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McGreal v. Village of Orland Park

United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit

June 26, 2019

Joseph S. McGreal, Plaintiff,
Village of Orland Park, et al., Defendants-Appellees, Appeal of: John P. DeRose, Counsel for the Plaintiff, Appellant.

          Argued May 29, 2019

          Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 12 C 5135 - Joan Humphrey Lefkow, Judge.

          Before Kanne, Sykes, and Brennan, Circuit Judges.

          Kanne, Circuit Judge.

         The Village of Orland Park fired police officer Joseph McGreal in 2010. McGreal sued, alleging that the Village fired him in retaliation for remarks he made at a community board meeting. The district court granted summary judgment for the defendants, finding that McGreal had advanced only speculation to support his claims. We affirmed and also remarked on the dearth of evidence to support McGreal's allegations.

         After we affirmed summary judgment, the district court granted the defendants' motion for attorney fees and directed John P. DeRose-McGreal's attorney-to pay $66, 191.75 to the defendants. DeRose now appeals that order. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.

         I. Background

         Our 2017 opinion provides a summary of McGreal's suit. See McGreal v. Vill. of Orland Park, 850 F.3d 308, 310 (7th Cir. 2017). Suffice to say, the Village of Orland Park fired McGreal from the police force after he spoke at a November 2009 village board meeting. At the meeting, he suggested several solutions to a budgetary shortfall facing the Village. McGreal's recommendations would have protected junior officers from layoffs by eliminating benefits enjoyed by more senior officers. McGreal believes that these suggestions motivated his June 2010 termination. But the Village contends that it fired McGreal because he repeatedly engaged in misconduct during late 2009 and early 2010.

         McGreal contested his termination through arbitration. The arbitrator sustained 75 of the 76 disciplinary charges in McGreal's record and concluded that the Village fired McGreal for just cause.

         In June of 2012, McGreal commenced a federal lawsuit, pro se, against the Village and several members of the police department. On October 19, 2012, attorney John DeRose appeared as plaintiff's counsel. He promptly filed an amended complaint on McGreal's behalf. After the defendants filed a motion to dismiss, the court dismissed most claims but permitted several (significantly narrowed) claims to proceed.

         DeRose aggressively pursued discovery: he took twelve depositions, made 294 document requests, and filed three motions to compel. During discovery, defense counsel asked DeRose on multiple occasions to end the litigation. On February 3, 2014, defense counsel sent DeRose an email requesting dismissal of several individual defendants because discovery had revealed no evidence to support the claims against them. Then in July 2014, defense counsel sent DeRose a letter advancing similar arguments. Defense counsel threatened Rule 11 sanctions in both communications.

         After discovery, McGreal voluntarily dismissed six defendants but defended against summary judgment on the remaining four defendants. The district court granted judgment for defendants. The court began by noting that DeRose's summary judgment filings did not comply with Northern District of Illinois Local Rule 56.1 (which provides guidelines for submitting a statement of facts at summary judgment). "[T]he motion could have been granted by simply rejecting plaintiff's Local Rule 56.1 submissions," but the court opted to resolve the summary judgment motion on its merits. The court explained that the defendants had offered evidence to support their theories of defense, and McGreal's arguments and evidence to the contrary were speculative.

         On June 6, 2016, McGreal appealed. Several weeks later, the defendants filed a motion for attorney fees. The defendants spent most of the motion arguing that the court should award fees under the 42 U.S.C. § 1988 fee-shifting provision. They also argued that the court should sanction DeRose pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11.

         On March 6, 2017, we affirmed the judgment for the defendants. 850 F.3d 308. Like the district court, we found that McGreal had "offered no admissible evidence showing that he [was] entitled to relief." Id. at 310. Several months later, the district court granted the defendants' motion for fees. Instead of relying on ยง 1988 fee-shifting, the court concluded that "under Rule 11, McGreal's counsel's summary judgment filings were not well grounded in fact or warranted by existing law or a good faith argument for the extension, modification, or reversal of existing law." Ultimately, the court ordered DeRose to pay $66, 191.75 ...

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