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Lopez v. City of Chicago

November 20, 2007

JOSEPH LOPEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, JAMES DELAFONTE, JENNIFER DELUCIA, HECTOR VERGARA, DANIEL JACOBS, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Elaine E. Bucklo United States District Judge

Plaintiff Joseph Lopez filed a lawsuit against defendants, the City of Chicago ("the City"), James Delafonte, Jennifer DeLucia, Hector Vergara, Daniel Jacobs, Jose Gomez, and Robert Meyers (collectively "defendants") raising a number of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claims arising from plaintiff's arrest by Chicago police for a murder he did not commit. Lopez has petitioned for (1) attorney and paralegal fees in the amount of $888,592.00, (2) taxable expenses in the amount of $33,177.72, and (3) other costs in the amount of $28,932.00 pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 54, 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (2006), and 28 U.S.C. § 1920 (2006). Defendants raise several objections. For the following reasons, the petition is granted in part and denied in part.

I.

The following includes a brief review of the facts described in detail by the Seventh Circuit in Lopez v. City of Chicago, 464 F.3d 711, 715-17 (7th Cir. 2006). On July 19, 2000, a 12-year-old boy was killed in a drive-by shooting. Based on one eyewitness's identification, Lopez was arrested without a warrant around 2 p.m. on July 20 by Officers Gomez and Myers. Lopez initially lied to the police about his identity, but was identified by a police officer who was familiar with him. After Lopez was taken into custody by Officers Gomez and Myers, Lopez was handcuffed, placed in the police car, and punched in the face by Gomez. Lopez was then taken to the Chicago Police Department's Area 5 detective headquarters where they left him in the custody of the defendant detectives: Jennifer Delucia, James Delafont, Daniel Jacobs, and Hector Vergara.

Lopez was placed in a nine-by-seven-foot interrogation room and his arm was handcuffed to a metal ring fasted to the wall about three feet off the floor. When Lopez asked to be unshackeld from the wall one of the detectives told Lopez "no" because he "was a murderer." There was no sink, toilet, or running water in the room. The room had no clock and Lopez did not have a watch. He was kept shackled in the room for four days and four nights. During that period he was fed once and was allowed limited access to the bathroom, only after screaming for detectives to grant him permission to leave the room.

Lopez filed his initial nine-count complaint on March 15, 2001 alleging: (1) excessive force against Officer Gomez and a policy claim against the City under Monell v. Dep't of Social Servs., 436 U.S. 658, (1978); (2) assault and battery against Gomez; (3) intentional infliction of emotional distress against Gomez; (4) unlawful detention against all defendants and a policy claim against the City; (5) police torture against all defendants and a policy claim against the City; (6) conspiracy against all defendants and a policy claim against the City; (7) common law civil conspiracy against all defendants; (8) respondeat superior against City; and (9) indemnification against the City. On July 17, 2001, plaintiff filed a first amended complaint which added claims for failure to prevent excessive force against Myers and a policy claim against the City, and expanded the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against all defendants.

On November 12, 2002, plaintiff filed a second amended complaint which contained class allegations, omitted the initial conspiracy counts, and added claims by plaintiff and the class against the City for an unlawful detention policy under (1) the fourth amendment and (2) the fourteenth amendment. Also, although false arrest was not formally pleaded in a specific count, defendants contended the second amended complaint contained allegations that "without probable cause" the officers arrested Lopez. On March 31, 2004, the court granted summary judgment to Officers Gomez and Myers on the false arrest, police torture, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims and also granted summary judgment to Officer Myers on the failure to intervene to prevent excessive force claims.

The court never reached the issue of class certification because plaintiff withdrew his class certification motion and then filed a third, and final, amended complaint on September 22, 2004 alleging the same claims as the initial complaint, but limiting the intentional infliction of emotional distress, unlawful detention, and police torture claims with respect to the individual defendants to DeLucia, Delafont, Vergara, and Daniels. The third amended complaint also omitted the original conspiracy counts.

