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General Parker v. Patrick Nichting

February 1, 2012

GENERAL PARKER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
PATRICK NICHTING, GEORGE JACOBS, JIM MONTELONGO, GARY SANDBERG, RYAN SPAIN, BARBARA VAN AUKEN,
CLYDE GULLEY, WILLIAM SPEARS,
DAVID WATKINS, EACH INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS OR HER CAPACITY AS A PEORIA CITY COUNCIL MEMBER; JIM ARDIS, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HIS CAPACITY AS MAYOR OF PEORIA; DAWN HENSON, INDIVIDUALLY AND IN HER CAPACITY AS A CITY OF PEORIA EMPLOYEE; THE CITY OF PEORIA MUNICIPAL HONORABLE GOVERNMENT,
DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Justice Holdridge

Appeal from the Circuit Court of the 10th Judicial Circuit, Peoria County, Illinois, Circuit No. 07-L-442 Joe Vespa, Judge, Presiding.

JUSTICE HOLDRIDGE delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lytton and Carter concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

¶ 1 The plaintiff, General Parker, filed suit against the defendants, members of the Peoria city council, the mayor of Peoria, and the city of Peoria municipal government, for alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act (Act) (5 ILCS 120/1 et seq. (West 2006)). The trial court granted the plaintiff's motion for summary judgment and declared the defendants' vote null and void. The court later awarded the plaintiff $3,000 in attorney fees. On appeal, the plaintiff argues that: (1) the court's award of attorney fees was not reasonable; (2) he was entitled to a punitive damages award; and (3) the court improperly dismissed his request for monetary damages. We affirm in part and remand with directions.

¶ 2 FACTS

¶ 3 The plaintiff alleged in his complaint that the present case began on June 5, 2007, when the defendants approved a contract with an engineering firm to handle the combined sewer overflow project for the city of Peoria. The contract purportedly budgeted $20,000 to hire a minority engineering firm to assist minority contractors in the Peoria area bid competitively on the sewer project. The plaintiff asserts that the contract initially named Norris & Associates as the minority consultant; however, this provision was removed from the contract. The remaining contract was set for hearing at a later date.

¶ 4 The contract was next discussed at the October 9, 2007, city council meeting. In the days before the meeting, an agenda was posted that listed three options regarding the hiring of a minority engineering firm. Option A was the proposed contract to hire Norris & Associates. In the time before the meeting began, a new agenda was circulated that contained options A, B, and C, and added option D. The defendants voted to approve options B and D. Options B and D used city resources to educate minority contractors and did not require the use of an outside consultant.

¶ 5 The plaintiff filed his pro se complaint on December 11, 2007. Count I alleged that the defendants had violated the Act because they had not provided 48 hours' notice on their posted agenda before they voted to accept option D. Count II alleged that the violation of the Act was part of a larger conspiracy engaged in by the defendants to avoid hiring minority contractors. Both counts requested compensatory damages, punitive damages, and attorney fees and costs, and further requested that the court void the defendants' October 9, 2007, vote.

¶ 6 The defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff's complaint. The defendants' motion alleged that the plaintiff had failed to state a claim because the Act did not create a cause of action for damages. Therefore, there was also not a cause of action for conspiracy to violate the Act. The trial court later denied the plaintiff's requests for damages on both counts because they flowed "directly from the purported violation of the [Act]."

¶ 7 On February 21, 2008, the plaintiff filed a pro se motion for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order. On February 22, 2008, attorney Richard Fedder entered his appearance on behalf of the plaintiff. The court later denied the plaintiff's motion for a preliminary injunction.

¶ 8 On January 9, 2009, the parties agreed to resolve the case on their cross-motions for summary judgment. The court granted summary judgment for the plaintiff and declared the defendants' October 7, 2009, vote on options B and D null and void.

¶ 9 Thereafter, the plaintiff filed a motion for attorney fees, which alleged that he had incurred $22,435 in attorney fees during the pendency of the case. Fedder's attached billing statement listed several charges for travel expenses, which were incurred when he had to travel from his office in Carbondale to meetings and hearings in Peoria.

¶ 10 In December 2009, the court heard arguments on the plaintiff's motion for attorney fees. The court found that "there [was] no way that this case [was] deserving of $22,000 in attorney fees, meals, [and] travel time." However, it ruled that it was awarding attorney fees and costs to the plaintiff, but it was "going to carefully go through the presentation" and "ascertain what [was] a fair amount of time." The court also granted the plaintiff leave to file a supplemental motion for attorney fees. This motion requested an additional $5,195 for time Fedder spent replying to the defendants' motion that opposed an award of attorney fees.

ΒΆ 11 The court noted in its subsequent written order that there were some "unique circumstances attending this case and the request for attorney fees." Specifically, Fedder billed 17.25 hours, or $3,105 in fees from December 1 to 6, 2007, for preparation of the complaint. However, the complaint was filed pro se and Fedder did not enter his appearance in the case until February 22, 2008.The court further noted that there were many immaterial facts that "seemed to bog down the entire case such that the attorney time was not efficiently used on the [p]laintiff's side." The court then denied any expenses or fees related to Fedder's travel since there were no ...


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