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Tyresse Ragland v. Carlos A. Ortiz

September 14, 2012


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Judge Virginia M. Kendall


Plaintiff Tyresse Ragland ("Plaintiff") sued Defendants Carlos A. Ortiz, Brad J. Palm, Michael G. Younan, Demetrios A. Haleas, Sonia M. Moriarty, and the City of Chicago under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for violation of his constitutional right against the use of excessive force. After a jury trial on July 29, 2011, the jury returned a verdict for Plaintiff in the total amount of $52,500. On Count I (false arrest claim), the jury awarded Plaintiff $500 in compensatory damages against Defendants Palm, Younan, and Haleas. The jury also found for Plaintiff on Count II (excessive force claim), awarding $49,000 in compensatory damages and $3,000 in punitive damages against Defendant Ortiz. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Defendants on Count IV (failure to intervene). Prior to trial, the Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on Counts V and VI, and by agreement granted summary judgment in favor of Defendant Moriarty on Count IV (failure to intervene). Plaintiff also voluntarily dismissed Count III at the beginning of the trial.

Presently pending before the Court is Plaintiff's petition for attorney's fees. Plaintiff seeks $302,810.00 in fees.*fn1 This Court referred the fee petition to Magistrate Sidney I. Schenkier, who issued a Report & Recommendation ("R&R"). Judge Schenkier recommended that the Plaintiff be awarded $170,118.00 in attorney's fees; prejudgment interest on the attorney's fee award, with interest beginning on September 18, 2011; and denied any interim fee award. Plaintiff objects to the Report and Recommendation on four grounds.


Where a plaintiff prevails on a claim brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, that plaintiff is entitled to recover reasonable attorney's fees. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988; Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 632-3 (7th Cir. 2011). Plaintiff succeeded on two Section 1983 claims against four defendants for a collective total of $52,500.

When calculating a reasonable attorney's fee award for a Section 1988 fee petition, the starting point is the "lodestar analysis." Pickett, 664 F.3d at 639. This lodestar analysis requires a court to multiply the number of hours reasonably expended by plaintiff's attorneys by their reasonable hourly rates. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983); People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., 90 F.3d 1307, 1310 (7th Cir. 1999). In determining the appropriateness of this lodestar amount, the court may consider many factors, including the results obtained, the complexity of the legal issues and the experience and success of the attorneys. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433 (1983); see also Jaffe v. Richmond, 142 F.3d 409, 412-3. Additionally, proportionality between the amount requested from the jury and the final jury verdict and that jury verdict, on the one hand, and the amount of attorney's fees requested, on the other hand, may be factored into a lodestar analysis. See Moriarty v. Svec, 233 F.3d 955, 968 (7th Cir. 2000).The party requesting the fee has the burden of proving its reasonableness, including the hourly rate and appropriate hours expended. See Hensley, 461 U.S. at 437. Once the lodestar calculation has been made, the party seeking a reduction in the lodestar bears the burden of demonstrating that the reduction is warranted. See Robinson v. City of Chicago, 489 F.3d 864 (7th Cir. 2007).

I. The rate determination.

A reasonable hourly rate, as defined by the Seventh Circuit, is one that is "derived from the market rate for services rendered." Pickett, 664 F.3d at 640 (quoting Denius v. Dunlap, 330 F.3d 919, 930 (7th Cir. 2003)). Where an attorney "maintains a contingent fee or public interest practice," and therefore does not have an established billing rate, plaintiff must provide contextual evidence for their requested rate in the form of the rates charged by lawyers in the community of "reasonably comparable skill, experience and reputation." People Who Care, 90 F.3d at 1310.

Judge Schenkier properly determined that the appropriate rates for Plaintiff's attorneys, Ms. Dymkar and Mr. Bowers, was $330/hour and $310/hour, respectively. Judge Schenkier based his recommendation on the affidavits provided by Plaintiff, the Laffey Matrix and the experience and record of accomplishment of Plaintiff's attorneys. Plaintiff objects to these determinations on several counts.

A. Laffey MatriX

First, Plaintiff contends that the City of Chicago should be judicially estopped from arguing that the Laffey Matrix does not apply in this case, because the City has successfully used the Matrix to its own advantage in prior cases. (Pl.'s Obj. [Docket No.189] at 5-6). The Laffey Matrix is a chart of hourly rates specific to the Washington D.C. area. See Pickett, 664 F.3d at 649. The Seventh Circuit recently reiterated that it has never fully addressed the Laffey Matrix, but has noted that trial courts in this Circuit have "viewed it with differing levels of praise and skepticism." Id. at 650. The Laffey Matrix places a heavy emphasis on the number of years in practice and the Judge Schenkier properly realized that such a formula is incomplete when calculating an appropriate hourly rate. (R&R at 7-9). The Seventh Circuit has further counseled the use of caution in applying the Matrix to the discretionary rate determination process. See Pickett, 664 F.3d at 650.

This exercise of caution does not, however, bar the consideration of the Laffey Matrix as a factor in rate determinations, nor does it judicially estop the City of Chicago from arguing that the Matrix should not apply in this case. Judicial estoppel generally applies in situations where the operative facts remain the same from one case to the next. See Jarrad v. CDI Telecomms, Inc., 408 F.3d 905, 915 (7th Cir. 2005). Fee determinations by their very nature are discretionary and dependent on the particular evidence presented with each individual fee petition. See id. There is no error in using the Matrix as one of the factors, but not the sole factor, that Judge Schenkier considered in reaching his conclusion.

B. Prior City of Chicago Rate Agreements

Second, Plaintiff argues that the hourly rates proposed by Judge Schenkier are insufficient because they fail to account for an agreement between the City of Chicago and Plaintiff's counsel in a different matter. (Pl.'s Obj., at 6-7). In the case of Nelson v. Lis, 09 c 883, the City of Chicago agreed to pay Ms. Dymkar an hourly rate of $416.67 in a sanctions settlement. Judge Schenkier properly noted that this negotiated resolution of fees is not instructive as to Ms. Dymkar's reasonable hourly rates and ...

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