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Adamik v. Motyka

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

July 25, 2018

Richard Adamik, Plaintiff,
v.
Jason Motyka, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Honorable Thomas M. Durkin United States District Judge.

         Plaintiff Richard Adamik filed this civil rights case under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against defendants Officer Jason Motyka, Officer Richard Tunzi, and Sergeant Robert Rubio for excessive force and failure to intervene. Adamik also sued defendant City of Chicago for indemnification. Currently before the Court are: (1) Adamik's post-trial petition for attorney's fees [191]; and (2) Adamik's motion to supplement attorney's fees following a settlement on appeal [239]. For the following reasons, the Court grants Adamik's petition [191] in part and awards Adamik's counsel $310, 377.21 in fees, including prejudgment interest. The Court grants Adamik's motion to supplement [239] and sets a briefing schedule on a supplemental petition.

         Background

         In this lawsuit, Adamik challenged Motyka, Tunzi, and Rubio's use of force and failure to intervene during an interview following a traffic stop on May 22, 2010. Adamik claimed he was the victim of an unprovoked attack by defendants during the interview, resulting in a fractured rib, a ruptured spleen, and internal bleeding. The defendants denied the attack, testifying that Adamik must have hurt himself when struggling against defendants' efforts to restrain him.

         On November 2, 2015, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Adamik on two claims: (1) his excessive force claim against Tunzi and (2) his failure to intervene claim against Rubio. R. 141. The jury found Motyka not liable. Id. The jury awarded Adamik $92, 200.91 in compensatory damages, $6, 000 in punitive damages against Tunzi, and $6, 000 in punitive damages against Rubio. Id. The compensatory damages award covered approximately the cost of Adamik's medical bills. Adamik did not recover the additional $100, 000 to $200, 000 he requested in compensatory damages for pain and suffering.

         On November 30, 2015, defendants moved for judgment as a matter of law and for a new trial. R. 149. On March 18, 2016, Adamik filed a fee petition seeking $449, 885.45 in attorney's fees and $8, 310 in expenses pursuant to the fee-shifting statute for civil rights cases, 42 U.S.C. § 1988. R. 191 at 1; R. 191-1. In his reply in support of his fee petition, Adamik amended his request to seek $415, 143.30. R. 199 at 2. On April 21, 2016, Adamik's counsel sent a second fee petition to defense counsel seeking additional fees in the amount of $50, 631.70 and asked to schedule a meet and confer. R. 200 at 2. On May 19, 2016, the Court granted defendants' motion to stay briefing on Adamik's second fee petition until defendants' post-trial motions were decided. R. 203.

         The Court denied defendants' post-trial motions on September 30, 2016. R. 213. That same day, the Court entered an order granting in part and denying in part Adamik's fee petition, indicating that a written order would follow. Id. On October 26, 2016, defendants filed a notice of appeal. R. 215. On October 31, 2016, this Court entered judgment against the City of Chicago on Adamik's indemnification claim. R. 222. The parties subsequently settled the case (but not the attorney's fees), and defendants voluntarily dismissed their appeal. R. 235.

         On November 1, 2017, defendants filed a motion for an agreed order awarding costs and expenses to Adamik's counsel in the amount of $20, 374.18. R. 237. The motion explained that the parties settled Adamik's requests for both costs and nontaxable expenses, including the $8, 310 in expenses originally sought in Adamik's fee petition. R. 237 at 2. This Court granted that motion and ordered the City of Chicago to pay $20, 374.18 in costs and expenses. R. 240. On November 2, 2017, Adamik filed a motion for supplemental attorney's fees of $60, 257.20 for post-trial litigation and appellate mediation. R. 239.

         Analysis

         The Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976 provides that a district court, “in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee” in suits brought under certain federal civil rights statutes, including 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). “[A] prevailing plaintiff should ordinarily recover an attorney's fee unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). The parties agree that Adamik is a prevailing party in this case.

         “[I]n view of [its] superior understanding of the litigation, ” this Court has considerable “discretion in determining the amount of a fee award.” Id. at 437. The “starting point for determining the amount of a reasonable fee is the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.” Id. at 433. This calculation is commonly known as the “lodestar.” E.g., Pickett v. Sheridan Health Care Ctr., 664 F.3d 632, 639 (7th Cir. 2011). “The party seeking an award of fees” has the initial burden to “submit evidence supporting the hours worked and rates claimed” in support of the lodestar. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 433. “[T]here is a strong presumption that the lodestar figure is reasonable.” Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 554 (2010). That presumption can be overcome “in those rare circumstances in which the lodestar does not adequately take into account a factor that may properly be considered in determining a fee.” Id.

