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Baker v. Ghidotti

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

April 3, 2018

KENNETH BAKER, BARBARA BAKER, CAMDEN BAKER, and A.B., Minor, by Parent BARBARA BAKER, Plaintiffs,
v.
TIMOTHY M. GHIDOTTI, BORIS JURKOVIC, RELIABLE RECOVERY SERVICES, INC., JEAN M. LINDGREN, JESUS VERA, STEVEN MARTIN, JUAN M. CABRALES, DENNIS P. WALSH, MICHAEL A. FLORESE, UNKNOWN OFFICERS OF THE CHICAGO POLICE DEPARTMENT, and THE CITY OF CHICAGO, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, JUDGE

         Plaintiff Kenneth Baker (“Baker”) has filed a Petition to Recover Attorneys' Fees against Defendants Timothy M. Ghidotti, Boris Jurkovic, Reliable Recovery Services, Inc., Jean M. Lindgren, Jesus Vera, Steven Martin, Juan M. Cabrales, Dennis P. Walsh, Michael A. Flores, the City of Chicago, and several Doe Chicago police officers. (ECF No. 287.) For the reasons stated herein, Plaintiff's Petition for Fees is granted in part and denied in part, and Defendants' Motion to Strike Plaintiff's arguments regarding settlement negotiations is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In 2014, Baker sued Defendants on § 1983 grounds and won a jury verdict on two of the six claims he pursued at trial. The jury awarded Baker $25, 000 in damages on his false arrest claim and $5, 000 on his malicious prosecution claim. The Court awarded Baker attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 in an opinion that the Seventh Circuit affirmed in part and vacated and remanded in part. See, Baker v. Ghidotti, No. 11 C 4197, 2015 WL 1888004, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 24, 2015), aff'd in part, vacated in part sub nom. Baker v. Lindgren, 856 F.3d 498 (7th Cir. 2017). Both parties then agreed to a joint stipulation (ECF No. 279) for attorney's fees in light of the Seventh Circuit's ruling, and this Court ordered fees accordingly. (See, ECF No. 283.) Now, Baker brings a new Petition for Attorneys' Fees related to the 2017 appeal and other post-judgment lawyering.

         II. DISCUSSION

         The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act, 42. U.S.C. § 1988, allows the award of “reasonable attorney's fee[s] to the prevailing party in various kinds of civil rights cases, including suits brought under § 1983.” Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 832-33 (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 Chi., 873 F.Supp.2d 975, 982 (N.D. Ill. 2012). Under one formulation approved by the Supreme Court, “plaintiffs may be considered prevailing parties for the purpose of awarding attorneys' fees if they succeed on any significant issue in the litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing suit.” Lindgren, 856 F.3d at 503 (citing Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).

         Although in limited form, Baker was a prevailing party on appeal. Defendants point out that he raised eleven arguments on appeal but succeeded on only one of them, namely that this Court made an arithmetic error when it double-discounted some 77.9 hours of billable work. Defendants assert that such a win is “trivial” and does not entitle Baker to “prevailing party” status. (See, Defs.' Resp. at 6, ECF No. 288.) But while his appellate victory amounted to a technical correction, its effect on Baker was significant. After his appeal, Baker won an additional $17, 866.46 in attorneys' fees from Defendants, which is about 10% of the $184, 033.25 total he has received in fees in this case so far. (See, Joint Stipulation at 2, ECF No. 279). Under Hensley's “generous formulation, ” Baker is a prevailing party for the purposes of reaching the § 1988 statutory threshold. 461 U.S. at 433. Still, the Court must determine what fee is reasonable. 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, 461 U.S. at 433). 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).

         A. Lodestar Calculation

         Plaintiff seeks a total of $130, 501.50 in appellate and post-trial attorneys' fees, calculated as follows:

Attorney

Hourly Rate

Hours

Total per Attorney

Irene K. Dymkar

$465

240.2

$111, 693.00

Torreya L. Hamilton

$465

25.1

$11, 671.50

Daniel H. Regenscheit (pre-bar admission)

$125

16.8

$2, 100.00

Daniel H. Regenscheit (post-bar admission)

$230

6.7

$1, 541.00

Shamoyita M. DasGupta

$230

15.2

$3, 496.00

         1. Hourly Rates

         The Court begins by examining counsels' 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. UnisysCorp., 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 ...


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