United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division
KIERRA WILLIAMSON, PRINCETON B. WILLIAMSON, and MICHAEL C. WILLIAMSON, Plaintiffs,
CHICAGO POLICE OFFICER WILFREDO ORTIZ, Star no. 9748, and THE CITY OF CHICAGO, a municipal corporation, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
JOHNSON COLEMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.
plaintiffs, Kierra Williamson, Princeton Williamson, and
Michael Williamson, brought this action against Chicago
Police Officer Wilfredo Ortiz and the City of Chicago,
alleging that Officer Ortiz used excessive force against the
defendants. After a lengthy trial, a jury found in favor of
the plaintiffs, awarding a combined total of $4, 250, 000 in
compensatory damages and $500, 000 in punitive damages. The
plaintiffs' attorneys, along with Princeton and Kierra
Williamson's former attorney Regan Ebert, now move this
Court to recover their respective fees and costs. For the
reasons set forth herein, their motions are granted in part
and denied in part.
shooting at issue in this case happened on January 1, 2014.
On January 6, 2014, Regan Ebert was retained by Kierra and
Princeton Williamson's grandmother to represent Kierra
and Princeton, each of whom signed a one-third contingency
fee attorney-client agreement. Jeffrey Neslund and Michael
Robbins subsequently filed appearances on January 8, 2015,
and represented to the Court that they were the
plaintiffs' sole counsel. On March 19, 2015, the Court
terminated Ebert's appearance after the plaintiffs
clarified that Neslund, Robbins, and Robert Robertson were
representing them in this action. On March 28, 2017, the
defendants filed a motion for partial summary judgment, which
was denied. The plaintiffs subsequently sought to amend their
complaint, but that motion was denied in light of the pending
trial. The trial was bifurcated, so that the jury would first
resolve Officer Ortiz's liability before then continuing
to address the plaintiffs' Monell claims. The
trial was held from September 7, 2017 until September 17,
2018. During the jury's deliberations, the defendants
agreed that they would accept the entry of an adverse
judgment on the plaintiff's Monell claims in the
event that the jury found against the city on the excessive
force claims. The jury subsequently returned a sizeable
verdict in the plaintiffs' favor. The plaintiffs'
lawyers now seek to recover $3, 626, 066.25 in fees for a
total of 7, 263 attorney and paralegal hours spent working on
the Williamsons' case. Ebert seeks to recover $40, 568.04
in attorney's fees and costs from Kierra Williamsons'
proceeds and $24, 535.97 in attorney's fees and costs
from Princeton Williamson's proceeds that she incurred
while working on their cases under a contingent fee
courts have discretion to award reasonable attorneys'
fees to the prevailing party in a section 1983 action. 42
U.S.C. § 1988(b). To determine what fees are reasonable,
the Court begins by calculating the lodestar amount based on
the hours reasonably expended by counsel and their reasonable
hourly rates. Johnson v. GDF, Inc., 668 F.3d 927,
929 (7th Cir. 2012). The Court may then adjust the lodestar
based on various factors including the degree of success, the
novelty and difficulty of the issues, awards in similar
cases, and the relationship between the lodestar amount and
the damages awarded. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S.
424, 430 n. 3, 434, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 76 L.Ed.2d 40 (1983).
Counsel's Fee Petition
defendants first contest the reasonableness of counsels'
hourly rates. The reasonable rate for counsel's time is
calculated based on the market rate that lawyers of similar
experience and ability in the community normally charge their
paying clients for the type of work in question.
Gautreaux v. Chicago Housing Authority, 491 F.3d
649, 659 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting McNabola v. Chicago
Transit Authority, 10 F.3d 501, 519 (7th Cir. 1993)).
Although the party seeking fees bears the initial burden of
producing evidence establishing her market rate, once
evidence is provided it becomes the opposing party's
burden to demonstrate why a lower rate should be awarded.
Gautreaux, 491 F.3d at 660 (quoting Uphoff v.
Elegant Bath, Ltd., 176 F.3d 399, 407 (7th Cir. 1999)).
The best evidence of the market rate for an attorney is the
amount the attorney actually bills for similar work, but if
that rate cannot be determined the court may rely on the
rates charged by similarly situated attorneys or the rates
charged by the attorney in similar cases. Johnson,
668 F.3d at 933.
counsel requested the following hourly rates:
Rate requested by plaintiffs
$550 / hour
$525 / hour
$600 / hour
$225 / hour
$325 / hour
$400 / hour
Law Clerk / Paralegal
$100 / hour
supported these rates with personal affidavits, as well as
affidavits from other civil rights attorneys familiar with
their work and experience. The defendants concede that the
requested rates for Courtney Smallwood and for law
clerk/paralegal time are reasonable but assert that the
remaining lawyers have failed to meet their initial burden of
establishing a reasonable rate for their work product.