         Adamik's fee petition seeks $415, 143.30 in fees incurred through the conclusion of trial. The Court first addresses the appropriate lodestar calculation, including the reasonableness of the hourly rates claimed and the hours totals. Second, the Court addresses defendants' argument for an overall reduction of the lodestar based on Adamik's degree of success. Third, the Court addresses Adamik's request for prejudgment interest. Fourth, the Court addresses Adamik's motion to supplement his attorney's fees petition to obtain $60, 257.20 for post-trial litigation and appellate mediation.

         I. Lodestar Calculation

         A. Hourly Rates

         The hourly rate component of the lodestar “must be based on the market rate for the attorney's work.” Gautreaux v. Chicago Hous. Auth., 491 F.3d 649, 659 (7th Cir. 2007). “The market rate is the rate that lawyers of similar ability and experience in the community normally charge their paying clients for the type of work in question.” Id. “[O]nce an attorney provides evidence establishing [the] market rate, the opposing party has the burden of demonstrating why a lower rate should be awarded.” Id. at 659-60.

         1. Edward Genson

         Adamik's counsel Edward Genson originally sought a rate of $700 per hour, but he reduced the rate sought to $550 per hour in Adamik's reply brief. R. 199 at 2. In support of his requested rate, Genson attaches an affidavit setting forth his general academic background and legal honors. R. 191-4. Genson also attaches a client engagement letter (submitted to the Court in hard copy only to preserve confidentiality) offering Genson's legal services at an hourly rate of $775, but not describing the kind of work performed. See R. 191 at 18. And Genson attaches an affidavit from Jon Loevy, a prominent civil rights attorney in Chicago, attesting to Genson's national reputation, Loevy's own rates of $495-$505 per hour awarded in civil rights litigation, and other attorneys' rates in various sorts of high-profile litigation. R. 191-5.

         “Defendants do not dispute that Mr. Genson is a nationally renowned criminal defense attorney, ” but they contest his requested rate because it is higher than Loevy's awarded rates and because Genson has more “limited experience in representing plaintiffs in Section 1983 cases.” R. 195 at 4. Defendants advocate instead for a rate of $455 per hour. Id.

         Defendants correctly point out that the relevant reference point for determining a market rate is the amount charged by “attorneys of comparable skill, experience, and reputations charge for similar work.” Pickett, 813 F.3d at 640, 645-46 (emphasis added); accord Gautreaux, 491 F.3d at 659 (“market rate is the rate that lawyers of similar ability and experience in the community normally charge their paying clients for the type of work in question”) (emphasis added); Cooper v. Casey, 97 F.3d 914, 920 (7th Cir. 1996) (“the reasonable fee is capped at the prevailing market rate for lawyers engaged in the type of litigation in which the fee is being sought”) (emphasis in original).

         Genson's affidavit and engagement letter do not establish his market rate for the type of work in question (i.e., civil rights work). But Loevy's affidavit does establish the current market rate for civil rights work by a highly-regarded trial lawyer. Loevy's affidavit (R. 191-5) states that his rate has recently been adjudicated at $505 per hour, Fox ex rel. Fox v. Barnes, 2013 WL 4401802, at *3-4 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 15, 2013), and $495 per hour, Jimenez v. City of Chicago, 2012 WL 5512266, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Nov. 14, 2012). Loevy is “well known in this district for having obtained a number of multi-million dollar jury verdicts in § 1983 cases, ” which means that he “clearly qualifies for an hourly rate as high as any other attorney handling § 1983 cases, and probably higher than most.” Duran v. Town of Cicero, 2012 WL 1279903, at *20 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 16, 2012); see also R. 195 at 6-7 (collecting cases). Loevy's rate is therefore “next-best evidence” of an appropriate market rate for Genson. See Montanez v. Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 554 (7th Cir. 2014) (“rates awarded to similarly experienced Chicago attorneys in other civil-rights cases in the district” are “next-best evidence . . . properly considered after the court f[inds] insufficient evidence of the attorneys' actual market rate”).[1]

