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RYBICKI v. STATE BD. OF ELECTIONS OF STATE OF ILL.

April 27, 1984

CHESTER J. RYBICKI, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
THE STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. MIGUEL DELVALLE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, V. THE STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS. BRUCE CROSBY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS, V. THE STATE BOARD OF ELECTIONS OF THE STATE OF ILLINOIS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



Before Cudahy, Circuit Judge, and Grady, and Bua, District Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Bua, District Judge.

    MEMORANDUM ORDER

I. HISTORY

These lawsuits, consolidated before this three-judge panel pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 2284(a), were brought by three groups of plaintiffs against the State Board of Elections of the State of Illinois ("the Board"), members of the Board individually and in their official capacities, the Legislative Redistricting Commission ("the Commission"), members of the Commission individually and in their official capacity, and James Edgar, the Illinois Secretary of State in his official capacity. Each of the three groups of plaintiffs challenged the 1981 legislative redistricting plan for election of candidates to the Illinois General Assembly ("the Commission Plan").

In Rybicki v. State Board of Elections, No. 81 C 6030, plaintiffs alleged that the Commission Plan unlawfully discriminated against suburban voters in the Chicago area by disproportionately concentrating voting power in the City of Chicago. The Rybicki plaintiffs also alleged that the Commission Plan was politically unfair, contained noncompact districts and unnecessarily fractured political subdivisions. Plaintiffs in Crosby v. State Board of Elections, No. 81 C 6093, alleged that the Commission Plan intentionally discriminated against black voters by diluting their voting strength and providing white voters a disproportionate opportunity to elect candidates of their choice. Plaintiffs in DelValle v. State Board of Elections, No. 81 C 6052, alleged that the Commission's redistricting effort similarly diluted the voting power of Hispanics.

Following a nine-day trial in which the Court heard testimony from 25 witnesses and received into evidence more than 200 exhibits, the Court, on January 12, 1982, issued written findings of fact and conclusions of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a). Rybicki v. State Board of Elections, 574 F. Supp. 1082 (N.D.Ill. 1982) ("Rybicki I"). In Rybicki I, the Court rejected the Rybicki plaintiffs' claims, on behalf of Republican and suburban voters, of noncompactness, partisan unfairness and impermissible fracturing of political subdivisions. See Rybicki I, 574 F. Supp. at 1096-1104. Regarding the Crosby plaintiffs' claims brought on behalf of black voters, the Court held that the Commission Plan purposefully diluted black voting strength in several significant instances. Id. at 1108. Specifically, the Court found evidence of "retrogression" in certain Senate districts (id. at 1108-09), evidence of purposeful racial discrimination in two additional Senate districts (id. at 1110), and evidence of racial vote dilution in three West Side Senate districts (id. at 1111). Rybicki I, however, rejected the Crosby plaintiffs' claims that "packing" certain black votes on Chicago's South Side and the creation of a "wall" separating black and white residential areas on Chicago's South Side constituted purposeful racial discrimination as defined by City of Mobile v. Bolden, 446 U.S. 55, 100 S.Ct. 1490, 64 L.Ed.2d 47 (1980). Id. at 1114-22. Finally, the Court in Rybicki I approved a settlement agreement entered into between the defendants and the DelValle plaintiffs on behalf of Hispanic voters. After reviewing the settlement proposal, the Court concluded that the DelValle settlement agreement was "fair, adequate and reasonable to Hispanics and affords them a fair opportunity to elect candidates of their choice to the General Assembly." Id. at 1124.

After Rybicki I was issued, however, and while various post-trial motions were pending before the Court, Congress amended the Voting Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1973 (1976), as amended on June 29, 1982, by Pub.L. No. 97-205, § 3, 96 Stat. 134 (1982), 42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 (West.Supp. 1983). In light of these amendments, the Court reconsidered the portion of Rybicki I which rejected certain claims presented by the Crosby plaintiffs. Utilizing the "results" test of the amended Voting Rights Act, the Court held that further relief was necessary to eradicate the "result" of vote dilution in voting districts in which the "packing" of black voters was proven at trial. Rybicki v. State Board of Elections, 574 F. Supp. 1147 (N.D.Ill. 1983) ("Rybicki II"). Accordingly, the Court requested that the Commission submit new district lines in several areas to implement the requirements of Rybicki II under the amended Voting Rights Act. Id. at 1158.

