817 F.2d 920 (1st Cir. 1987), 85-1993, Hall v. Ochs

Docket Nº:85-1993.
Citation:817 F.2d 920
Party Name:Bancroft Dudley HALL, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees, v. Frederick J. OCHS, et al., Defendants, Appellees. Frederick J. Ochs, S. Leo Judge, James P. Rogers, Thomas F. Murphy and Town of Milton, Defendants, Appellants.
Case Date:May 05, 1987
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the First Circuit

Page 920

817 F.2d 920 (1st Cir. 1987)

Bancroft Dudley HALL, et al., Plaintiffs, Appellees,


Frederick J. OCHS, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

Frederick J. Ochs, S. Leo Judge, James P. Rogers, Thomas F.

Murphy and Town of Milton, Defendants, Appellants.

No. 85-1993.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

May 5, 1987

Argued Nov. 4, 1986.

As Amended May 26, 1987.

Page 921

Philip M. Cronin with whom Michael P. Duffy, Withington, Cross, Park & Groden, Boston, Mass., and Robert D. O'Leary, Town Counsel, Milton, Mass., were on brief, for defendants, appellants.

Richard P. Ward with whom Eleanor D. Acheson and Ropes & Gray, Boston, Mass., were on supplemental brief, for defendant, appellant Thomas F. Murphy.

Michael Avery with whom Avery & Friedman and John Reinstein, Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Boston, Mass., were on brief, for plaintiffs, appellees Bancroft Dudley Hall, et al.

Verne W. Vance, Jr., Foley, Hoag & Eliot and Robert P. Sherman, Boston, Mass., on brief for Lawyers' Committee, for Civil Rights Under Law of the Boston Bar Ass'n, amicus curiae.

Before CAMPBELL, Chief Judge, TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge, and PIERAS, [*] District Judge.

TORRUELLA, Circuit Judge.

This is an appeal from a jury verdict entered in a civil rights and pendent state tort suit brought by plaintiffs Bancroft Dudley Hall and Sandra Hall against four Milton police officers and the Town of Milton. The alleged errors we examine on appeal relate to a directed verdict against the Town and one of the officers, the denial of qualified immunity, a jury instruction on joint liability, and the damage and attorneys' fees awards. We affirm in large part the decision of the trial court. We reverse, however, the district court's application of a multiplier to the attorneys' fees award.

I. Background

At trial the parties presented sharply conflicting versions of the events that led plaintiffs Sandra and Bancroft Hall to file their complaint. While the jury apparently credited the Halls' version and not the police officers', we will begin with only the uncontested facts because one of the important issues on appeal is the appropriateness of a directed verdict for plaintiffs.

On Sunday morning, October 26, 1980, Bancroft Hall arrived at the Sullivans' home at 167 Dudley Lane in Milton, a nearly all white suburb just south of Boston. Hall, who is black, was driving a 1972 Pinto described as "out of place" in the neighborhood by defendants' witness. Hall went to the Sullivans' front door, where he was met by his daughter, Sandra, and her friend Maura Sullivan. Sandra had stayed the night with Maura after a track meet where the two girls competed for their school. Sandra was not ready to go, so he returned to the car to wait and to read the Sunday paper.

Meanwhile, the daughter of a neighbor drove by the house, saw the car and Mr. Hall, and noticed that a ladder which had been outside the house was now gone. After she told this to her mother, her mother called the Sullivans' house and received no answer. The neighbor then called the Milton police to report a suspicious man parked in an old car in the Sullivans' driveway.

The police dispatcher sent out a call that there was a suspicious car at 167 Dudley Lane with a black male behind the wheel

Page 922

and a possible breaking and entering in progress. Milton Police Officer Frederick Ochs (who, like the other individual appellants, is white) arrived first at the Sullivans and parked his cruiser immediately behind the Halls' Pinto, blocking the driveway. The time was 11:30 a.m. Officer Ochs got out of his car, drew his revolver, walked to the driver's side of the Pinto, pointed the gun at Hall and asked for Hall's driver's license and registration. Hall protested that he had done nothing wrong and asked why Ochs wanted to see his license.

Meanwhile Officer Judge arrived. A short time later, after an interchange described very differently by the respective parties, Officer Judge pushed Sandra, who was by this time in the car holding onto her father, out of the way, and the two officers forcibly removed Hall from the car. At some point during this time the police obtained Hall's license. They put Hall on the ground, rolled him over and handcuffed him.