         The Court further finds that it is appropriate to award Genson the low end of Loevy's rate range as reflected in his affidavit ($495 per hour) instead of the high end of that range ($505 per hour). Although Genson maintains a very successful criminal defense practice and has some civil rights experience (see R. 199 at 11 n.8), he has not attained the same level of recognition for civil rights work as Loevy. See, e.g., Wells v. City of Chicago, 925 F.Supp.2d 1036, 1041 (N.D. Ill. 2013) (“Loevy [is] an attorney whose experience, skill, and record of success in representing plaintiffs in police misconduct cases place him at the apex of attorneys who practice in that field.”). And an attorney's “work in non-civil rights litigation translates to something less than the equivalent amount of civil rights litigation experience.” Jimenez, 2012 WL 5512266, at *3; accord Cooper, 97 F.3d at 920 (“Suppose the best lawyer in the United States charges $1, 000 an hour and is worth every cent of it. Only his practice has nothing to do with civil rights; he is, let us say, an antitrust trial lawyer. He is requested to represent an indigent civil rights plaintiff, and he does so, giving the case his best shot and, despite his inexperience in civil rights litigation, doing a superb job. Would he be entitled to an award of fees at the rate of $1, 000 an hour? Not if the judge could have procured competent counsel for the plaintiff at a much lower rate.”). This is particularly true because Genson's work on the case did not showcase his expertise as a trial lawyer. Genson played a relatively minor role at trial; he did not examine Adamik or any of the three defendants, did not put on the expert witness, and performed none of the three legal arguments. In light of these factors, the Court awards Genson the low end of the documented rates awarded to Loevy: $495 per hour.

         2. Blaire Dalton

         Adamik's lead trial counsel Blaire Dalton originally sought a rate of $315 per hour, but she reduced her requested hourly rate to $310.00 in Adamik's reply brief. R. 199 at 2. Dalton supports this rate through affidavits pointing to other civil rights cases in which attorneys with similar experience who played a similar role in the case were awarded commensurate rates. See R. 191-9.

         Defendants urge the Court to award Dalton historical rates for her work, with the rate increasing for each year of her work on the case. As defendants acknowledge, however, the choice to award current rates or historical rates plus interest is within the Court's discretion. See Pickett, 813 F.3d at 647 (“To account for the delay, a district court has the discretion to choose one of two methods to calculate the fee award. It may calculate the fee award for services rendered in prior years using the attorney's current hourly billing rate. Or it may also calculate the fee award using the hourly rate the lawyer charged at the time the lawyer performed the services for the client (the ‘historical rate') and add interest to that amount.”). Instead of wading into the parties' factual disputes about Dalton's relative experience each year, the Court exercises its discretion to award Dalton her current rate. See, e.g., Fox, 2013 WL 4401802, at *3 (rejecting challenge to “the use of current hourly rates to compensate for work performed over the past several years, when the attorneys had less experience” because “the Seventh Circuit has explicitly endorsed that practice to compensate for the delay in payment in civil rights cases”) (citing Mathur v. Bd. of Trs. of S. Ill. Univ., 317 F.3d 738, 744-45 (7th Cir. 2003)).

         The current rate is determined at the time the petition is filed. Dupuy v. McEwen, 648 F.Supp.2d 1007, 1018 (N.D. Ill. 2009). Dalton graduated in 2011, and Adamik filed its fee petition in 2016. As such, the Court agrees with Adamik that Dalton's market rate is that of civil rights attorneys in their fifth year. Dalton has appropriately established that market rate by citing examples of rates awarded to fifth- or sixth-year attorneys in civil rights cases. See R. 191-9 (affidavits in support of Dalton's rate, including an affidavit from civil rights attorney Elizabeth Mazur from Loevy & Loevy about rates awarded to fifth- and sixth-year Loevy & Loevy attorneys).

         The Court further finds that defendants have failed to show a “good reason why a lower rate is essential.” People Who Care v. Rockford Bd. of Educ., 90 F.3d 1307, 1313 (7th Cir. 1996). Even though Dalton has less overall civil rights experience than some of the fifth-year attorneys in the cases she cites, the Court finds that Dalton's lead role throughout the case and at trial entitles her to a commensurate rate. Dalton's substantial work on the case included preparing and defending every deposition and leading the trial team (including by examining all defendants and Adamik's expert). See R. 191 at 22. Dalton's performance at trial was outstanding, and it evidenced an attorney of seemingly greater than five years experience. Moreover, although the Court does not place heavy reliance on the Laffey Matrix, [2] it notes that the adjusted Laffey Matrix would justify a rate of $406 per hour for Dalton. For all of these reasons, the Court awards Dalton her requested rate of $310 per hour.

         3. ...


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