Generally speaking, the defendants contend that the
plaintiffs have never billed a client at the rates that they
now seek to recover, that there is no evidence establishing
that their claimed rates are reasonable in the market at
large, and that the proposed rates exceed those counsel have
previously received in similar matters.
courts in this district have recognized, however, prior
awards are of limited relevance given that hourly fees
increase over time as a result of both inflation and the
increasing skill and reputation of the billing attorney.
Fox v. Barnes, No. 09 C 5453, 2013 WL 4401802, at *3
(N.D. Ill. Aug. 15, 2013) (Holderman, J.). Fees, moreover,
are calculated at counsel's current billing rate to
compensate for the inherent delay in payment in
contingent-fee civil rights cases. Mathur v. Bd. of Trs.
of S. Ill. Univ., 317 F.3d 738, 744-45 (7th Cir. 2003).
Accordingly, the prior fee awards that the defendants rely on
are generally unpersuasive to this Court.
case, Neslund seeks to recover a rate of $550 per hour,
Robbins seeks to recover a rate of $600 per hour, and
Robertson seeks to recover a rate of $525 per hour. These
proposed rates are supported by affidavits from peer
attorneys averring that these sums are reasonable given
counsels' skill and experience. These three attorneys
truly acted as partners in this case and were equally skilled
and competent in their representation of the plaintiffs.
Differences in respective experience notwithstanding, the
Court is therefore convinced that counsel are entitled to
equal compensation for their time and effort in this case.
After reviewing the affidavits and caselaw submitted, the
Court concludes that it is appropriate to compensate Neslund,
Robbins, and Robertson at a rate of $550 per hour in light of
the respective experience that they brought to bear on this
defendants also dispute the hourly rates requested by Marko
Duric and Thomas Kougias. Duric, who was licensed in 2012,
requests $325 an hour. Duric's supporting affidavit,
however, does not disclose his hourly rates or other
information regarding his rates or those of his peers to
support his requested rate of $325 per hour. To the contrary,
within the past year attorneys of comparable experience have
received awards of $310 per hour and $275 per hour. See
Adamik v. Motyka, No. 12 C 3810, 2018 WL 3574751, at *4
(N.D. Ill. July 25, 2018) (Durkin, J.) (awarding $310 to a
civil rights attorney with five years of experience who
served as trial counsel); First Midwest Bank v. City of
Chicago, No. 14 C 9665, 2018 WL 4126570, at *23 (N.D.
Ill. Aug. 29, 2018) (Leinenweber, J.). The defendants concede
that $310 would be an appropriate award for Duric in this
case. In light of the extenuating circumstances warranting an
elevated fee award in Adamik, which awarded a
similarly experienced attorney $310 per hour, the Court
agrees that $310 per hour is an appropriate rate for
Duric's services at the present time.
expressly swears that he currently bills his time at $400 per
hour, although most of his cases are taken on a flat-fee
basis. The defendants nevertheless contend that this request
is unreasonable because Kougias' work as a criminal
defense attorney is not comparable to his work in this civil
rights case. Here, however, Kougias' work occurred in his
capacity as an experienced criminal lawer; he was retained to
secure access to evidence impounded in the criminal case of
People v. Michael Williamson. The defendants have
offered no evidence to suggest that $400 per hour is an
unreasonable rate for Kougias to bill for appearances in
criminal court, and this Court therefore sustains the
requested rate. Review of IPRA Files
defendants separately contend that counsels' rates should
be discounted during the time spent reviewing the IPRA
investigations of 219 officer-involved shootings in support
of the plaintiffs' Monell claims. In total, this
review required 1, 219.85 hours. The defendants contend that
the review, billed at the attorneys' usual rates, should
be compensated at a paralegal rate because it constitutes
“first-level document review” and annotation. As
other courts have previously found, however, review of files
from other incidents relevant to a Monell claim
requires legal analysis of their content and is therefore
appropriately compensated at attorney rates. Fields v.
City of Chicago, 10-CV-1168, Dkt. 1249 (N.D. Ill. Jan.
1, 2018) (Kennelly, J.). Here, the plaintiff's
Monell theory turned on identifying proof of a
pattern of inadequate investigations into deadly force
incidents and therefore required detailed legal analysis of
the adequacy of prior investigations. The ...