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Edens v. Lason

May 25, 2006


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


Before the Court is plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees, expenses and costs (Doc. 236), to which defendant has filed objections (Doc. 238), plaintiff a reply (Doc. 239-1), and defendant a surreply (Doc. 240).

Plaintiff filed suit against defendant under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The jury returned a verdict in favor of plaintiff and against defendant, awarding plaintiff $7,500. Plaintiff's motion seeks $47,636.66 in attorneys' fees (Doc. 236), $3,445.14 in costs reflected on his Bill of Costs (Doc. 235), and $2,233.56 in additional costs, not reflected on the Bill of Costs (Doc. 237-1).*fn1 Plaintiff asserts he is entitled to the recovery of taxable costs pursuant to Rule 54(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and 28 U.S.C. § 1920 and to an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to § 1983(b) and § 1988 of Title 42. (Doc. 237-1).

Defendant objects to the amounts sought by plaintiff, arguing that 42 U.S.C. § 1997e(d)(2) caps an award of attorneys' fees under § 1983 at 150% of the monetary judgment awarded by the jury. (Doc. 238). Defendant further argues that travel and research costs should be construed as part of the attorneys' fees, and therefore should not be separately recoverable by plaintiff. (Doc. 238). Defendant does not challenge plaintiff's request for court costs. (Doc. 238). Defendant does object to an award of costs relating to any photocopies that were made for the convenience of counsel, citing Riley v. UOP, L.L.C., 258 F. Supp.2d 841 (N.D. Ill. 2003), Helzing v. Loyola Univ. of Chicago, No. 02-C-9408 (N.D. Ill. 2004), and Tony Jones Apparel, Inc., v. Indigo USA LTD, No. 03-C-0280 (N.D. Ill. 2005).

After careful consideration of the parties' arguments, the Court awards $11,250 in attorneys' fees and $3,304.62 in costs to plaintiff's attorneys. The Court further applies $1,875 of the plaintiff's judgment to satisfy the fee award.

1. Plaintiff's Attorneys' Fees

Federal law allows the Court discretion to award reasonable attorneys' fees as part of the costs pursuant to § 1988. Determination of an attorneys' fee award is a two-pronged inquiry. First, plaintiff must be a "prevailing party." Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 109--11 (1992). Second, the award of fees must be reasonable. See id. at 114. The Prison Litigation Reform Act of 1995 ("PLRA") establishes statutory limits to the amount of fees recoverable. The hourly rate is capped at 150 percent of the rate for court-appointed counsel under the Criminal Justice Act ("CJA"), 18 U.S.C. § 3006A, and defendant may not be liable for an award of attorneys' fees in excess of 150 percent of the judgment. § 1997e(d)(2). The Seventh Circuit has found these caps to be constitutional. Johnson v. Daley, 339 F.3d 582 (7th Cir. 2003). Additionally, part of the judgment awarded, up to twenty-five percent, shall be applied to satisfy the amount of attorneys' fees awarded against the defendant. Id. at 584.

On March 28, 2006, judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff in this action. (Doc. 233). As the prevailing party, plaintiff is therefore entitled to reasonable attorneys's fees as limited by the PLRA. The applicable hourly rate for determining attorneys' fees in this matter shall be $135.00 per hour from the date of plaintiff's counsel's appointment in April 2005, through December 31, 2005. This is found by multiplying the rate under the CJA ($90.00 per hour) by 150 percent. The hourly rate for January 1, 2006, to date shall be $138.00 per hour, as the CJA rate was increased to $92.00 per hour effective January 1, 2006. Plaintiff seeks $40,403.10 in attorneys' fees. (Doc. 237-1). However, as discussed above, plaintiff may not recover attorneys' fees in excess of 150 percent of the jury award. Accordingly, the PLRA caps plaintiffs' recovery of attorneys' fees in this matter at $11,250. That amount equates to approximately 82 hours of one attorney's time. The Court FINDS an award of $11,250 to be proportionately related to the jury award of $7,500 and that 82 hours of attorney time were reasonably spent in preparation and trial of this matter.*fn2

Defendant Larson argues that twenty-five percent of the plaintiff's judgment should be applied to the fee award. (Doc. 238). The Court notes that the PLRA does not require that twenty-five percent of the judgment be applied to the fee award, but, in its discretion, finds that a twenty-five percent set-off is reasonable in this case.*fn3 Accordingly, plaintiff is hereby AWARDED $11,250 in attorneys' fees, $1,875 of which is to be satisfied from the monies awarded in the plaintiff's judgment.

2. Plaintiff's Costs

Plaintiff seeks an award of $5,678.70 in costs-$3,445.14 from the Bill of Costs, and $2,233.56 in "Case Expenses (not included in the Bill of Costs)." (Doc. 237-1). The amounts sought as "Case Expenses" include Westlaw and medical research, travel and lodging. (Doc. 237, Ex. 1b). Defendant argues that the amount sought in the Bill of Costs should be reduced by the cost of unnecessary photocopying. (Docs. 238, 240). Defendant further argues that the "Case Expenses" sought should be deemed as falling under the broader category of "attorneys' fees" and are therefore not separately recoverable apart from the PLRA cap discussed above. (Doc. 238).

Under Rule 54(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "costs other than attorneys' fees shall be allowed as of course to the prevailing party unless the court otherwise directs[.]" The costs recoverable under Rule 54(d) are listed in 28 U.S.C. § 1920. See Crawford Fitting Co. v. J.T. Gibbons, Inc., 482 U.S. 437, 441 (1987). These are:

(1) Fees of the clerk and marshal;

(2) Fees of the court reporter for all or any part of the stenographic transcript necessarily ...

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