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Fields v. City of Chicago

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

January 1, 2018

NATHSON FIELDS, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF CHICAGO, et al., Defendants. Law firm Fees Expenses $7, 491, 802.50 $267, 534.28 Lawyer Claimed hours Claimed rate Claimed total Revised hours Revised rate Revised total

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          MATTHEW F. KENNELLY, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Nathson Fields sued the City of Chicago, several Chicago police officers and officials, and two former Cook County prosecutors under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state law for claims arising from his prosecution for the 1984 murders of Talman Hickman and Jerome Smith. Fields was convicted and sentenced to death in 1986. His convictions were affirmed on appeal but were overturned on post-conviction review in 1998. Fields was acquitted on retrial in 2009. He filed this lawsuit in 2010.

         After dismissals of a number of defendants, the present case went to trial in March 2014 on Fields's claims against the City of Chicago and three police officers. The Court declared a mistrial after seven days of trial when defendants introduced prejudicial testimony that the Court had excluded in a pretrial in limine ruling. The second trial, held in April 2014, included the same defendants plus one of the former county prosecutors. The trial ended in a finding for Fields on one of his claims against defendant David O'Callaghan and for the defendants on the other claims. The jury awarded Fields $80, 000. The Court later ordered a new trial. The Court's ruling was based on newly-discovered evidence concerning a key defense witness, who was released on parole shortly after the trial even though he had been expected to remain in prison for 13 more years, as well as the Court's conclusion that it had erroneously limited discovery on Fields's Monell claim against the City and had given the jury an erroneous instruction on the Monell claim.

         Fields then retained new, additional counsel to represent him at the retrial. O'Callaghan also retained new counsel for the retrial. The case was retried in November-December 2016. The jury found for Fields against O'Callaghan and Murphy on one of his claims against them under section 1983; for Fields against the City on his Monell claim under section 1983; for Fields against O'Callaghan on a state-law claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress; and for the defendants on the remaining section 1983 and state law claims. The jury awarded Fields compensatory damages of $22, 000, 000, as well as punitive damages of $30, 000 against O'Callaghan and $10, 000 against Murphy.

         Fields has now petitioned the Court for attorney's fees and expenses under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and for costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1920. Fields seek to recover fees and expenses as follows (see Pl.'s Fee Pet'n at 39):

Law firm
Fees
Expenses

Loevy & Loevy

$2, 595, 847.50
$135, 527.24

Law Office of H. Candace Gorman

$4, 554, 055.00
$19, 830.00

Law Office of Leonard Goodman

$341, 900.00
$112, 177.04

TOTAL

$7, 491, 802.50
$267, 534.28

         Defendants object to the proposed fees and expenses; they contend the fee award should be $1, 210, 932 for the Loevy firm; $2, 375, 913 for the Gorman firm; and $126, 463 for the Goodman firm, a total of $3, 713, 308. See id., Ex. 1 (Joint Fee Stat.) at 3-5. They also request significant reductions on the requested costs and expenses. See Id.

         For the reasons described below, the Court reduces the Loevy firm's requested fees by a little under $600, 000; the Gorman firm's requested fees by a little under $1, 000, 000; and the Goodman firm's requested fees by a little over $120, 000. The total amount of fees awarded by the Court is approximately $5, 571, 500. The Court also reduces the requested costs and expenses by amounts to be calculated and resubmitted by counsel.[1]

         Discussion

         The starting point for determination of a reasonable attorney's fee in a section 1983 case is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation, multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). The fee applicant bears the burden of showing the reasonableness of the time requested as well as the hourly rates. Id. at 437.

         The figure derived from multiplying the hours reasonably expended by a reasonable hourly rate is referred to as the "lodestar." A court can adjust the lodestar based on twelve factors described in Hensley. Id. at 434 n. 9. The twelve factors are:

(1) the time and labor required; (2) the novelty and difficulty of the questions; (3) the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly; (4) the preclusion of employment by the attorney due to acceptance of the case; (5) the customary fee; (6) whether the fee is fixed or contingent; (7) time limitations imposed by the client or the circumstances; (8) the amount involved and the results obtained; (9) the experience, reputation, and ability of the attorneys; (10) the "undesirability" of the case; (11) the nature and length of the professional relationship with the client; and (12) awards in similar cases.

Id. at 430 n. 3. "However, 'many of these factors usually are subsumed within the initial calculation of hours reasonably expended at a reasonable hourly rate.'" Anderson v. AB Painting and Sandblasting Inc., 578 F.3d 542, 544 (7th Cir. 2009) (quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 434 n. 9).

         A. Hourly rates

         A reasonable hourly rate is "one that is derived from the market rate for the services rendered." Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 640 (7th Cir. 2011) (internal quotation marks omitted). The focus is "the prevailing market rate for lawyers engaged in the type of litigation in which the fee is being sought." Cooper v. Casey, 97 F.3d 914, 920 (7th Cir. 1996) (emphasis in original). See also Spegon v. Catholic Bishop of Chicago, 175 F.3d 544, 555 (7th Cir. 1999).

         If the attorney has an actual billing rate that he or she typically charges and obtains for similar litigation, that is presumptively the attorney's hourly rate. Pickett, 664 F.3d at 640. In some situations, however, the attorney does not have an established market rate, for example, because he or she typically uses contingent fee arrangements or relies on statutory fee awards. When (as here) that is the case, a court should rely on the "next best evidence" of the attorney's market rate, namely "evidence of rates similarly experienced attorneys in the community charge paying clients for similar work and evidence of fee awards the attorney has received in similar cases." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         "The fee applicant bears the burden of 'produc[ing] satisfactory evidence-in addition to the attorney's own affidavits-that the requested rates are in line with those prevailing in the community.'" Id. (quoting Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n. 11 (1984)). If the applicant satisfies this burden, then the opposing party has the burden to offer evidence "that sets forth a good reason why a lower rate is essential." Id. (internal quotation marks omitted).

