

Before Bauer, Wood and Cudahy, Circuit Judges.

Author: Wood

This is an appeal from an award of attorney's fees under the Civil Rights Attorneys Fees Awards Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The jury returned a verdict against defendants-appellants, City of South Bend and South Bend Police Officers Shock and Laurita, in the amount of $510 as compensation for their violation of Bob and Rhonda Coop's Fourth Amendment rights. The district court awarded attorney's fees of $6,000 which appellants contend is excessive and unwarranted. We find no abuse of discretion and affirm the district court order.

The South Bend Police Department had obtained a warrant to search the home of appellees' neighbors, Paul and Dawn Watson, for narcotics. In order to minimize the possibility of violence, it was decided to gain entry by subterfuge with police officers posing as representatives of the Indiana & Michigan Electric Company.*fn1 Under this guise and in furtherance of their plan, police officers Shock and Laurita requested and obtained entry into the Coops' home, apparently to show a neighborhood pattern. Immediately thereafter, the police officers similarly gained entry to the Watsons' home using the same ruse and executed the search warrant.

Appellees brought suit in the Superior Court of the State of Indiana against the City of South Bend, several police officers, an unnamed informant and the Indiana & Michigan Electric Company. Appellants petitioned for removal to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana stating that the action "arises under the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States and 42 U.S.C. § 1983...." The petition was granted and a jury trial on the merits followed. Directed verdicts were granted to Indiana & Michigan Electric Company and three police officers who did not enter the plaintiffs' residence, and the complaint against the informant was dismissed.

At the conclusion of the evidence, the district court ruled that as a matter of law punitive damages could not be recovered. A verdict was returned against the three remaining defendants and compensatory damages were assessed in the amount of $510.

The judgment was entered on October 25, 1979. On that date, the court also directed that if counsel for the Coops wished to request attorney's fees, it would be necessary to file by November 13, 1979, and that fees would be limited to claims against the three defendants against whom they prevailed, specifically excluding the Indiana & Michigan Electric Company. Appellants were directed that a response would have to be filed "by December 3, 1979" and that no extensions of time would be granted.

On November 13, 1979, appellees' counsel filed a request for $13,800 in fees, enumerating fourteen activities in connection with the Coops' suit and the hours expended on each. The total request was for 184 hours at the rate of $75 per hour. On December 3, 1979, no response having been filed, the district court ordered an award of $6,000, representing 120 hours at the rate of $50 per hour. The order specifically disallowed hours which represented work done in furtherance of the action against the Indiana & Michigan Electric Company as well as reducing the number of trial counsel and the rate. The district court indicated that the award was based on the total record and the guidelines announced in Waters v. Wisconsin Steel Works, 502 F.2d 1309 (7th Cir. 1974).

On December 4, 1979, appellants filed a request to reconsider the award of attorney's fees and a request for a hearing, stating that on December 3, 1979, at the close of business, they had not completed the brief opposing attorney's fees and were "in process of requesting leave to file the brief one day late...." The trial judge considered the motion and supporting memorandum, over appellees' objection that it was untimely, and subsequently entered an order affirming that after careful review of both the memorandum and record, the award was well within the law as announced in Dawson v. Pastrick, 600 F.2d 70 (1979), the most recent Seventh Circuit authority.

The Civil Rights Attorneys Fees Awards Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, provides that "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of costs." That this discretion is somewhat narrow is apparent from the legislative history:

A party seeking to enforce the rights protected by the statutes covered by S.2278, if successful, "should ordinarily recover attorney's fees unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust." Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 390 U.S. 400, 402, 88 S. Ct. 964, 19 L. Ed. 2d 1263 (1968).

S.Rep.No.94-1011, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 4, reprinted in (1976) U.S.Code Cong. & Ad.News, pp. 5908, 5912. Dawson v. Pastrick, 600 F.2d 70, 79.

Appellants contend that the award in this instance is unjust in that (1) appellees were not the prevailing party, (2) there are special circumstances which would make the award unjust, and (3) the amount of fees was improperly calculated.

The court properly determined that appellees were the prevailing party in this action. While it is true that the initial suit included eight defendants and that the final judgment was entered against only three, it is only the suit against those three which is the basis for the fees. This is not a suit like Roesel v. Joliet Wrought Washer Co., 596 F.2d 183 (7th Cir. 1979), in which plaintiff and defendant each prevailed in part. Nor did the Coops recover on only part of their claims against the three defendants, although it is clear that this would not require a different result. See Muscare v. Quinn, 614 F.2d 577 (7th Cir. 1980); Dawson v. Pastrick, 600 F.2d 70. The small amount of the award for damages is an appropriate consideration in the determination of reasonable fees (see Waters v. Wisconsin Steel Works, 502 F.2d 1309, 1332 ...


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