Following our decision in Rybicki II, the Crosby plaintiffs and defendants reached agreement on new district lines. After reviewing the parties' proposed Settlement Map, and finding that the proposed changes substantially increased black voting strength in the South Side districts, the Court approved the Crosby settlement agreement and incorporated its terms into the redistricting plan ordered in Rybicki I. Rybicki v. State Board of Elections, 574 F. Supp. 1161 (N.D.Ill. 1983) ("Rybicki III").

Presently before the Court are petitions submitted by all plaintiffs requesting attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and costs under Rule 54(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Rybicki plaintiffs request $226,030.50 in attorneys' fees and $31,018.18 in costs. The Crosby plaintiffs request $357,688.80 in fees and $71,378.10 in costs. The DelValle plaintiffs request $102,068.90 in fees and $2,600*fn1 in costs. The Commission objects to any fee award to the Rybicki plaintiffs but, in a letter to the Court dated June 6, 1983, has withdrawn its earlier objections to the Crosby and DelValle petitions. Defendants Edgar and the State Board of Elections object to any fee award to the Rybicki and Crosby plaintiffs and, although conceding that the DelValle plaintiffs are entitled to a portion of their requested fees, object to the amount of fees and costs the DelValle plaintiffs have requested. Although the Commission believes the Crosby and DelValle plaintiffs' request for a 20-percent multiplier is reasonable, the remaining defendants strenuously object to the award of any multiplier in these cases.*fn2

For the reasons stated below, we deny the Rybicki plaintiffs fees and costs, as they did not prevail in their lawsuit. We award the Crosby plaintiffs $255,795.25 in attorneys' fees and $71,378.10 in costs. The DelValle plaintiffs are awarded $78,580 in attorneys' fees and $2,600 in costs.

II. DISCUSSION

The Civil Rights Attorneys' Fees Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, allows federal courts discretion to award reasonable attorneys' fees to prevailing parties in federal civil rights actions. In this Circuit, a plaintiff will be considered a prevailing party if the plaintiff has succeeded "`on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the part[y] sought in bringing suit.'" Illinois Welfare Rights Organization v. Miller, 723 F.2d 564, 566 (7th Cir. 1983), (quoting Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1939, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983)). The threshold question of whether a party prevailed should not, however, involve a highly technical determination, but rather should be resolved in a "practical sense." Dawson v. Pastrick, 600 F.2d 70, 78 (7th Cir. 1979).

A. The Rybicki Plaintiffs

In Rybicki I, we rejected each of the Rybicki plaintiffs' theories of liability, brought on behalf of Republican and suburban interests, of noncompactness, partisan unfairness and impermissible fracturing of counties and suburban communities. Rybicki I, 574 F. Supp. at 1089-92. In regard to the interests of Republican and suburban voters, therefore, the Rybicki plaintiffs failed to prevail on any claims presented to this Court. The Rybicki plaintiffs, however, assert that because the final Commission Plan ordered by this Court ultimately benefitted Republican and suburban interests, they should be considered prevailing parties under the "catalyst" principle articulated in Stewart v. Hannon, 675 F.2d 846 (7th Cir. 1982). Similarly, the Rybicki plaintiffs contend that they should be considered prevailing parties because their complaint acted as a "catalyst" in forcing defendants to grant the Crosby and DelValle plaintiffs relief.

In Stewart, the court recognized that a prevailing party need not always prevail by pursuing the lawsuit to a favorable verdict in order to obtain fees under § 1988. In fact, a plaintiff will be considered a prevailing party for purposes of § 1988 if "the lawsuit acted as a catalyst, or was a material factor in the defendant's decision to change the disputed practices. . . ." Stewart, 675 F.2d at 851. This principle was recently reaffirmed in Illinois Welfare Rights Organization v. Miller, 723 F.2d 564 (7th Cir. 1983). In that case, the Seventh Circuit stated that:

  [t]he test for whether a plaintiff is a prevailing
  party in a settled case is two-fold. First, "the
  plaintiff['s] lawsuit must be causally linked to the
  achievement of the relief obtained," and second, "the
  defendant must not have acted wholly
  gratuitously. . . ."

