167 F.3d 1202 (8th Cir. 1999), 98-1253, Tyler v. Corner Const. Corp., Inc.

Docket Nº:98-1253.
Citation:167 F.3d 1202
Party Name:John TYLER, Appellant, v. CORNER CONSTRUCTION CORPORATION, INC., d/b/a Howard Johnson-Plaza Suite and Lodges and/or Ho-Jo's Lounge; and Charles A. Bernhoft, Dave Walton, Pat Krsnakk, Timothy Eisenhauer, and Orrin Gunderson, Appellees.
Case Date:February 10, 1999
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit
 
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Page 1202

167 F.3d 1202 (8th Cir. 1999)

John TYLER, Appellant,

v.

CORNER CONSTRUCTION CORPORATION, INC., d/b/a Howard

Johnson-Plaza Suite and Lodges and/or Ho-Jo's Lounge; and

Charles A. Bernhoft, Dave Walton, Pat Krsnakk, Timothy

Eisenhauer, and Orrin Gunderson, Appellees.

No. 98-1253.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

February 10, 1999

Submitted Nov. 17, 1998.

Page 1203

Mark S. Falk, Rapid City, SD, argued (John Murphy, Rapid City, SD, on the brief), for Appellant.

Thomas H. Barnes, Rapid City, SD, argued, for Appellee.

Before: LOKEN, JOHN R. GIBSON, and MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, Circuit Judges.

MORRIS SHEPPARD ARNOLD, Circuit Judge.

John Tyler appeals from the district court's denial of his motion for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), which provides that in a lawsuit under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the district court, "in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party ... a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." The issue before us is whether the court in this case properly determined that Mr. Tyler was not a prevailing party because

Page 1204

his case was settled for its alleged nuisance value.

I.

Mr. Tyler was a customer at defendant Corner Construction's hotel-lounge complex when five bouncers, also defendants, allegedly seized and arrested him without probable cause, used unreasonable force, and deprived him of his liberty without due process of law. He sued, claiming that the defendants had violated his constitutional and civil rights under color of law, because the bouncers were off-duty police officers who carried their police badges and weapons to work at the hotel lounge and who collaborated with the local police in carrying out the arrest. Mr. Tyler further claimed that the defendants engaged in a pattern of violating the civil rights of members of the public. He requested actual damages of $50,000 and punitive damages of $500,000 on the civil rights claims and on three additional state-law claims (false imprisonment, assault and battery, and negligence).

The defendants paint a very different picture of the events in question. They allege that Mr. Tyler had a long record of convictions for violence and drunkenness, that they had been forewarned that he might cause trouble on the night in question, that trouble did indeed ensue, and that his minor injury was sustained during his frantic resistance to a citizen's arrest by the bouncers. Despite the supposed weakness of Mr. Tyler's case, it survived two motions for summary judgment. Mr. Tyler rejected an offer to settle the suit for $4,500 that would have required him to waive attorney's fees and costs, but later accepted an offer of $17,500 that reserved the question of attorney's fees to the district court. The settlement agreement contained a statement that the defendants did not admit that Mr. Tyler had stated a claim cognizable under § 1983 and that they merely desired to settle the suit without the expense and uncertainty of trial.

Mr. Tyler then moved for an award of more than $64,000 in attorney's fees and costs pursuant to § 1988(b); the district court denied the motion. The prevailing plaintiff in a § 1983 action should ordinarily recover attorney's fees, the court recognized, but it held that Mr. Tyler was not a prevailing party. Applying the "catalyst" theory, the court held that Mr. Tyler did not prevail, because the pressure of his claim did not cause the defendants to pay him $17,500. Rather, the...

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