         Fields supports some of his proposed rates by reference to the so-called "Laffey Matrix, " a framework used by the United States Attorney's Office for the District of Columbia to determine reasonable hourly rates in fee-shifting cases. As the Seventh Circuit noted in Pickett, however,

[n]o circuit outside the D.C. Circuit has formally adopted the Laffey Matrix, and few have even commented on it. While some circuits have applied the Laffey Matrix, other circuits have expressed concerns about the Matrix's utility outside its circuit of origin. . . . The district courts [in this circuit] that have considered the Laffey Matrix have viewed it with differing levels of praise and skepticism. . . . The Laffey Matrix is not without its critics. . . . Even the D.C. Circuit has referred to the Matrix as "crude" and has recommended that plaintiffs provide affidavits, surveys, and past fee awards to enable the district court to refine the Matrix for the particular attorney.

Pickett, 664 F.3d at 649-50 (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). Given these concerns and the Seventh Circuit's expressed preference for other, more direct measures of reasonable hourly rates, the Court does not find it appropriate to rely on the Laffey Matrix as evidence supporting Fields's proposed hourly rates. See also Wells v. City of Chicago, 925 F.Supp.2d 1036, 1040 (N.D. Ill. 2013) (Kennelly, J.).

         The Court also declines to rely on an affidavit submitted by Bruce Meckler regarding rates for attorneys in commercial litigation. The relevant frame of reference is civil rights / police misconduct litigation, not commercial litigation.

         1. Loevy & Loevy attorneys

         A little under a year ago, Jon Loevy advised this Court in another case-albeit not a police misconduct or civil rights case-that his hourly rate was $550. This was consistent with the best other evidence Fields has offered on Loevy's hourly rate, specifically, rates approved by this Court and others in this district for Loevy. This includes this Court's determination in 2012 that Loevy's appropriate hourly rate was $495, see Jimenez v. City of Chicago, No. 09 C 8081, 2012 WL 5512266 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 14, 2012), and Judge James Holderman's approval of a $505 rate for Loevy in 2013 in Fox v. Barnes, No. 09 C 5453, 2013 WL 4401802 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 15, 2013)-both police misconduct cases. The Court finds that Loevy's current market rate for litigation of this type is $550. He has not provided persuasive evidence supporting the much higher $750 rate that he requests. The same $550 rate applies for Michael Kanovitz; defendants do not challenge his proposed rate.

         Anand Swaminathan, an attorney with 11 years of litigation experience, was awarded fees at a $310 hourly rate in the Fox case in 2013. Considering that, his additional experience in the meantime, and rates approved for attorneys of comparable skill and experience in other litigation, the Court finds that the appropriate hourly rate for Swaminathan is $360. The same $360 rate will apply to Joel Feldman, a lawyer with a similar experience level who charged only a small amount of time in this case.

         The Court finds that the appropriate rate for Steven Art and Cindy Tsai, attorneys with about 8 years of litigation experience, is $325. This is consistent with the $310 rate approved for Swaminathan in the Fox case in 2013 when he had a little less experience than Art and Tsai have now and with the $295 rate approved for Tsai in 2013 in the Fox case. The Court approves the same rate ($325) for Karl Leonard, a lawyer with a roughly similar experience level who charged less than two hours on this case.

         The appropriate market rates for the other attorneys with the Loevy firm are best determined by reference to the rates for the other, more experienced attorneys at the firm that the Court has just set. Considering their relative levels of experience, the Court finds that the appropriate hourly rate for David Owens and Tony Balkissoon is $275; the appropriate hourly rate for Sarah Grusin and Sam Heppell is $225; the appropriate hourly rate for the four remaining Loevy & Loevy lawyers who worked on the case, Katie Roche, Margaret McWhorter, Dibora Berhanu, and Dusan Sarapa, is $200.

         2. Law Office of H. Candace Gorman

         This Court approved an hourly rate of $450 for Candace Gorman back in 2005 in the case of Jones v. R. R. Donnelly, No. 96 C 7717. Gorman argues, in part due to her acquisition of over ten more years of experience since then, that her appropriate hourly rate for this case is $600. But Jones was an employment discrimination case. It was a highly complex case, and Gorman achieved a very favorable result, but before the present case she had very limited experience in police misconduct-related civil rights litigation. Her rate for the Jones case therefore cannot simply be adopted here. And the Court finds no appropriate basis in the record to approve a rate for her that is higher than or the same as the rate for Jon Loevy, currently one of the top (if not the top) plaintiff's attorneys for police misconduct suits in Chicago. The Court finds that Gorman's appropriate hourly rate for this case is $500.

         With regard to the other attorneys at Gorman's firm, in this case in 2014, Gorman claimed a rate of $150 for Adrian Bleifuss, a 2012 law school graduate, and $75 for Sandra Tsung, who was a law student when she did her work on the case. Neither Bleifuss nor Tsung performed any more services on this case after that fee petition. Gorman has offered no persuasive support for higher hourly rates than those she previously sought for the exact same work in this case. The Court adopts the rates Gorman proposed in 2014, which defendants do not oppose.

         The time spent by four attorneys reviewing police department, public defender, and prosecutor files in connection with Fields's Monell claim will be compensated at $200, the same rates the Court has set for the newest associates from the Loevy firm.

         3. Law Offices ...


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