The officers then drove Hall to the Milton Police Station, where he was informed he had been arrested for failure to produce his license when requested and for disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors under Massachusetts law. Booking officer James Rogers read Hall his rights, including his right to a bail hearing. Shortly after that, Lieutenant Thomas Murphy, the commanding officer at the station, arrived in the booking area and read Hall his rights again. Murphy then announced that, if Hall would sign a waiver giving up his right to sue the police officers, the charges would be dropped and he could leave. The waiver was on a preprinted form with the Town seal and had been in sporadic use for about 30 years. Hall refused to sign the waiver and Murphy instructed Rogers to book him and place him in a cell.

During the course of the next hour, Murphy asked Hall to sign the waiver two more times, Sandra pleaded with him to sign the waiver, and Dr. Sullivan, who had come to the station when he learned what happened, suggested that Hall sign the waiver. Finally, Hall called a lawyer who had helped him with some real estate transactions. The lawyer recommended that he get out of there as fast as he could. Hall signed the waiver and left the station at 1:30 p.m.

II. Proceedings Below

Bancroft and Sandra Hall filed a complaint on February 6, 1981 charging appellants and three other officers (who were later dismissed) with federal civil rights violations, assault and battery, false arrest, and false imprisonment. They added a state civil rights count by amendment on April 22, 1981. Trial began on April 11, 1985. At the conclusion of all the evidence the trial judge directed a verdict for plaintiff Bancroft Hall against defendants Murphy and the Town on the false imprisonment and associated civil rights counts. The judge refused to charge that defendants were entitled to qualified immunity for their actions under Harlow v. Fitzgerald, 457 U.S. 800, 102 S.Ct. 2727, 73 L.Ed.2d 396 (1982).

The jury then returned a verdict for plaintiffs on nearly all the counts. The jury found that Judge committed a battery on Sandra Hall, that Ochs and Judge together falsely arrested and committed a battery on Bancroft Hall, and that Ochs, Judge and Rogers acted jointly with Murphy in falsely imprisoning Bancroft Hall. Because the officers acted under color of law these findings support Sec. 1983 judgments as well. The jury awarded Bancroft Hall $160,000 in compensatory and $200,000 in punitive damages. They awarded Sandra Hall $5,000 in compensatory and $10,000 in punitive damages.

The jury also granted Bancroft Hall $60,000 in prejudgment interest. The trial judge increased this prejudgment interest award to conform to that required by Massachusetts law for the damages awarded for the state tort violations (i.e., everything except the award against the Town and the punitive damages). The trial judge then awarded plaintiffs attorneys' fees using the lodestar approach required in this circuit. See Grendels Den v. Larkin, 749 F.2d 945, 950 (1st Cir.1984). He set the attorneys' fees at the rate of $175 an hour

Page 923

for lead counsel, Michael Avery, and $125 an hour for assistant counsel John Reinstein, plus a 50% multiplier for both attorneys based on their "exceptional success" and a contingency factor. The fees awarded came to approximately $60,000.

Defendants appeal on a variety of grounds. They challenge the directed verdict as contrary to the evidence, and the qualified immunity decision as based on a mistaken understanding of the law. They point to a jury instruction on the joint liability of the defendants that is contrary to state law. And they contest both the damages and the attorneys' fees awards. We will examine each of these issues in turn.

III. The Directed Verdict

The directed verdict covered Hall's confinement at the station after he refused to sign the waiver form. The judge directed the verdict against Murphy, because he offered Hall the release and then confined Hall, and against the Town, because Murphy was acting pursuant to Town policy. Defendants challenge this ruling as contrary to the facts as seen in the light most favorable to them.

Murphy claims that he thought Hall was properly arrested and that offering the release was the act of a "Good Samaritan." Regardless of Murphy's intentions, however, he offered Hall a clear choice: either (1) stay in jail and go to court tomorrow, or (2) request bail, stay in jail until the Bail Commissioner comes (which the trial judge found would take substantial time on a Sunday afternoon) 1 then go to court tomorrow, or (3) sign a release waiving the right to sue and leave now, with the charges dropped. Reduced to its essence the choice was this: forfeit your liberty and face criminal charges or forfeit your right to bring suit. Confronted with this choice, Hall chose to keep his right to seek civil redress, so he remained imprisoned, until he broke down and signed the waiver.

The granting of a directed verdict for plaintiff is a chancy affair. However, where appropriate it should be granted. Based on the above uncontested facts the directed verdict was proper. Hall clearly had a fourth amendment right to be free from unreasonable seizures of his person. See, e.g., Pierson v. Ray, 386 U.S. 547, 87 S.Ct. 1213, 18 L.Ed.2d 288 (1967). And just as clearly he had a first amendment right to access to the courts to vindicate his rights secured under state and...

To continue reading