United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, E.D
February 26, 1985
DOROTHY GAUTREAUX, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
CHICAGO HOUSING AUTHORITY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Aspen, District Judge:
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This litigation, now about to enter its twentieth year,
began in 1966 when the plaintiff class brought related actions
against the Chicago Housing Authority ("CHA") and the United
States Department of Housing and Urban Development ("HUD")
alleging that defendants had violated their rights under the
Civil Rights Act of 1866, as amended, 42 U.S.C. § 1981 et seq.,
and the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Consistent with the modified consent decree which was accepted
by this Court on July 16, 1981, HUD authorized the construction
of the Academy Square project, a 200-unit Section 8 Family
Housing Development. On July 16, 1982, the Court ordered that
construction of this project be achieved by October 1, 1982.
After the defendants failed even to begin construction by that
deadline, Midwest Community Council ("Midwest") moved to
intervene in this suit. The Court allowed Midwest to intervene
on November 8, 1982, "as a party plaintiff for the limited
purpose to monitor and enforce the previous orders of this
Court as they relate to the Academy Square Development."
Presently before the Court is Midwest's motion for attorney's
fees. For the reasons set forth below, Midwest's motion is
When Congress created the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees
Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, it recognized the
critical nexus between providing for recovery of attorney's
fees and ensuring enforcement of the civil rights laws.
All of these civil rights laws depend heavily
upon private enforcement, and fee awards have
proved an essential remedy if private citizens
are to have a meaningful opportunity to vindicate
the important Congressional policies which these
S.Rep. No. 1011, 94th Cong., 2d Sess. 4, reprinted in 
U.S.Code Cong. & Ad. News 5908, 5910. Congress further
predicted that "[i]n the large majority of cases the party or
parties seeking to enforce such rights will be the plaintiffs
and/or plaintiff-intervenors." Id. at 5912. Thus, Congress
explicitly noted that intervening parties as well as original
plaintiffs might be entitled to attorney's fees. Various courts
also have acknowledged the propriety of awarding attorney's
fees to prevailing intervenors. E.g., Donnell v. United States,
682 F.2d 240 (D.C. Cir. 1982), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 1204
S.Ct. 1190, 75 L.Ed.2d 436 (1983); Seattle School District No.
1 v. State of Washington, 633 F.2d 1338
(9th Cir. 1980),
aff'd, 458 U.S. 457
, 102 S.Ct. 3187, 73 L.Ed.2d 896 (1982);
Morgan v. McDonough, 511 F. Supp. 408 (D.Mass. 1981), aff'd,
689 F.2d 265
(1st Cir. 1982).
In order to recover attorney's fees, plaintiffs or
intervenors must show that they prevailed — and that the
underlying claim was an "action or proceeding to enforce a
provision of sections 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 of this
title, title IX of Public Law 92-318, or title VI of the Civil
Rights Act of 1964." 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Additionally, an
intervenor's attorney's fee award may be limited by the Court's
assessment of the proportionate contribution which the
intervenor made to the ultimate success. We find that Midwest
is entitled to attorney's fees as a prevailing party which made
significant contributions to the plaintiffs' ultimate success
regarding the Academy Square project.
The City argues that Midwest should not be awarded
attorney's fees for several reasons. First, the City claims
that Midwest did not act "to secure a recognized,
constitutionally protected right" or to enforce any provision
of the civil rights laws enumerated in section 1988. This
claim is unpersuasive. Midwest's intervention served to
enforce this Court's orders concerning the construction of
certain public housing which the defendants agreed to provide.
Midwest therefore helped obtain compliance with aspects of the
consent decree which was entered into so that various
constitutional and civil rights violations might be remedied.
The connection between Midwest's actions and the plaintiffs'
civil rights claims is clearly not so tenuous as to preclude
recovery of attorney's fees.
The City also claims that Midwest's role in this case is
more accurately characterized as an amicus curiae than as a
party plaintiff. This claim hardly requires a response, as it
ignores the Court's express designation of Midwest as a limited
"party plaintiff" and obviously understates Midwest's
participation in the case.
We thus turn to the City's next argument, that Midwest is
not a "prevailing party." It is clear that when Midwest moved
to intervene, neither the principal plaintiffs nor the Court
knew that the CHA was attempting to find an alternate site for
the Academy Square project and to abandon the original site
either through inaction or by seeking vacation of the
condemnation award. After Midwest presented this information,
we noted our concern that the original site would be lost
before an alternate site had been approved.*fn1 We also
questioned at that time whether the CHA would have made any
formal request at all for HUD approval of the alternate site
if Midwest had not brought its motion to intervene.*fn2
Later, when the Court directed the principal plaintiffs to
move for a Rule to Show Cause, both the Court and plaintiffs'
attorney acknowledged Midwest's role leading to that
The above examples are not meant to detail the full extent
of Midwest's involvement in this case, but to illustrate how
— at various points — Midwest was instrumental in maintaining
the integrity of the Court's efforts regarding the Academy
Square project. Indeed, we agree with Midwest that its careful
monitoring of the City's actions and its aggressive activities
ensuring compliance with the Court's orders, served to assure
that the Academy Square project was not abandoned. Thus, we
find that Midwest was a "prevailing party" entitled to recover
attorney's fees. Moreover, in light of Midwest's significant —
perhaps essential — contribution to the plaintiffs' success in
achieving construction of the Academy Square project, it would
be inappropriate to limit Midwest's recovery to some fraction
of the total attorney's fees and costs actually incurred.
The City's final two objections to Midwest's request for
fees may be answered briefly. First, the City claims that
Midwest's time records are too vague to provide sufficient
evidence of the reasonableness of the fees requested. We
disagree. As the Supreme Court stated recently, "counsel, of
course, is not required to record in great detail how each
minute of his time was expended. But at least counsel should
identify the general subject matter of his time expenditures."
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1941 n. 12,
76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983). Midwest's time records satisfy this
requirement. They are broken down into small blocks of time and
are explained in sufficient detail. Thus, they are not too
vague to support Midwest's motion for fees.*fn4
Second, the City contends that Midwest's motion should be
denied because it is untimely. It is certainly within the
Court's discretion to deny fees where a delay in filing the
motion for fees has prejudiced the other party. White v. New
Hampshire Department of Employment Security, 455 U.S. 445, 454,
102 S.Ct. 1163, 1167-68, 71 L.Ed.2d 325 (1982). However, the
City has failed to demonstrate any prejudice in this case. The
City merely states that Midwest's motion is "ipso facto
prejudicial" because it is based on events which occurred up to
two years ago. We disagree. Many civil rights cases take
years to resolve, as this litigation aptly demonstrates. And,
as in this case, motions for fees will often encompass long
periods of time. In light of these circumstances and without
a more specific showing of prejudice, the Court declines to
deny Midwest's motion as untimely.
Accordingly, Midwest's motion for attorney's fees and costs
totalling $31,804.82 is granted. It is so ordered.