Leffler v. Meer, No. 94-2842

CourtUnited States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
Writing for the CourtBefore BAUER and MANION, Circuit Judges, and STIEHL; STIEHL
Citation60 F.3d 369
Docket NumberNo. 94-2842
Decision Date20 July 1995
PartiesWilliam R. LEFFLER and Shirley Jolliff, as Co-Administrators of the Estate of Mark D. Leffler (Deceased), Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. Ralph MEER, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Decatur County and Individually, et al., Defendants-Appellees.

Page 369

60 F.3d 369
William R. LEFFLER and Shirley Jolliff, as Co-Administrators
of the Estate of Mark D. Leffler (Deceased),
Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Ralph MEER, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Decatur
County and Individually, et al., Defendants-Appellees.
No. 94-2842.
United States Court of Appeals,
Seventh Circuit.
Argued March 29, 1995.
Decided July 20, 1995.

Page 370

Michael K. Sutherlin (argued), Indianapolis, IN, for plaintiffs-appellants William R. Leffler, Shirley Jolliff, as Co-Admrs of Estate of Mark D. Leffler (Deceased).

Maxwell Gray, Richard S. Pitts (argued), Lowe, Gray, Steele & Hoffman, Indianapolis, IN, for defendants-appellees Howard Shake, in his official capacity as Dispatcher of Decatur County and individually, Jean A. Crusier, Mary Theobold, Ralph Meer, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Decatur County and individually, Unknown Persons, in their official capacity as Deputy Sheriffs and individually, Bd. of County Com'rs of Decatur County, in their official capacity, namely, Paul Ernstes, Gorden Springmeier, Kenneth Owens.

Page 371

Before BAUER and MANION, Circuit Judges, and STIEHL, District Judge. *

STIEHL, District Judge.

This case is again before this Court to review the district court's determinations of "prevailing party" attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988. See Leffler v. Meer, 936 F.2d 981 (7th Cir.1991) (Leffler I).

The underlying lawsuit which spawned this fee litigation involved the 1984 suicide of Mark Leffler, a pre-trial detainee in the Decatur County, Indiana jail. The decedent's parents filed suit in the district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1983, seeking compensatory damages of $500,000 and $1 million in punitive damages for the estate of Mark Leffler, and $300,000 in compensatory damages for the parents. The amended complaint named as defendants Ralph Meer, in his individual capacity and his official capacity as Sheriff of Decatur County, eight sheriff's deputies and dispatchers ("the deputies"), and the three County Commissioners of Decatur County. The Sheriff and the deputies were charged with failure to maintain proper surveillance to prevent the suicide, and the Commissioners were alleged to have failed to provide funds for adequate personnel and a video monitoring system.

The district court held a jury trial, and at the end of their case, plaintiffs dismissed all claims against the deputies. The district court also granted the Commissioners' motion for a directed verdict. The jury returned a verdict against Meer, in his official capacity, for $3,000 in compensatory damages. In addition, each of the parents were awarded $15,000 in punitive damages against Meer in his individual capacity. None of the verdicts were appealed.

Plaintiffs then sought payment of their attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988 1 The district court awarded plaintiffs' attorney's fees and expenses of $46,590.25, although plaintiffs had requested just under $100,000. The district court also ruled that the Commissioners had been frivolously joined as defendants, and were entitled to attorney's fees as prevailing parties. The deputies requested fees both under Sec. 1988 and as sanctions pursuant to Rule 11, but the court denied both requests. The district court's order also stated that the fees owed to the Commissioners "may be treated as a credit" against the plaintiffs' attorney's fees, "unless a party objects to such method of concluding this action." (Tr. Vol. 2, Doc. #5, p. 12).

Plaintiffs appealed the attorney's fees set-off issue, and the two attorney's fees awards. The deputies cross-appealed the denial of their attorney's fees. This Court denied plaintiffs' appeal of their reduced award of attorney's fees, and the deputies' cross-appeal of the denial of attorney's fees. Leffler I, 936 F.2d at 984-86, 988. We vacated that portion of the order which awarded the Commissioners their entire attorney's fees and expenses of $16,834.88, and remanded the issue to the district court to determine at what point the action became frivolous, and to adjust the award of attorney's fees accordingly. Id. at 986-88. This Court also ruled that the set-off of the Commissioners' fees against the plaintiffs' award was improper. Id. at 987.

After the appeal, plaintiffs petitioned the district court for an additional $48,226.44 in fees for prosecuting the appeal, defending the cross-appeal, and filing a supplemental fee request. Plaintiffs sought to conduct additional discovery on the issues regarding the award to the Commissioners. Upon the Commissioners' motion, the district court entered an order quashing the deposition subpoenas for each of the three Commissioners and their attorney, pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(c)(3)(A)(iv), and granted a protective order postponing the depositions until the court ruled on other pending motions. The district court held a hearing to determine plaintiffs' additional request and to adjust the award to the Commissioners in accordance with the opinion of this Court. The district court

Page 372

concluded that: (1) plaintiffs were not entitled to an award of additional prevailing party attorney's fees; and (2) under Indiana law, the action against the Commissioners became frivolous when the amended complaint was filed, but since the Commissioners failed to mitigate their attorney's fees by not filing a motion for summary judgment, the Commissioners were entitled to only $3,702.93 in fees and expenses. Plaintiffs appeal both rulings regarding fees, and the order which quashed the subpoenas and entered a protective order.

