ROBINSON v. CITY OF HARVEY (August 6, 2010)

In 2002, Archie Robinson prevailed in his claim against the City of Harvey and police officer Manuel Escalante. A jury awarded him $25,000 in compensatory damages (jointly and severally) and $250,000 in punitive damages against Escalante. Two years later, the district court ordered the defendants to pay approximately $500,000 in attorneys' fees. Escalante settled. After the Seventh Circuit affirmed the fee award, the City paid the compensatory damages and the attorneys’ fees. Almost a year later, Robinson sought additional fees for: a) defending against Escalante's post-verdict motions, b) defending against Escalante's attempts to stay enforcement of the judgment, c) prosecuting the original motion for fees, and d) prosecuting the appeal. Judge Lefkow (N.D. Ill.) awarded an additional $277,000. The City appeals.

In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Bauer and Tinder reversed. The Court identified two distinct problems with the district court's award. First, the first two items related to effort undertaken by Robinson with respect to the punitive damage award against Escalante. The City is not, and never was, liable for that award. The City is therefore not responsible for any of those fees incurred. The second problem with the award is its timing. The first appeal, from the 2004 fee award, presumed that the $500,000 fee award was complete and final. In fact, if it was not, the Court would not have had jurisdiction to consider it and would have dismissed the appeal. Robinson represented at the time that the fee award was final. He cannot have it otherwise. The Court did note that the last item, fees incurred in defending the 2004 fee award on appeal, could constitute a separate request not affected by the finality of the district court's ruling. But a party has only 90 days within which to seek such an award. Robinson waited much longer without good reason and without seeking an extension. Although the district court accepted his untimely request, the Court concluded that it had no good reason to do so.