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Terrance Thompson v. City of Chicago

July 18, 2011

TERRANCE THOMPSON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, ET AL. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Ronald A. Guzman

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiff Terrance Thompson sued Chicago police officers Carl Suchocki, Tim McDermott, John Burzinski ("the officers") and the City of Chicago for violations of 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiff prevailed and thereafter moved for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. This Court referred the motion to Magistrate Judge Michael T. Mason. Before the Court are plaintiff's objections to Magistrate Judge Mason's Report and Recommendation ("R&R"). For the reasons provided in this Memorandum Opinion and Order, the Court adopts in part and modifies in part the R&R.

Facts

On September 21, 2002, Thompson was charged with aggravated unlawful use of a weapon. (Compl. ¶ 13.) On November 4, 2003, Thompson was convicted and sentenced to eight years in prison. (Id. ¶ 17.) Thereafter, an Illinois appellate court reversed plaintiff's conviction and remanded his case for a new trial. (R&R at 2.) On December 5, 2006, after spending three years in prison, the State dismissed all charges against Thompson. (Compl. ¶ 18.) This litigation followed.

On February 27, 2007, Thompson filed suit against the officers and the City of Chicago pursuant to, among other things, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1983 and 1985, alleging that the officers fabricated evidence in the course of their investigation, withheld exculpatory evidence and intentionally and knowingly offered false testimony at his trial. (Id. ¶¶ 11, 14-16.)

On May 9, 2008, prior to summary judgment briefing, defendants made a settlement offer of $300,000.00 to plaintiff. (Def. Chi.'s Resp. Opp'n Pl.'s Pet. Attys' Fees at 2.) Plaintiff rejected the offer. (Id.) Thereafter, on October 20, 2009, and again on October 22, 2009, plaintiff rejected defendants' offer of $425,000.00. (Id.)

Because of the failed settlement negotiations, the parties proceeded to a four-day jury trial in November 2009. Prior to trial, the City entered a stipulation agreeing to the entry of judgment against it for plaintiff's Monell allegations if the finder of fact found that any of the officer defendants violated plaintiff's constitutional rights. (R&R at 4.) At trial, plaintiff demanded compensatory and punitive damages in excess of $3 million. (Defs.' Mem. Resp. Pl.'s Pet. Attys' Fees at 2.) On November 9, 2009, the jury entered a verdict in favor of Thompson and against defendant Suchocki on plaintiff's § 1983 claim. (R&R at 4.) The jury awarded Thompson $15,000.00 in compensatory damages, but declined to award punitive damages. (Id.) The jury found against Thompson on his remaining claims. (Id.)

Thompson then moved for attorneys' fees of $473,656.25 pursuant to § 1988, which provides that prevailing plaintiffs in § 1983 cases are entitled to reasonable attorney's fees. (LR 54.3 Joint Stmt. at 1.) Plaintiff also seeks costs and expenses in the amount of $17,026.87. (Id.) The Court referred the motion to Magistrate Judge Mason for a R&R.

In sum, Magistrate Judge Mason disallowed some of plaintiff's requested hours for attorneys and paralegals, mostly due to vague time entries and time billed waiting for the jury verdict. (R&R at 13-15.) He also reduced the rate of attorney David Cerda from $475.00 to $425.00 and his paralegal's requested rate from $175.00 to $125.00, after considering the fee award that Cerda and his paralegal received in a recent civil rights case in the Northern District of Illinois. (Id. at 11-12.) But he allowed all of Thompson's requested costs and expenses, thereby resulting in an initial award of $130,448.25 in fees and $17,026.87 in costs and expenses. (Id. at 17.) Plaintiff filed timely objections to the R&R. Defendants filed no objections.

Discussion

When a party makes objections to a magistrate judge's recommendations, "[t]he district court is required to conduct a de novo determination of those portions of the magistrate judge's report and recommendations to which objections have been filed." Goffman v. Gross, 59 F.3d 668, 671 (7th Cir. 1995). However, this does not mean the district court must conduct a de novo hearing, "[r]ather the district court has discretion to 'accept, reject, modify, in whole or in part, the findings or recommendations made by the magistrate [judge].'" Id. (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)).

For purposes of § 1988, reasonable attorney's fees are generally calculated by the lodestar method, which requires the court to multiply the hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). The lodestar amount can then be adjusted based on the twelve Hensley factors.*fn1 Id. at 434 n.9. But, as the Supreme Court has noted, most of those factors usually are "subsumed within the . . . calculation of hours reasonably expended at a reasonable hourly rate." Id. The fee applicant bears the burden of establishing the lodestar amount by providing documentation of appropriate hours and rates. Id. at 434.

A. Number of Hours Expended

Plaintiff objects to Magistrate Judge Mason's recommendation that certain hours be disallowed because the time entries were too vague. In assessing the reasonableness of hours expended, a court has an obligation to exclude hours that are "excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary." See Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of Chi., 175 F.3d 544, 551 (7th Cir. 1999). Moreover, if any time entry is too vague or otherwise inadequate to allow an assessment of reasonableness, the court may disregard it. Harper v. City of Chi. Heights, 223 F.3d 593, 605 (7th Cir. 2000); Lopez v. City of Chi., No. 01 CV ...


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