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Morjal v. City of Chicago

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

December 19, 2014

PETER MORJAL, Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants-Appellants

Argued October 3, 2014

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:12-cv-00185 - Joan Humphrey Lefkow, Judge.

For Peter Morjal, Plaintiff - Appellee: Torreya L. Hamilton, Attorney, Hamilton Law Office, Llc, Chicago, IL.

For CITY OF CHICAGO, Illinois, a municipal corporation, FRANK PROANO, Officer, Chicago Police Officer (#9315), HAROLD BONE, Officer, #4476, HAROLD BONE, Officer, #4476, Diane Piccolo, Defendants - Appellants: Suzanne M. Loose, Attorney, City of Chicago Law Department, Chicago, IL.

Before POSNER, ROVNER, and TINDER, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 420

Rovner, Circuit Judge.

This appeal concerns the district court's decision to award $2,000 in attorneys' fees to the plaintiff Peter Morjal for time spent in litigating the amount of fees due to him in his fee petition under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. The defendants assert that the court's award of fees contravened the terms of the offer of judgment accepted by Morjal and that the court lacked any legal basis to impose such an award. We affirm.

Peter Morjal filed a suit against the City of Chicago and numerous individual police officers pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging unlawful search and seizure, excessive force, conspiracy, false imprisonment, assault and malicious prosecution. Morjal accepted an offer of judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68(a), which provided in relevant part that the " Defendants offer to allow judgment to be taken against them ... in the total amount of ... [$10,001.00] ... plus reasonable attorney's fees and costs accrued to date in an amount to be determined by the Court."

The purpose of Rule 68 is to encourage settlement and to avoid protracted litigation. Webb v. James, 147 F.3d 617, 620 (7th Cir. 1998). It authorizes a defendant to make an offer of judgment and, if the plaintiff refuses that offer and is awarded less than the offer amount after trial, the plaintiff is required to pay the costs incurred by the defendant from the time of that offer. Fed.R.Civ.P. 68; Nordby v. Anchor Hocking Packaging Co., 199 F.3d 390, 391 (7th Cir. 1999). Because the defendant is the drafter of the Rule 68 offer and--unlike an ordinary contract offer--the plaintiff cannot reject it without legal consequences, we have held that any ambiguities in a Rule 68 offer must be resolved against the defendant. Sanchez v. Prudential Pizza, Inc., 709 F.3d 689, 690, 694 (7th Cir. 2013); Nordby, 199 F.3d at 391-92; Webb, 147 F.3d at 623.

The parties were unable to reach agreement as to the amount of attorneys' fees that is reasonable. Morjal sought $22,190.50, and after contentious litigation the district court awarded Morjal attorneys' fees in the amount of $17,205.50. Morjal then filed a motion seeking additional attorneys' fees of $16,773.00 reflecting

Page 421

the time spent in litigating the fee petition.

The defendants responded that Morjal was bound by the terms of the offer of judgment, which limited fees to those " accrued to date." In its first fee opinion, the district court had interpreted that language as allowing recovery of fees through the date of Morjal's acceptance of the offer of judgment. Accordingly, the defendants asserted that Morjal was not entitled to the recovery of ...


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