Id. at 566 (quoting Harrington v. DeVito, 656 F.2d 264 (7th Cir. 1981), cert denied, 455 U.S. 993, 102 S.Ct. 1621, 71 L.Ed.2d 854 (1982)).

Although the Rybicki plaintiffs have failed to specify exactly what relief they obtained for Republican and suburban voters, we presume their reference is to Court Exhibits 1A, 2A and 2E which were presented by the Commission at trial in response to the suburban objections. Any benefit, however, which the Republican and suburban objections. Any benefit, however, which the Republican and suburban interests obtained as a result of these changes was simply not the result of the Rybicki lawsuit. Court Exhibit 2A was adopted, in part, to alleviate certain ancillary effects of our decision to grant the Crosby and DelValle plaintiffs relief. See Rybicki I, 574 F. Supp. 1082, 1125 n. 107 (N.D.Ill. 1982). Furthermore, any other resulting benefit to the Republican and suburban interests was not required by law as indicated by our rejection of the Rybicki plaintiffs' claims at trial. Although the Commission changes may have benefitted the Republican and suburban interests, they were not required by Rybicki I and therefore cannot substantiate a finding that the Rybicki plaintiffs prevailed in this action. See Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 281 (1st Cir. 1978).

Finally, the Rybicki plaintiffs urge this Court to consider them prevailing parties because their lawsuit also alleged racial vote dilution as a ground challenging the Commission Plan. The Rybicki plaintiffs, however, admit that before trial they agreed to have the Crosby and DelValle plaintiffs "principally pursue those claims." Rybicki Reply Memorandum filed April 22, 1982, at 8. For all practical purposes, the Rybicki plaintiffs sought relief for Republican and suburban interests and not black or Hispanic interests. Although the Rybicki plaintiffs brought considerable legal talent and financial resources to the litigation, we decline to consider them as prevailing parties merely because their complaint included minority claims.

Viewing this litigation in a "practical sense," the Rybicki plaintiffs failed to prevail on any claims they presented at trial. Furthermore, in light of the Crosby and DelValle plaintiffs' participation in this litigation, we decline to accept the proposition that the Rybicki lawsuit acted as a "catalyst" in obtaining relief for any plaintiffs in these cases. Cf. Dawson v. Pastrick, 600 F.2d 70, 79 (7th Cir. 1979). The petitions for fees and costs filed on behalf of the Rybicki plaintiffs are therefore denied.

B. The Crosby Plaintiffs

Although the Commission does not object to any aspect of the Crosby plaintiffs' fee request, the remaining defendants argue that the Crosby plaintiffs are not prevailing parties and therefore not entitled to any portion of the fees they have requested. Alternatively, the remaining defendants argue that the amount of fees and costs the Crosby plaintiffs request is excessive and should be reduced. We address the prevailing party issue first and quite simply.

Defendants contend that because the Crosby plaintiffs were unsuccessful in persuading this Court to strike the entire Commission Plan as unconstitutional, they failed to contribute "in a significant way to the outcome of the suit, and thus have [not] prevailed in their suit." Memorandum filed April 5, 1982, at 5-6. The Crosby plaintiffs, however, have prevailed in their lawsuit for two reasons. First, the relief obtained by the Crosby plaintiffs in Rybicki I and Rybicki II clearly satisfies the threshold prevailing party requirement as defined in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1939, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983). In Rybicki I, the Crosby plaintiffs were successful in showing that the Commission Plan, in several significant instances, purposefully diluted black voting strength. In Rybicki II, the Crosby plaintiffs established that the Commission Plan, in several instances, would be suspect under the amended Voting Rights Act. Clearly, the issues that the Crosby plaintiffs prevailed upon in Rybicki I and II were "significant" and achieved "some of the benefit" the Crosby plaintiffs sought in bringing their lawsuit. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. at ___, 103 S.Ct. at 1939 (1983); Illinois Welfare Rights Organization v. Miller, 723 F.2d 564, 566 (7th Cir. 1983). Second, the Crosby plaintiffs are prevailing parties due to the settlement agreement approved by this Court in Rybicki III. The settlement agreement, which accorded the Crosby plaintiffs even greater relief than they had obtained in Rybicki I, clearly represents a vindication of the Crosby plaintiffs' rights. See Illinois Welfare Rights Organization v. Miller, 723 F.2d at 566. The Crosby plaintiffs have therefore prevailed in this litigation and are entitled to a reasonable attorneys' fee award and costs.

