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Winston v. O'brien

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois

June 13, 2013

ROBERT L. WINSTON, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER O'BRIEN, Chicago Police Dept Star #10634, OFFICER YATES, Star #11586, Defendants

For Robert L Winston, Plaintiff: Alan Norris Salpeter, LEAD ATTORNEY, Kaye Scholer, Chicago, IL; Ross Harrison Neihaus, Kaye Scholer LLP, Chicago, IL.

For Officer O'Brien, Chicago Police Dept Star #10634, Officer Yates, Star #11586, Defendants: Thomas More Leinenweber, LEAD ATTORNEY, Leinenweber Baroni & Daffada, LLC, Chicago, IL; James Vincent Daffada, Leinenweber Barone & Daffada LLC, Chicago, IL.

OPINION

Page 1005

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

Elaine E. Bucklo, United States District Judge.

On November 27, 2012, after a two-day trial, a jury entered a verdict in favor of plaintiff Robert Winston and against Officer O'Brien, one of two Chicago Police Officers named as defendants in this excessive force action arising under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The jury awarded plaintiff nominal compensatory damages of one dollar, plus $7,500 in punitive damages. Now before me plaintiff's petition for attorneys' fees, which I grant in part as explained below.

Page 1006

I.

A party who prevails in a § 1983 lawsuit is presumptively entitled to recover reasonable attorney's fees. 42 U.S.C. § 1988. To determine whether, and in what amount, an award of fees is appropriate, I start with the threshold question of whether the fee petitioner has established that he or she is a " prevailing party" under the statute. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983). Under the Supreme Court's " generous formulation" of this requirement, a prevailing plaintiff must only have succeeded " on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit" sought in the lawsuit. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 109, 113 S.Ct. 566, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992) (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433). If this standard is met, I proceed to a determination of what fees are reasonable. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433.

The " most useful starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation, multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate." Id. This is the " lodestar" amount. See Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542, 130 S.Ct. 1662, 1672, 176 L.Ed.2d 494 (2010) (describing lodestar approach as " the guiding light" of the Court's post- Hensley fee-shifting jurisprudence). An attorney's actual billing rate for comparable work is presumed to be a reasonable hourly rate. People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., School Dist. No. 205, 90 F.3d 1307, 1310 (7th Cir. 1996). This presumption reflects a proper emphasis on the " opportunity cost" of lawyers who give up work for clients who would have paid them their standard hourly fees for each of the hours they spent on this case. Cooper v. Casey, 97 F.3d 914, 920 (7th Cir. 1996). An " important qualification" to this principle, however, is that " the reasonable fee is capped at the prevailing market rate for lawyers engaged in the type of litigation in which the fee is being sought. " Id. (citing McNabola v. Chicago Transit Authority, 10 F.3d 501, 519 (7th Cir. 1993); Buffington v. Baltimore County, 913 F.2d 113, 130 (4th Cir. 1990)) (original emphasis).

In this case, petitioner seeks a total award of $336,918 in attorney's fees. Defendants argue that petitioner is not entitled to any award of fees because his victory at trial was " nominal at best." Alternatively, defendants argue that even assuming an award of fees is appropriate, the hourly rates charged by petitioner's counsel are excessive. Defendants do not object to the number of hours petitioner's counsel spent on the case.

Petitioner was represented by attorneys Alan Salpeter, Ross Neihaus, and Eric Sussman of the law firm Kaye Scholer. Their work on the case was supported by paralegal Kenneth Anderson. Petitioner's requested award is based on hourly rates of $925 for Salpeter, $425 for Neihaus, $715 for Sussman, and $210 for Anderson.

II.

Defendant's first argument--that petitioner not entitled to any fee award because his trial victory was nominal or de minimis-- is plainly without merit. This is not a case like Farrar v. Hobby, in which the plaintiff " asked for a bundle and got a pittance." 506 U.S. at 120 (O'Connor, J., concurring). In Farrar, the plaintiff sued six defendants for seventeen million dollars but was awarded only one dollar from one defendant, or " one seventeen millionth" of what he sought. Id. at 121. In this case, despite its ...


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