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COLEMAN v. FRIERSON

April 30, 1985

SAMUEL COLEMAN, PLAINTIFF,
v.
GORDON FRIERSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Samuel Coleman ("Coleman") prevailed against each of the remaining three defendants in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983") action, brought to challenge Coleman's firing as Special Investigator for the Village of Robbins ("Robbins") and his later arrest on charges of impersonating a police officer. After entry of a default judgment as to liability against defendants, a jury trial was held solely to determine Coleman's damages. Verdicts were returned in the following amounts:

    1. against former Robbins Mayor Marion Smith ("Smith"),
  $250,000 in compensatory damages for physical, mental and
  emotional injury and $100,000 in punitive damages;
    2. against former Robbins Police Chief Gordon Frierson
  ("Frierson"), $125,000 in compensatory damages for physical,
  mental and emotional injury and $100,000 in punitive damages;
    3. against Robbins, $34,000 in lost wages and $14,842 in
  interest; and
    4. against Frierson and Smith jointly and severally, $3,000
  in compensatory damages for legal and medical
  expenses.*fn1
  Coleman has now petitioned for an award of attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 ("Section 1988"). His petition is granted, subject to the limitations stated in this opinion.

Reasonable Fee Award

Parties are "prevailing" for Section 1988 purposes "if they succeed on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1939, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983), quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978). Because Coleman certainly qualifies as a prevailing party in those terms, it remains only to calculate a "reasonable" fee in the circumstances of the case. For that purpose this Court must look first to "the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate," Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433, 103 S.Ct. at 1939, an inquiry that entails consideration of such factors as the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, the amount involved and the results obtained, the customary fee and the experience and ability of the attorney. Id. at 430 n. 4, 103 S.Ct. at 1938 n. 4, citing Johnson v. Georgia Highway Express, Inc., 488 F.2d 714, 717-19 (5th Cir. 1974).

Affidavits filed by Coleman's attorneys, Abraham Goldman ("Goldman") and Steven Ackerman ("Ackerman"), set out in scrupulous detail the time spent on this lawsuit from March 1982 through November 1984. They have taken special care to deduct (1) time for duplicate effort and (2) time that has already been compensated by sanctions under Fed.R.Civ.P. ("Rule") 37. After careful review of those affidavits, this Court finds Goldman's 303.25 hours and Ackerman's 537.75 hours over a two-year period represent a reasonable investment of time — especially given the nature of the case and the substantial problems created by defendants' and their counsel's conduct of the litigation.*fn2

Coleman had a difficult factual case to prove. Because his claim turned in part on Smith's and Frierson's intent — why they acted as they did — Coleman's lawyers were confronted by the always troublesome task of building on inferences. Similarly, every effort to pierce the veil of governmental action is likely to be hard, and that was doubly complicated here because the events underlying Coleman's claim occurred in the context of apparent conflict between the Robbins Board of Trustees and various Robbins officials over the locus of municipal authority and power. Goldman and Ackerman also had the job of dealing with complicated questions about the allocation of municipal power under state law. And all their work called for piecing the facts together out of a welter of deposition testimony. As already said, there can be no quarrel with the reasonableness of the time spent.

As for the applicable hourly rate, Goldman seeks an award at $150 per hour, while Ackerman has asked $100. Fair market value is the standard for appraising those requests, Strama v. Peterson, 561 F. Supp. 997, 999 (N.D.Ill. 1983), and that standard is plainly met here:

    1. Goldman has had extensive experience trying Section 1983
  cases. In fact he was trial counsel for plaintiffs in
  Winfield v. Murcia, 78 C 1792 (N.D.Ill. Oct. 30, 1981), the
  first case prosecuted to a verdict against the City of
  Chicago under the doctrine of Monell v. Department of Social
  Services of the City of New York, 436 U.S. 658, 692-93, 98
  S.Ct. 2018, 2036-37, 56 L.Ed.2d 611 (1978). Goldman has
  submitted recent statements issued to other civil rights
  clients reflecting the $150 hourly rate.
    2. Ackerman, like Goldman, has had substantial federal court
  trial experience in civil rights cases. For example, he was
  co-trial counsel with Goldman in Winfield. As of March 1983
  (in connection with a then-pending motion for assessment

  of fees as Rule 37 sanction) this Court calculated the value
  of Ackerman's services at $85 an hour. Increasing that rate
  to $100 is reasonable in terms of today's market rates.

Robbins urges not all the time expended by Goldman and Ackerman should be billed at their current hourly rates. On that score the case law in this Circuit is clearly otherwise. Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority, 690 F.2d 601, 612-13 (7th Cir. 1982), specifically holds awards at current hourly rates rather than historic rates are appropriate (and have been widely approved elsewhere). And Chapliiwy v. Uniroyal, Inc., 670 F.2d 760, 764 & n. 6 (7th ...


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