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Ruffin v. Winnebago County Jail

September 27, 2010

JOHNNY M. RUFFIN, JR., PLAINTIFF,
v.
WINNEBAGO COUNTY JAIL, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Herndon, Chief Judge

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

I. Introduction

Before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Approval of Reasonable Attorney's Fees and Costs (Doc. 282), to which defendant the Illinois Department of Corrections ("IDOC") has filed an opposing Response (Doc. 294). Plaintiff seeks reimbursement of attorney's fees in the amount of $35,759.75, pursuant to the Rehabilitation Act, which states that "[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce or charge a violation of a provision of this subchapter, the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." 29 U.S.C. § 794a(b). The Court must determine what amount, if any, to award Plaintiff, who can best be described as a "partially prevailing party." As part of its analysis, the Court must also determine the reasonable hourly rates applicable for the work of his attorney and the attorney's law clerk.

II. Background

Plaintiff initially filed this suit in 2003 in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois. Initially, Plaintiff plead 17 separate counts against 25 Defendants (see Docs. 1 & 21). All of Plaintiff's claims alleged constitutional violations to his civil rights, per 42 U.S.C. § 1983, with the exception of Count 16, which alleged violations of his rights under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29 U.S.C. § 794 (see Doc. 21, p. 3). The Northern District dismissed Counts 1 through 4 of Plaintiff's Complaint, finding them to be time-barred. As there were no remaining claims arising out of the Northern District of Illinois, this case was subsequently transferred here, as the remaining claims arose while Plaintiff was housed in correctional facilities located in the Southern District of Illinois (see Doc. 3). Plaintiff thereafter filed an Amended Complaint (Doc. 9) with respect to Counts 11-15. Through the threshold review of Plaintiff's Complaint and Amended Complaint, conducted by this Court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1915A, many of the remaining claims were dismissed with prejudice (Doc. 21, p. 20).*fn1

Plaintiff thereafter moved on three separate occasions to file various amended complaints (Docs. 54, 91, 104); his requests were denied (Docs. 71, 100, 110). During the lengthy pretrial process, Plaintiff represented himself. There were many discovery issues along the way. There were also many requests for extensions of time and Plaintiff moved for reconsideration of several of the Court's orders. IDOC prevailed in part on its a motion to dismiss (Doc. 66), the Court dismissing it from Count 8 of Plaintiff's Complaint, but finding that it still remained a Defendant as to Count 16 (Doc. 118). Defendants also filed their respective summary judgment motions (Docs. 136, 142, 149, 194). The Court granted partial summary judgment, dismissing several Defendants from certain counts and also dismissing some of Plaintiff's claims within those certain counts (Docs. 182, 183, 217, 218).

Regarding the last summary judgment motion filed (Doc. 194), because the moving Defendants raised the issue of administrative exhaustion, the Court adopted in part and vacated in part (Doc. 217) the Report and Recommendation (Doc. 203), and referred the matter to the Magistrate Judge for an evidentiary hearing (or "Pavey" hearing), reserving its ruling as to the remainder of the summary judgment motion.*fn2 The Court also appointed an attorney to represent Plaintiff at this hearing (Doc. 220). The hearing was conducted (Doc. 229) and thereafter, the appointed counsel was allowed to withdraw (Doc. 233). However, because Plaintiff again moved for appointment of counsel and this matter was clearly proceeding to trial, the Court granted the motion. On March 19, 2009, attorney Joseph L. Bauer, Jr., was appointed by the Court, pro bono, to serve as Plaintiff's counsel (Docs. 234 & 235). A final pretrial conference was conducted on April 13, 2009, during which the Parties narrowed their issues for trial and identified their trial witnesses and exhibits (Doc. 244). A Final Pretrial Order was issued to this effect (Doc. 253). Although the trial date was initially set for August 24, 2009, due to a conflict with the Court's schedule, trial was rescheduled for September 8, 2009 (Doc. 252), and again rescheduled for October 5, 2009, due to a conflict with Plaintiff's counsel's calendar (Doc. 254).

Trial lasted through October 8, 2010. At the close of Plaintiff's case, Defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law pursuant to FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 50(a). The Court granted the motion in part and denied it in part. Specifically, the Court granted judgment as a matter of law in favor of defendant Karen McKinney as to Count 5, which stated an Eighth Amendment claim for deliberate indifference to a serious medical need. The Court also granted judgment as a matter of law in favor of defendant Jonathan Walls as to Plaintiff's Eighth Amendment deliberate indifference claim in Count 11, and Plaintiff's First Amendment claim for retaliation and harassment in Count 17. At the close of the entire case, Defendants again moved for a judgment as a matter of law to the remaining claims. Again, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendants' motion, granting judgment as a matter of law in favor of all the remaining individual Defendants named in Count 16, which stated a Rehabilitation Act claim. The remaining counts that were submitted to the jury for deliberation were: Count 9 - a First Amendment claim for retaliation and harassment against defendants Karen McKinney and Scott Wyciskalla; Count 16 - a Rehabilitation Act claim against IDOC; and Count 17 - a First Amendment claim for retaliation and harassment against defendant Elisa Rea.

The jury rendered a verdict finding no liability on the part of the individual Defendants (Doc. 275). However, the jury found IDOC was liable to Plaintiff for his Rehabilitation Act claims made in Count 16 of his Complaint, and awarded damages in the amount of $17,000.*fn3

III. Analysis

IDOC objects to Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees on the basis that:

(1) Plaintiff has failed to substantiate his attorney's hourly rate, and (2) the amount sought by Plaintiff does not accurately take into account his limited success during trial (Doc. 234, p. 2).

A. Determining the Lodestar Amount

In determining an award of attorney's fees, the "lodestar" amount should first be calculated. This is done by multiplying the number of hours the attorney reasonably expended on the litigation times a reasonable hourly rate. Mathur v. Bd. of Trustees of So. Ill. Univ., 317 F.3d 738 (7th Cir. 2003) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). In order to support a request for attorney's fees, the moving party should first be deemed "prevailing" under a statute authorizing the recovery of attorney's fees. Next, the moving party should submit "evidence supporting the hours worked and the rates claimed." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 432. Inadequate documentary support in this regard may result in a reduction of the amount of the attorney's fees awarded. Id. In order to ensure less reduction of the requested attorney's fees amount, the moving party should take care to only include fees for hours of an attorney's work that were " 'reasonably expended,' " as the court should attempt to exclude from its calculation any fees for hours of work deemed to be "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." Id. at 434 (citing S.REP.NO. 94-1011, at 6 (1976)). Therefore, the moving party should keep in mind the Supreme Court's cautionary advice that, "[h]ours . . . not properly billed to one's client also are not properly billed to one's adversary pursuant to statutory authority." Id. (citation and internal quotes omitted) (emphasis in original).

1. Number of Hours Reasonably Expended

Plaintiff moves for attorney's fees in the total amount of $35,759.75 (Doc. 282). This total amount is comprised of the following: fees for Plaintiff's appointed attorney, Joseph L. Bauer, Jr., for 103.3 hours at a rate of $300.00 per hour; fees for Bauer's law clerk, William Jackson, for 62.25 hours at a rate of $50.00 per hour; and expenses incurred by the law firm of Bauer & Baebler, P.C., related to this suit, in the amount of $1,657.25. A visual breakdown of this information is provided as follows:

 HoursRate per HourAmount Joseph L. Bauer, Jr.103.3$300.00$30.990.00 William Jackson62.25$50.00$3,112.50 Misc. ...


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