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Law School Case Brief

Fields v. City of Chi. - No. 10 C 1168, 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 2 (N.D. Ill. Jan. 1, 2018)


A court can adjust the lodestar based on 12 factors described in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433, 103 S. Ct. 1933, 76 L. Ed. 2d 40 (1983), the factors of which 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 [*7]  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.


Nathson Fields sued defendants, City of Chicago and three police officers, 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. Fields then filed this civil rights lawsuit in 2010. With his trial against the State, the Court declared a mistrial after seven days of trial when defendants introduced prejudicial testimony that the trial 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 awarding Fields compensatory damages of $22,000,000, as well as punitive damages of $30,000 against O'Callaghan and $10,000 against Murphy. Fields then petitioned the Court to recover for attorney's fees and expenses under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and for costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1920 for a total over over $7.5 Million.


Was Fields entitled to recover attorneys fees and expenses?




The court granted the recovery of fees and expenses but reduced the total amount of fees awarded by the Court to approximately $5,571,500. The Court held that Fields was able to justify and provide basis for the legal fees he sought to recover. These fees included charges for printing, copying, and scanning. The Court overruled defendants' objections to expenses relating to attorney or paralegal use of taxis and share rides (Uber). The Court found that the travel, subsistence, and lodging expenses for the expert witnesses were likewise reasonable and properly recoverable under the law and approved them. The Court, however, did note that all expenses for meals must be deducted from the expenses claimed. Fields made no attempt to justify recovering these as properly recoverable expenses.

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