Having concluded that the Crosby plaintiffs prevailed in their lawsuit, we next address defendants' argument that the amount of fees and costs requested is excessive and should be reduced. Defendants argue that the § 1988 fee award should be reduced because: (1) a substantial portion of the fee petition seeks compensation for time and effort spent on unsuccessful claims; (2) a substantial portion of the requested fees are derived from duplicative efforts; (3) the hourly rates requested are excessive; (4) certain costs which are requested are not properly recoverable; (5) two of the Crosby plaintiffs' attorneys should not be entitled to any fees; and (6) a multiplier of 20 percent is not justified. Each argument is addressed below.

We first determine whether the Crosby plaintiffs are entitled to recover fees attributable to unsuccessful claims. The resolution of that issue requires a two-step analysis. First, we must determine whether the unsuccessful claims were related to the claims on which the plaintiff succeeded. If so, we must then undertake a second analysis to determine whether the overall results obtained justify compensating the Crosby plaintiffs for the hours spent on the related but unsuccessful claims. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, ___, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1940, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983); Illinois Welfare Rights Organization v. Miller, 723 F.2d 564, 567 (7th Cir. 1983). Successful and unsuccessful claims will be considered "related" if they involve a "common core of facts" or "related legal theories." Id. An unsuccessful claim will be considered unrelated to a successful claim when "the relief sought on the unsuccessful claim is intended to remedy a course of conduct entirely distinct and separate from the course of conduct that gave rise to the injury on which the relief granted is premised." Mary Beth G. v. City of Chicago, 723 F.2d 1263, 1279 (7th Cir. 1983).

Defendants Edgar and the Board argue that the Crosby plaintiffs' fee petition should be reduced by the amount of fees attributable to the Crosby plaintiffs' unsuccessful claim that a racially defined "wall" around the black communities constitutes invidious discrimination under the Fourteenth Amendment. We disagree. Throughout this litigation, the Crosby plaintiffs have sought to increase black voting strength by proving that the defendants, by adopting the Commission Plan, unlawfully discriminated against black voters. Plaintiffs' unsuccessful "racial wall" argument was factually and legally related to their successful "retrogression" and "packing" theories of liability also presented at trial. Much of the research devoted to the "retrogression" and "packing" theories undoubtedly overlapped the "racial wall" theory of liability. In fact, an analysis factually involving the "wall" but specifically tied to considerations of "packing" resulted in Rybicki II in the redrawing of the lines which the Crosby plaintiffs characterized as a "wall." Also, the racially-defined "wall" theory of liability was, in large part, an alternative legal theory of liability properly presented at trial and therefore properly included within the Crosby plaintiffs' fee petition. Rejecting an alternative legal argument brought in good faith is not a sufficient reason to reduce a fee award under § 1988. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, ___, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1940, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983). In any event, the "racial wall" claim was not intended to remedy a course of conduct "entirely distinct and separate" from the "retrogression" and "vote packing" claims presented at trial. Cf. Mary Beth G. v. City of Chicago, 723 F.2d 1263, 1278-82 (7th Cir. 1983).

Having found that the Crosby plaintiffs' unsuccessful "racial wall" claim was related to their successful claims, we must next determine whether the overall results obtained justify compensating the Crosby plaintiffs on the "racial wall" claim. Illinois Welfare Rights Organization v. Miller, 723 F.2d 564, 567 (7th Cir. 1983). "If the plaintiff has achieved only partial success, . . . compensating the plaintiff for all hours expended on the litigation may be excessive." Id. If, however, the plaintiff has ...


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