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Baker v. Lindgren

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

May 10, 2017

Kenneth Baker, et ah, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Jean M. Lindgren, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued December 5, 2016

         Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 1:11-cv-04197 Harry D. Leinenweber, Judge.

          Before Easterbrook and ROVNER, Circuit Judges, and Shadid, District Judge [*]

          ROVNER, Circuit Judge.

         Kenneth Baker and several of his family members sued the City of Chicago, eight named police officers, a number of unknown officers, as well as two private citizens and the company employing them, alleging civil rights violations and state law tort claims. In the end, Baker won a modest recovery from several City defendants on one of the civil rights claims, and from the City defendants and a private defendant on one of the state law tort claims, but the defendants prevailed on all the remaining claims. The district court granted attorneys' fees to Baker, but denied him costs as prevailing party, instead awarding costs to the City for prevailing against two other plaintiffs. Baker appeals the amount of the attorneys' fees awarded and the denial of costs to Baker. Two other plaintiffs appeal the award of costs to the defendants. We affirm in part and vacate and remand in part.

         I.

         Because the appeal is directed only at attorneys' fees and costs, we will give an abbreviated version of the facts to provide context. The plaintiffs' claims arose from an attempt by Timothy Ghidotti, an employee of Reliable Recovery Services, Inc., to repossess a Chevy Impala from Juanita Horton, the step-daughter of Kenneth Baker. Baker lived with his wife Barbara, son Camden and minor daughter, A.B., in a home in Chicago. Horton sometimes visited the home but did not reside there. In the middle of a February night in 2010, Ghidotti rang the bell at the Baker house, looking for Horton and the Chevy Impala. Baker told Ghidotti that Horton did not live there and then argued with Ghidotti, telling him to "get the hell off my porch, " and to not return to the property. Ghidotti left the porch and called 911 from his truck, falsely telling the dispatcher that a man had threatened him with a gun. Police officers Jean Lindgren and Jesus Vera responded to the scene, and were later joined by Sergeant Steven Martin. Although Ghidotti first told the officers that he thought he saw a gun in Baker's hand, he soon admitted that he had not seen a gun but had assumed from Baker's demeanor that he had one. The officers eventually entered the home and arrested Baker on a charge of aggravated assault, based on Ghidotti's representation that he felt threatened during the encounter. They did so even though Ghidotti admitted that he had not seen a gun and even though Baker never threatened Ghidotti by word or gesture. The officers also seized from the home a shotgun owned by Baker and later added a charge of possession of a firearm with an expired registration. Baker attended nine court hearings before the two charges were dropped.

         Baker, together with his wife and children (who were present in the home during these events), brought a seventeen-count complaint against the City, the police officers, Reliable Recovery and its employees, Ghidotti and Boris Jurkovic. The Bakers alleged Illinois tort claims against the Reliable Recovery defendants including four counts of trespass and one count of intentional infliction of emotional distress. They asserted Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment claims against the police officers, including unconstitutional entry into the home; unconstitutional search of the home; illegal detention in the home; false arrest; failure to investigate; failure to intervene; and conspiracy to violate civil rights. Kenneth Baker asserted Illinois tort claims of malicious prosecution of the aggravated assault charge and malicious prosecution of the weapon registration charge against the City defendants and the Reliable Recovery defendants. Kenneth Baker also asserted supervisory liability against Dennis Walsh, a supervising officer at the station where Baker was brought after arrest. Finally, all of the Baker plaintiffs alleged supervisory liability against Sergeant Martin and an indemnification count against the City of Chicago for the actions of its employees.

         On cross-motions for summary judgment, the district court dismissed two police officers from the suit because they lacked any involvement in the incident. The court denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment on the illegal entry and search claims, the failure to intervene charge, the conspiracy count, and the malicious prosecution claims. The court granted summary judgment in favor of the Reliable Recovery defendants on two of the trespass counts and allowed the other two to proceed to trial. The court also denied Reliable Recovery's motion for summary judgment on the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim. Because it was not a separately cognizable claim, the court dismissed the failure to investigate count. The court granted summary judgment in favor of Kenneth Baker on the false arrest claim, allowing that claim to proceed to trial solely on the question of damages. The court dismissed the unknown officers from the case because the plaintiffs made no effort to identify them through the discovery process and the statute of limitations had expired as to any new defendants.

         At trial, the jury awarded Kenneth Baker $25, 000 on his false arrest claim and $5, 000 on his claim for malicious prosecution of the aggravated assault charge. The jury otherwise found in favor of the defendants on all remaining claims. Baker then moved to recover $450, 268 in attorneys' fees from the City defendants and costs from all defendants. The City defendants sought to recover their costs from Barbara and Camden Baker (but not Baker's minor child, A.B.), and moved to strike Baker's petition for attorneys' fees. The district court denied the City's motion to strike Baker's fee petition but reduced the hourly rate for two of the attorneys who represented Baker, reduced the number of approved hours, and then adjusted the lodestar downward by 50% to reflect Baker's limited success. This resulted in a fee award to Baker in the amount of $164, 395. The court denied costs to Baker and granted them in favor of the City against Barbara and Camden Baker, after making minor adjustments to the amount requested. The plaintiffs appeal.

         II.

         On appeal, Kenneth Baker contends that the district court should have granted his bill of costs as the prevailing party. He also asserts that the court committed numerous errors in reducing the amount of attorneys' fees awarded. Barbara and Camden Baker argue that the court erred in awarding costs to the defendants.

         A.

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) provides that, "[u]nless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs-other than attorney's fees-should be allowed to the prevailing party." See also 28 U.S.C. § 1920 (listing the fees recoverable as "costs"). Rule 54(d)(1) creates a presumption in favor of awarding costs to the prevailing party, and we review the court's decision on costs for abuse of discretion. Myrick v. WellPoint Inc.,764 F.3d 662, 666 (7th Cir. 2014); Rivera v. City of Chicago, 469 F.3d 631, 636 (7th Cir. 2006); Cruz v. Town of Cicero, III,275 F.3d 579, 591 (7th Cir. 2001). For the purposes of Rule 54, a party is deemed "prevailing" if it prevails as to a substantial part of the litigation. Testa v. Village of Mundelein, III,89 F.3d 443, 447 (7th Cir. 1996). In a case with mixed results, the district court has the discretion to determine whether a party meets that standard. Gavoni v. Dobbs House, Inc., 164 F.3d 1071, 1075 (7th Cir. 1999); Testa, 89 F.3d at 447; Northbrook Excess & Surplus Ins. Co. v. Procter & ...


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