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Winston v. O'Brien

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

November 7, 2014

ROBERT L. WINSTON, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
OFFICER O'BRIEN, et al., Defendants, APPEAL OF: CITY OF CHICAGO

Argued October 3, 2014.

As Amended November 14, 2014.

Appeals from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:10-cv-08218 -- Elaine E. Bucklo, Judge.

For ROBERT L. WINSTON, Plaintiff - Appellee (14-1371, 13-3553): Alan Salpeter, Attorney, KAYE SCHOLER LLP, Chicago, IL.

For CITY OF CHICAGO, Appellant (14-1371, 13-3553): Sara K. Hornstra, Attorney, CITY OF CHICAGO LAW DEPARTMENT, Chicago, IL.

For OFFICER O'BRIEN, OFFICER YATES, Defendants (14-1371, 13-3553): Thomas M. Leinenweber, Attorney, LEINENWEBER BARONI & DAFFADA, LLC, Chicago, IL.

Before POSNER, ROVNER, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 1179

Tinder Circuit Judge.

The City of Chicago appeals the district court's decision to hold it responsible for attorney's fees assessed under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 against one of its officers, Matthew O'Brien. The district court concluded that the City was liable for the fees under § 9-102 of Illinois's Local Governmental and Governmental Employees Tort Immunity Act, 745 ILCS 10/9-102.

I. BACKGROUND

In 2010, Winston sued Officer O'Brien under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that O'Brien and Officer Nicholas Yates used excessive force while detaining Winston at a Chicago police station. According to Winston, O'Brien tasered him repeatedly and punched him while he was in handcuffs. When the case went to trial, attorneys recruited to represent Winston asked the jury to award $10,000 in compensatory damages against each officer and an unspecified amount of punitive damages. The jury found in favor of Yates, but determined that O'Brien was liable for $1 in compensatory damages and $7,500 in punitive damages.

Winston then petitioned for $336,918 in attorney's fees under § 1988. In response, Officer O'Brien argued that Winston could not recover fees because the compensatory damages awarded were de minimis. But the district court rejected that argument, explaining that Winston's " victory was real, not Pyrrhic," because the jury awarded him " sizable punitive damages against Officer O'Brien, whose actions were the primary focus of plaintiff's case." The court further determined that Winston's attorneys could recover fees for all their requested hours but sought too high of an hourly rate. The court granted a reduced fee award of $187,467.

Seeking to collect on this award, Winston filed a " petition for indemnification and motion for writ of execution against the City of Chicago." In the petition, Winston asked the district court to order the City to pay the fee award or indemnify Officer O'Brien for the fees. Winston argued that ...


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