Isaac W. Capps, Plaintiff-Appellant,
Kevin Drake et al., Defendants-Appellees.
April 5, 2018
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Illinois. No. 14-cv-441 - Michael J. Reagan,
Chief Judge & Nancy J. Rosenstengel, Judge.
Kanne, Rovner, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
the prevailing party in a civil rights lawsuit is entitled to
an award of attorney's fees. 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). It
is reasonable, however, for the court to award no fees to the
prevailing party if the party received only a technical,
nominal, or de minimis damage award. In this case,
Isaac Capps was awarded substantial damages and thus should
have been awarded attorney's fees. The judgment of the
district court is reversed, and this case is remanded for a
determination of the amount to be awarded.
Capps sued six law enforcement officers for failure to
intervene in an unlawful search and for use of excessive
force, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The parties
attempted to negotiate a settlement before trial. First, the
defendants offered $47, 500; Capps countered with $2 million.
The defendants then offered $200, 000, which Capps again
rejected and demanded $3.5 million. Capps's final
settlement demand was for $3.6 million, which the defendants
rejected. The case went to trial by a jury.
succeeded on eight of the ten claims he brought to
prevailed on his failure-to-intervene claims against each
defendant and on his excessive-force claims against two of
the defendants. At the end of the five-day trial, the jury
awarded Capps $22, 000 in compensatory damages and $10, 092
in punitive damages.
trial, Capps filed a petition to recover attorney's fees
pursuant to § 1988(b). The judge who presided over the
trial ordered the parties to appear before a magistrate judge
for a settlement conference regarding the fees. The
conference failed to resolve the issue. The trial judge then
sua sponte "referred" the fee petition to
another judge within the district, Chief Judge Reagan. (R.
223.) No party objected to the referral. At a hearing, Chief
Judge Reagan explained that he was hearing the motion because
he has a special interest in attorney's fees based on his
work with the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary
Commission as well as other experiences. Ultimately, Chief
Judge Reagan denied the petition for fees, and Capps
appeal, Capps challenges the denial of his petition for fees
on two bases. First, he contends the district court lacked
the authority to refer his post-trial motion to another
judge. Second, he claims the court abused its discretion when
it awarded him no attorney's fees.
The district court had authority to transfer the motion.
statute or regulation permits a district court judge to refer
or transfer a contested post-trial motion to another judge.
Nor does any statute or regulation expressly prohibit such
referrals. But "the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure do
not completely describe and limit the power of the federal
courts." G. Heileman Brewing Co. v. Joseph Oat
Corp., 871 F.2d 648, 651 (7th Cir. 1989). And "the
mere absence of language in the federal rules specifically
authorizing or describing a particular judicial procedure
should not, and does not, give rise to a negative implication
of prohibition." Id. at 652. The court has
inherent power to "exercise procedural authority outside
the explicit language of the rules of civil procedure,"
id. at 651, including the "power to control the
assignment and transfer of cases," United States v.
Keane, 375 F.Supp. 1201, 1204 (N.D. Ill. 1974),
aff'd 522 F.2d 534 (7th Cir. 1975). See also
Dietz v. Bouldin, 136 S.Ct. 1885, 1891 (2016) (quoting
Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31 (1962))
("Accordingly, this Court has long recognized that a
district court possesses inherent powers that are
'governed not by rule or statute but by the control
necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so
as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of
referral of a post-trial motion falls within this inherent
authority and so the referral of the motion for
attorney's fees in this case was not beyond the district
court's authority. Still, the district court must not
abuse its discretion when exercising this authority. G.
Heileman Brewing Co., 871 F.2d at 653; see
Dietz, 136 S.Ct. at 1892 (internal citation
omitted) (quoting De-gan v. United States, 517 U.S.
820, 823-24 (1996)) ("[T]he exercise of an inherent
power must be a 'reasonable response to the problems and
needs' confronting the court's fair administration of
justice … and cannot be contrary to any express grant
of or limitation on the district court's power contained