A. Disallowance of Plaintiffs' Attorney's Fees on Appeal

Plaintiffs assert that the district court erred in denying their petition for attorney's fees and costs incurred in prosecuting the first appeal and the second fee request, and defending the cross-appeal. The district court denied plaintiffs' petition on the grounds that the appeal did not vindicate the type of Sec. 1983 rights for which fees are available, and that plaintiffs were not prevailing parties under Sec. 1988. The district court also ruled that plaintiffs' petition must be denied in light of the Leffler I court's directive that "[t]he parties shall bear their own costs." Id. at 988.

The standard of review governing a denial of attorney's fees under Sec. 1988 is whether the trial court abused its discretion in denying the award. Libby by Libby v. Illinois High School Ass'n, 921 F.2d 96, 98 (7th Cir.1990); Unity Ventures v. County of Lake, 894 F.2d 250, 254 (7th Cir.1990). An abuse of discretion exists where no reasonable person could take the view espoused by the district court. Leffler I, 936 F.2d at 984; Libby, 921 F.2d at 98. This deferential standard of review is necessary to protect the district court's "superior understanding of the litigation and the desirability of avoiding frequent appellate review of what essentially are factual matters." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 437, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1941, 76 L.Ed.2d 40...

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14 practice notes
  • Anthony Peraica & Taxpayers United of Am. v. Riverside-Brookfield High Sch. Dist. No. 208, Docket No. 1–12–2351.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • October 31, 2013
    ...1079. An abuse of discretion occurs only where no reasonable person could take the view adopted by the trial court. Leffler v. Meer, 60 F.3d 369, 372 (7th Cir.1995). “This deferential standard of review is necessary to protect the district court's ‘superior understanding of the litigation a......
  • Peraica v. Riverside-Brookfield High Sch. Dist. No. 208, Docket No. 1–12–2351.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • October 31, 2013
    ...1079. An abuse of discretion occurs only where no reasonable person could take the view adopted by the trial court. Leffler v. Meer, 60 F.3d 369, 372 (7th Cir.1995). “This deferential standard of review is necessary to protect the district court's ‘superior understanding of the litigation a......
  • Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Industries Co., Ltd., Nos. 96-2827
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • September 26, 1997
    ...him to more extensive discovery in this case. District courts enjoy extremely broad discretion in controlling discovery. Leffler v. Meer, 60 F.3d 369, 374 (7th Cir.1995) (citation omitted). Because the district court is in a far better position than we are to pass on discovery matters, we w......
  • Cooney v. Casady, Nos. 10–3842
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 19, 2013
    ...Cir.2011). “An abuse of discretion exists where no reasonable person could take the view espoused by the district court.” Leffler v. Meer, 60 F.3d 369, 372 (7th Cir.1995).A. The District Court Properly Granted Summary Judgment “[T]o establish § 1983 liability through a conspiracy theory, ‘a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
14 cases
  • Anthony Peraica & Taxpayers United of Am. v. Riverside-Brookfield High Sch. Dist. No. 208, Docket No. 1–12–2351.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • October 31, 2013
    ...1079. An abuse of discretion occurs only where no reasonable person could take the view adopted by the trial court. Leffler v. Meer, 60 F.3d 369, 372 (7th Cir.1995). “This deferential standard of review is necessary to protect the district court's ‘superior understanding of the litigation a......
  • Peraica v. Riverside-Brookfield High Sch. Dist. No. 208, Docket No. 1–12–2351.
    • United States
    • United States Appellate Court of Illinois
    • October 31, 2013
    ...1079. An abuse of discretion occurs only where no reasonable person could take the view adopted by the trial court. Leffler v. Meer, 60 F.3d 369, 372 (7th Cir.1995). “This deferential standard of review is necessary to protect the district court's ‘superior understanding of the litigation a......
  • Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Industries Co., Ltd., Nos. 96-2827
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • September 26, 1997
    ...him to more extensive discovery in this case. District courts enjoy extremely broad discretion in controlling discovery. Leffler v. Meer, 60 F.3d 369, 374 (7th Cir.1995) (citation omitted). Because the district court is in a far better position than we are to pass on discovery matters, we w......
  • Cooney v. Casady, Nos. 10–3842
    • United States
    • United States Courts of Appeals. United States Court of Appeals (7th Circuit)
    • August 19, 2013
    ...Cir.2011). “An abuse of discretion exists where no reasonable person could take the view espoused by the district court.” Leffler v. Meer, 60 F.3d 369, 372 (7th Cir.1995).A. The District Court Properly Granted Summary Judgment “[T]o establish § 1983 liability through a conspiracy theory, ‘a......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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