Submitted February 15, 2017
from the United States District Court for the Southern
District of Illinois. No. 12-841-SCW - Stephen C. Williams,
Bauer, Manion, and Hamilton, Circuit Judges.
Hamilton, Circuit Judge.
appeal is before us once more, this time not on the merits
but on plaintiff Charles Murphy's petition for an award
of attorney fees on appeal as a prevailing party pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). We deny the petition. Plaintiff
prevailed on only one issue on appeal, an issue of only state
law that could not have affected the judgment in his favor on
federal-law claims that allowed a fee award. He lost on the
federal matters at issue on appeal. While he remains a
prevailing party in the lawsuit as a whole, a fee award on
this appeal is not justified.
decision on the fee petition depends on the course and result
of the appeal on the merits. We explained the facts in our
earlier opinion, Murphy v. Smith, 844 F.3d 653 (7th
Cir. 2016). To summarize, plaintiff Murphy is an Illinois
prisoner. He filed this suit under Illinois state law and 42
U.S.C. § 1983 against several prison guards, including
appellants Robert Smith and Gregory Fulk. Murphy alleged that
the guards punched him, choked him, threw him head-first
against a cell toilet, and left him without medical care.
Id. at 655-56.
divided those allegations into six claims: (1) a federal
Eighth Amendment claim for unconstitutional use of force and
(2) a state-law battery claim regarding the punch; (3) a
federal Eighth Amendment claim for unconstitutional use of
force and (4) a state-law battery claim regarding the choking
and throwing; (5) a federal Eighth Amendment claim for
failure to intervene to prevent federal constitutional
violations; and (6) a federal Eighth Amendment claim for
deliberate indifference to serious medical needs.
prevailed on four of those claims in a jury trial. The jury
found in his favor and against Officer Smith on both the
federal and state claims for the punch. The jury also found
for Murphy and against Smith on the state-law battery claim
for choking him and throwing him into the cell and against
the toilet, but against Murphy on the federal claim for those
same actions. And the jury found for Murphy on his Eighth
Amendment claim against Lieutenant Fulk for deliberate
indifference to his medical needs after he was injured.
jury awarded a total of about $410, 000 in compensatory and
punitive damages. The court later reduced the total to $307,
734.82. The court also awarded Murphy attorney fees and costs
totaling $110, 643.66 under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). The
court interpreted a provision of the Prison Litigation Reform
Act, 42 U.S.C. § l997e(d)(2), as giving the court
discretion in deciding what percentage, up to twenty-five
percent, of the judgment should be used to pay attorney fees,
and the court set that percentage at ten percent. Murphy
v. Smith, No. 12-cv-0841-SCW, 2015 WL13236780, at *1, *5
(S.D. 111. Sept. 25, 2015).
Smith and Fulk appealed and challenged just two separate
aspects of the district court judgment. First, defendants
argued that the Prison Litigation Reform Act required that
fully twenty-five percent of the damages award be put toward
the attorney fee award. Second, defendants argued that
state-law sovereign immunity barred Murphy's recovery on
his state-law claims. As a practical matter, the only part of
the judgment implicated by this argument was an award of $25,
501 against Smith on the state-law battery claim for the
choking and throwing. That was the claim on which the jury
rejected the parallel federal constitutional claim.
ruled in the defendants' favor on the PLRA issue.
Murphy, 844 F.3d at 660-61. (Murphy has filed a
petition for certiorari on that issue, as to which circuits
seem to be divided. See Petition for Writ of Certiorari,
Murphy v. Smith, No. 16-1067 (U.S. Mar. 2, 2017).)
We ruled in Murphy's favor on the question of state-law
sovereign immunity for the state-law claims. Murphy,
844 F.3d at 660. Murphy then petitioned this court for
attorney fees for his counsel's work on appeal.
1976, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees
Awards Act, adding language that is now in 42 U.S.C. §
1988(b). The statute allows courts to award prevailing
parties reasonable attorney's fees in "any action or
proceeding to enforce a provision of" 42 U.S.C. §
1983. This fee-shifting law is designed to ensure
"effective access to the judicial process" for
persons with civil rights grievances. Hensley v.
Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983), quoting H.R. Rep.
No. 94-1558, at 1 (1976). The law encourages plaintiffs to
act as private attorneys general to enforce federal rights,
and particularly federal constitutional rights, especially
where the economics of litigation would otherwise discourage
even meritorious suits. See S. Rep. No. 94-1011, at 2-3
(1976), as reprinted in 1976 U.S.C.C.A.N. 5908, 5910.
plaintiff prevails in a suit under § 1983, a court
should award a reasonable attorney fee, which is calculated
by determining a lodestar amount and multiplying the
attorney's hours on the case by a reasonable hourly rate.
That lodestar amount may then be adjusted for a variety of
reasons, including the results obtained. Hensley,
461 U.S. at 433-34; see also, e.g., Perdue v. Kenny A. ex
rel. Winn, 559 U.S. 542 (2010) (explaining lodestar
method and permissible adjustments); Johnson v. GDF,
Inc., 668 F.3d 927, 929-30 (7th Cir. 2012) (same). The
Prison Litigation Reform Act also imposes limits on fee
awards in § 1983 cases where the prevailing plaintiff is
a prisoner. 42 U.S.C. § l997e(d).
issues under § 1988 can become fairly complex in cases
like this one, where the plaintiff has asserted several
distinct claims under both federal and state law against
several defendants, and where the plaintiff prevails on some
but not all claims. Hensley offers broad guidance
for such problems. Work on an unsuccessful claim that is
unrelated to the successful claim would not be covered. 461
U.S. at 434-35. Where claims are closely related, however, a
plaintiff who obtains excellent results should recover a
fully compensatory fee even if he did not prevail on every
contention in the lawsuit or if a court rejected or did not
reach certain grounds supporting the excellent result.
Id. Where the plaintiff achieves only partial or
limited success, the court must use its equitable judgment to
adjust the fee ...