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WILLIS v. BELL

January 29, 1992

MACEO WILLIS, Plaintiff,
v.
ERNEST BELL, et al.,1 Defendants.


Shadur


The opinion of the court was delivered by: MILTON I. SHADUR

This case is now on appeal from a jury verdict in which nominal damages of $ 1 were awarded to plaintiff Maceo Willis ("Willis") for a violation of his constitutional rights--a matter on which this Court had earlier ruled in Willis' favor on a motion for summary judgment as to liability (726 F.Supp. 1118 (N.D. Ill. 1989)). As in every civil rights action in which a plaintiff has prevailed in whole or in part under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("Section 1983"), this final chapter involves the determination of attorneys' fees awardable under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 ("Section 1988"). This opinion will not rehearse all that has gone before in this bitterly fought litigation, limiting itself instead to what is essential to resolution of the fee dispute.

 Positions of the Parties

 Appointed counsel for Willis have--just as they did in the course of their high-quality work on the merits in representing their client--performed an extraordinary task in paring their fee petition (the "Petition") to an absolute minimum so as to be invulnerable to attack in any of the respects in which such requests are frequently suspect. Although the requested base award of $ 105,399.50 (exclusive of the appropriate adjustment for the time value of money) that covers counsel's work through August 31, 1991, plus $ 6,136 for their preparation of the fee Petition and briefing on that subject, would seem large if viewed in a vacuum *fn2" --and although the ultimate result that counsel obtained for Willis was an award of just nominal damages--the only objective conclusion must be that the Petition is a modest and unexceptionable one (subject only to the determination of the legal questions that are addressed in this opinion).

 Indeed, the Petition and Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees is truly a model of its kind, reflecting the most meticulous attention to all the relevant standards. Its approach to the lodestar calculation reflected a reduction in hours that, if anything, understated the time actually chargeable in the area as to which Willis was the "prevailing party" for Section 1988 purposes--the Petition must be read to appreciate the care and attention that went into its preparation. And its hourly rates for all three lawyers involved (lead counsel Jeffrey Schiller, his principal associate Michael Braun and supervising partner Robert Case) are well within the reasonable range for lawyers of such experience and skill (indeed, a billing at higher hourly rates would not be out of line in market terms). Finally, though the few hours devoted by two summer associates have been included at rates somewhat above what this Court has approved in other cases for persons who do lawyer-type work but who are not yet admitted to the bar, those rates too are supported by the expert opinion of Jenner & Block partner Michael Brohman--and they too were not objected to by defendant City of Chicago ("City"). *fn3"

 In sum, the lodestar figure (the product of hours times hourly rates) was eminently reasonable. Its reasonableness, a decision independently reached by this Court, is reinforced by City's frank acknowledgement in its responsive Mem. 1 (footnote omitted) and 5:

 * * *

 City has no objection to the hourly rates of the attorneys involved. Nor is there any objection to the method of calculating the amount of fees sought for which plaintiff relies on Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434. (Plaintiff's memorandum, p. 8).

 City has no objection to an adjustment for the delay in collecting fees by the method the Court prefers.

 (Plaintiff's memorandum, p. 8-9).

 And the same is true as to counsel's supplemental application for $ 6,136, on which the opposing sets of lawyers reached a commendable compromise agreement and thus avoided any wasteful fees-on-fees contest (once again the Supplemental Petition should simply be read for its lucid explanation of the cutback that it reflected and the nature of the parties' agreement).

 Initially City objected only in these terms (City Mem. 2):

 While plaintiff prevailed in this litigation by receiving a summary judgment, subsequent to the entry of that judgment, extensive legal services were performed in connection with a trial which failed to alter the legal relationship between the parties. . . . Because plaintiff only partially prevailed, City objects to award of attorney's fees ...


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