A trial was held in March 2005. The court granted defendants' motion for judgment as a matter of law on plaintiff's unlawful detention, police torture, and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims. The only claims to go to the jury were the excessive force and assault and battery claims against Gomez. The jury found for Officer Gomez on all claims.

The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded on appeal, finding that Lopez was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on his unlawful detention claim and the police torture and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims should have been decided by the jury. On remand, the case was reassigned to this Court, and the parties reached a settlement of all claims. Pursuant to the settlement agreement, plaintiff could seek reasonable attorneys' fees.

II.

Defendants do not take issue with plaintiff's entitlement to fees as a prevailing party under § 1988, but with the computation of the fee award in light of plaintiff's dropped and unsuccessful claims. (See Resp. Br. at 7) ("Nonetheless, the City does not object to a good portion of counsel's claimed time."). Under § 1988, "the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." "[P]laintiffs may be considered 'prevailing parties' for attorney's fees 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 (1983) (quoting Nadeau v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978)). Where a prevailing party has succeeded on some, but not all, of his claims an award of fees for time expended on unsuccessful claims may not be appropriate if these do not "involve a common core of facts or . . . [are] based on related legal theories." Id. at 435.

Plaintiff and his counsel litigated this case for a period of almost 6 years. The claims can be generally grouped as follows: claims pertaining to (1) Lopez's initial arrest, (2) Lopez's subsequent detention, and (3) the class action. With respect to claims pertaining to Lopez's initial arrest, the court granted summary judgment against Lopez on some claims and the remaining claims were rejected by the jury. Accordingly, these were not "successful." With respect to the detention claims, the Seventh Circuit found that plaintiff was entitled to judgment as a matter of law with respect to the unlawful detention claim, and that plaintiff was entitled to submit his remaining claims regarding his detention to the jury. The City concedes plaintiff is entitled to fees with respect to at least some of the detention claims. Finally, the class action claims were withdrawn by plaintiff. Accordingly, these claims were not "successful." The issue, then, is what degree of overlap, if any, exists among these claims in relation to the time entries objected to by defendants and the fees sought.

A. Objections to Time Entries Concerning Gomez and Myers

Defendants first take issue with specific entries they claim were devoted solely to the unsuccessful arrest claims against Officers Gomez and Myers. As an initial matter, plaintiff points out that even if he had not proceeded against Gomez and Myers on the arrest claims these individuals would still have been witnesses and subject to discovery because there is a common core set of facts and the claims are based on related legal theories. While I need not determine the broader question of whether all arrest claims are necessarily related to detention claims, the court's ruling granting defendants judgment as a matter of law makes clear that these arrest claims were considered related for purposes of Lopez's unlawful detention claim against the detective defendants and the City. The court stated that there were extraordinary circumstances which warranted Lopez's extended detention, specifically that [w]hen the police arrested Lopez they were actively attempting to solve a crime involving the shooting of an innocent twelve year old boy. Thus, police were dedicating their efforts to solve that heinous crime.

The undisputed evidence shows that police were working around the clock attempting to solve the crime. . . . it was Lopez himself who created the delays he now accuses the Defendants for. Lopez, when arrested, lied to the police about his identity.

Lopez v. City of Chicago, No. 01 C 1823, 2005 WL 711986, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 23, 2005) rev'd by Lopez, 464 F.3d at 717, 722-23. Although the district court may have been incorrect on this point, plaintiff was clearly entitled to conduct discovery and research on this issue in making his case for unlawful detention against the City and remaining defendants. Indeed, as early as 2001 the individual defendants alleged plaintiff was responsible for his own injuries. (See Doc. Entries # 23-25, 75, 156, 155-57.) Most of the entries objected to by defendants describe issuing discovery requests and reviewing responses generally and/or by Officers Gomez and Myers. All these entries are appropriate in light of the overlap in legal issues and fact questions. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435. For example, entries 41, 73, 101-05, 122, 306-07, 769-70 are not specifically restricted to work related solely to the claims against Gomez and Myers, but concern general discovery and review of answers and court rulings. The only exception is ...


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