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Delgado v. Mak

January 29, 2009


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge


Before the Court are Plaintiff's petition for attorneys' fees and costs [122], Plaintiff's supplement to his petition for attorneys' fees and costs [128], Defendants' memorandum in opposition [134], and Plaintiff's reply brief [142]. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's petition [122] is granted.

I. Background

On July 12, 2006, Plaintiff Manuel Delgado filed this lawsuit against three Cook County Deputy Sheriffs, the Sheriff himself, and the County of Cook, alleging violations of his civil rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as various related state law claims. The parties discussed settlement early in the case, but were too far apart in their positions to reach accord. At that time, Plaintiff demanded $225,000, inclusive of fees and costs, and Defendants offered $30,000. After extensive discovery, including depositions of fact witnesses, medical personnel, treating physicians, and expert witnesses, Defendants made an offer of judgment of $50,000 pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 68. Plaintiff declined the offer of judgment and the case went to trial. After five days of trial, the jury returned a verdict in Plaintiff's favor on two of five counts and awarded compensatory damages of $125,000. Specifically, the jury found in Plaintiff's favor on Plaintiff's claims for excessive force and intentional infliction of emotional distress and in Defendants' favor on Plaintiff's claims for false arrest, malicious prosecution, and conspiracy.

The parties were unable to agree on the amount of attorneys' fees to which Plaintiff is entitled as a prevailing party in a Section 1983 action. Thus, Plaintiff filed a petition for fees and costs followed by a supplement to that petition. In that supplemental petition, Plaintiff requests $226,841.08 in attorneys' fees, $18,124.27 in costs (through May 31, 2008), and requests to supplement his request as to compensable fees and costs incurred after May 31. Defendants do not contest the costs, nor do they contest the hourly rates submitted by counsel for Plaintiff. Defendants challenge the supplemental fee petition in the following respects:

* Defendants request that the Court eliminate any fees for two more senior lawyers with whom Plaintiff's trial lawyers consulted, principally during the trial itself;

* Defendants contend that the Court should impose an across-the-board reduction of 60% of the fees requested because Plaintiff prevailed on only two of the five claims that went to verdict;

* Defendants argue that the Court should make substantial reductions of Plaintiff's request for compensation for specific entries/tasks that Defendants contend are improperly documented "block billing" and/or excessive; and

* Defendants submit that there should be no award of attorneys' fees against Sheriff Dart or the County itself.

II. Analysis

A. General Standards

In order to entice competent attorneys to prosecute civil rights cases, Congress enacted 42 U.S.C. § 1988, pursuant to which a "prevailing party" in a Section 1983 action is entitled to "reasonable" attorneys' fees. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). A civil rights plaintiff is considered to be a "prevailing party" if he or she succeeds on "any significant issue in the litigation." Texas State Teachers Ass'n v. Garland Indep. Sch. Dist., 489 U.S. 782, 791-92 (1989). As a result of the substantial jury verdict in this case, there can be no dispute that Plaintiff must be deemed a "prevailing party" who is entitled to an award of "reasonable" attorneys' fees.

In deciding the specific amount that is reasonable in the circumstances, the Supreme Court has directed district courts to consider as a "starting point" (or "lodestar") the number of hours expended in the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. The Court has stressed that the "most critical factor" in determining the reasonableness of a fee award is "the degree of success obtained" by the prevailing party. Id. at 436. As both parties here acknowledge, courts frequently attempt to measure success by viewing three factors: (i) the difference between the actual judgment and the recovery sought, (ii) the significance of the legal issues on which the plaintiff prevailed, and (iii) the public interest at stake in the litigation. See, e.g., Connolly v. Nat'l Sch. Bus. Serv., Inc., 177 F.3d 593, 597 (7th Cir. 1999).

The Supreme Court expressly has stated that when litigation of a Section 1983 case leads to "excellent results" for the prevailing party, the plaintiff's attorney "should recover a fully compensatory fee." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435. As the Court further explained, "[n]ormally this will encompass all hours reasonably expended on the litigation, and indeed in some cases of exceptional success an enhanced award may be justified." Id. Both the Supreme Court and the Seventh Circuit have stressed that a fee award "should not be reduced simply because the plaintiff failed to prevail on every contention raised in the lawsuit." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 435; see also Dunning v. Simmons Airlines, Inc., 62 F.3d 863, 873 (7th Cir. 1995). As the court of appeals summarized, "Hensley makes clear that when claims are interrelated, as is often ...

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