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Baker v. Ghidotti

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 24, 2015

KENNETH BAKER, et al., Plaintiffs
v.
TIMOTHY M. GHIDOTTI, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, District Judge.

Plaintiff Kenneth Baker (the "Plaintiff") has filed a Petition to recover attorneys' fees against Defendants the City of Chicago (the "City"), Jean M. Lindgren, Jesus Vera, Steven Martin, and Dennis P. Walsh (collectively, "Defendants") [ECF No. 231]. Plaintiff also seeks to recover costs as the prevailing party against the above-mentioned Defendants and Defendants Timothy M. Ghidotti and Reliable Recovery Services, Inc. ("Reliable") [ECF No. 223]. Defendants seek costs as the prevailing party against two other Plaintiffs, Barbara Baker and Camden Baker [ECF No. 220]. Defendants have also moved to strike Plaintiff's attorneys' fees petition [ECF No. 236].

For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's Petition for Fees is granted in part and denied in part; Plaintiff's Application for Costs is denied; Defendants' Application for Costs is granted in part and denied in part; and Defendants' Motion to Strike the Fee Petition is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

In the underlying litigation, attorneys Irene K. Dymkar ("Dymkar"), Torreya L. Hamilton ("Hamilton"), and Kevin T. Turkcan ("Turkcan") (collectively, "Counsel") represented Plaintiffs Kenneth, Barbara, Camden, and Ashley Baker. The factual basis for Plaintiffs' claims is detailed in the Court's March 28, 2014 Order granting in part and denying in part the parties' Cross-Motions for Summary Judgment [ECF No. 178]. In that Order, the Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for Summary Judgment on one claim only - Kenneth Baker's claim for false arrest against Defendants Martin, Lindgren, and Vera.

Plaintiffs' remaining claims for trespass, illegal entry, illegal search, illegal detention, conspiracy, and malicious prosecution went to trial, along with the issue of damages on the false arrest claim for which the Court had already determined liability. On October 24, 2014, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Kenneth Baker on his malicious prosecution claim, awarding him $5, 000.00 in damages. The jury also awarded Kenneth Baker $25, 000.00 in damages on his false arrest claim. For all remaining claims, the jury found in favor of Defendants.

On January 21, 2015, Plaintiff petitioned for attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

II. ANALYSIS

A. Attorneys' Fees

The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act, 42. U.S.C. § 1988, allows the award of "a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party in various kinds of civil rights cases, including suits brought under § 1983." Fox v. Vice, 131 S.Ct. 2205, 2213 (2011) (internal quotations omitted). The statute serves the dual purpose of reimbursing plaintiffs for vindicating important civil rights and holding accountable violators of federal law. See, id. However, a defendant "need only compensate plaintiff for fees to the extent plaintiff succeeds; losing claims are not compensable." Kurowski v. Krajewski, 848 F.2d 767, 776-77 (7th Cir. 1988).

In awarding fees under § 1988, a court's first step is to determine whether the party seeking fees is entitled to "prevailing party" status. Gibson v. City of Chicago, 873 F.Supp.2d 975, 982 (N.D. Ill. 2012). Because Defendants do not dispute that Plaintiff prevailed on his § 1983 claim for false arrest, the Court moves immediately to the second step - determining whether the claimed fees are reasonable under the circumstances. Id.

To calculate reasonable attorneys' fees under § 1988, courts apply the "lodestar method, " which multiplies the attorneys' reasonable hourly rates by the number of hours they reasonably expended. People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., Sch. Dist. No. 205, 90 F.3d 1307, 1310 (7th Cir. 1996) (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)). The party requesting fees carries the burden of establishing their reasonableness. McNabola v. Chi. Transit Auth., 10 F.3d 501, 518 (7th Cir. 1993). Once the Court has arrived at a base lodestar figure, it may adjust the award in light of the factors identified in Hensley that are not already subsumed into the initial lodestar calculation. See, People Who Care, 90 F.3d at 1310 (citing Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 n.9). These factors include "the complexity of the legal issues involved, the degree of success obtained, and the public interest advanced by the litigation." Schlacher v. Law Offices of Phillip J. Rotche & Assocs., P.C., 574 F.3d 852, 856-57 (7th Cir. 2009).

Defendants have moved to strike Plaintiff's Petition in its entirety because of Plaintiff's failure to comply with Local Rule 54.3, which requires the parties to confer and attempt in good faith to reach an agreement on the amount of fees and costs to be awarded prior to filing a fee petition. Rule 54.3 serves two important functions: (1) providing the parties with the time and information necessary to resolve fee disputes without court intervention, and (2) helping them ensure that any disputes are crystalized in the event a fee petition is filed. Jones v. Ameriquest Mortgage Co., No. 05 C 0432, 2008 WL 4686152, at *3 (N.D. Ill. May 19, 2008). Plaintiff's failure to comply with Local Rule 54.3 has resulted in a missed opportunity to resolve the issue of fees without unnecessarily burdening the Court. Although this failure has resulted in inconvenience, and shows disregard for court rules, the parties, by now, have had full opportunity to exchange and review the information that Rule 54.3 requires. For this reason, Court denies Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiff's fee petition.

1. Lodestar Calculation

Plaintiff seeks a total of $450, 268.00 in attorneys' fees, calculated as follows:

Attorney Hourly Rate Hours Total per Attorney Irene K. Dymkar $495 699.9 $346, 450.50 Torreya L. Hamilton $450 156.2 $70, 290.00 Kevin Turkcan $230 30.5 $7, 015.00 Paralegals $125 212.1 $26, 512.50 TOTAL $450, 268.00

Dymkar has excluded from her records 84.2 additional hours that were dedicated to the unsuccessful conspiracy claims against Defendant Ghidotti.

a. Hourly Rates

The Court begins by examining Counsel's claimed hourly rates. In determining a reasonable hourly rate, attorneys' fees awarded under Section 1988 "are to be based on market rates for services rendered." Missouri v. Jenkins by Agyei, 491 U.S. 274, 283 (1989). "The attorney's actual billing rate for comparable work is presumptively appropriate' to use as the market rate." People Who Care, 90 F.3d at 1310 (quoting Gusman v. Unisys Corp., 986 F.2d 1146, 1150 (7th Cir. 1993)). The next best evidence of a reasonable fee is the rate charged by lawyers in the community of comparable skill, experience, and reputation. Id. Previous fee awards are also "useful for establishing a reasonable market rate." Jeffboat, LLC v. Dir., Office of Workers' Comp. Programs, 553 F.3d 487, 491 (7th Cir. 2009).

In support of their claimed hourly rates, each attorney has submitted a declaration detailing his or her experience litigating civil rights cases, as well as affidavits from other civil rights attorneys supporting the proposed rates. Dymkar and Hamilton have been practicing for 38 and 20 years respectively. Both are seasoned attorneys with substantial experience litigating civil rights cases. Turkcan is only in his second year of practice, but has already represented a number of plaintiffs in civil rights cases. Plaintiff argues that the hourly billing rates he proposes are consistent with the rates awarded to attorneys in other civil rights cases within this district, the rates the City of Chicago has agreed to in other cases, and the Laffey Matrix. The Laffey Matrix is "a chart of hourly rates for attorneys and paralegals in the ...


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