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Stumm v. Town of Pittsboro

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

September 17, 2019

Matthew W. Stumm, Plaintiff,
Town of Pittsboro, and Christi Patterson, Defendants.


          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge

         This case involves a civil rights action brought by three current or former Pittsboro, Indiana police officers-Matthew (“Matt”) Stumm, Jason Stumm, and Brian Helmer-against the Town of Pittsboro (“Town”), the Chief of Police, the Assistant Chief of Police, and a Captain with the neighboring Plainfield Police Department. The Plaintiffs asserted that the Defendants violated the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and the Federal Wiretap Act, 18 U.S.C. § 2510, et seq., by recording their conversations inside the police station, without their knowledge or a court order, and reviewing or using those recordings. After some claims were disposed of on summary judgment, Matt and Jason Stumm proceeded to trial, where the jury found in favor of Matt Stumm against the Town and the Chief of Police. Judgment was entered, [Filing No. 90], and presently pending before the Court are Matt Stumm's Bill of Costs, [Filing No. 91], and Petition for Attorneys' Fees, [Filing No. 93]. These matters are now ripe for the Court's review.


         Standards of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) states that, unless a statute, rule, or court order provides otherwise, costs should generally be awarded to the “prevailing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). “The process for awarding court costs is intended to be summary.” Extra Equipamentos E Exportacao Ltda. v. Case Corp., 541 F.3d 719, 727 (7th Cir. 2008). The district court should not resolve arguments regarding the winning party's strategy in litigating the case, id., but nonetheless must discern whether the claimed costs were “reasonable and necessary, ” Northbrook Excess & Surplus Ins. Co. v. Procter & Gamble Co., 924 F.2d 633, 642 (7th Cir. 1991). The losing party “bears the burden of an affirmative showing that the taxed costs are not appropriate.” Beamon v. Marshall & Ilsley Trust Co., 411 F.3d 854, 864 (7th Cir. 2005).

         In addition, a court may award reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing party in a civil rights action. 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Determining what fees are reasonable is a “contextual and fact-specific” inquiry. Montanez v. Simon, 755 F.3d 547, 553 (7th Cir. 2014). The party seeking fees must submit appropriate documentation to meet the burden of establishing entitlement to a fee award. Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 838 (2011). However, the determination of fees “should not result in a second major litigation, ” as the essential goal in shifting fees is “to do rough justice, not to achieve auditing perfection.” Id. (internal quotations and citations omitted). “[T]rial courts may take into account their overall sense of a suit, and may use estimates in calculating and allocating an attorney's time.” Id.



         In the Amended Complaint, each of the three Plaintiffs asserted that each of the four Defendants violated their rights under the Fourth Amendment and the Wiretap Act. [Filing No. 28.] Plaintiffs alleged that Chief of Police Christi Patterson directed Assistant Chief of Police Major Scott King to install a video camera with audio recording capabilities in the lobby of the Pittsboro Police Department. [Filing No. 28 at 3.] They alleged that this camera recorded their private conversations without their knowledge, Chief Patterson and Major King had been listening to the recordings, and the Town thereby maintained an unconstitutional policy of intercepting, recording, and disclosing personal conversations. [Filing No. 28 at 5-6.] They also alleged that the recordings were improperly used in an investigation concerning Matt Stumm-conducted by Captain Carrie Weber of the Plainfield Police Department-for allegedly criticizing Chief Patterson and Major King and allowing an unauthorized civilian rider in his patrol vehicle. [Filing No. 28 at 3-5.]

         Defendants moved for summary judgment, [Filing No. 41], which the Court granted in part and denied in part, [Filing No. 50]. Specifically, the Court granted the motion as to Mr. Helmer's claims against all Defendants, concluding that he had not produced sufficient evidence that his conversations had been recorded. [Filing No. 50 at 15-17.] The Court also granted the motion as to all of the Plaintiffs' claims against Captain Weber, because there was no evidence showing that she knew that the recordings she reviewed were illegally obtained. [Filing No. 50 at 17-18.] However, the Court denied the motion as to Matt Stumm's and Jason Stumm's claims against Chief Patterson, Major King, and the Town, concluding that genuine issues of material fact existed. [Filing No. 50 at 10-15; Filing No. 50 at 19-22.]

         The remaining claims proceeded to trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of Matt Stumm against Chief Patterson and the Town on the Fourth Amendment and Wiretap Act claims, awarding him $15, 000 in damages. [Filing No. 84 at 4-5; Filing No. 84 at 8-9.] However, the jury concluded that Matt Stumm had not proved either of his claims against Major King, and Jason Stumm had not proved any of his claims against any Defendant. [Filing No. 84 at 2-6.] After judgment was entered, [Filing No. 90], Matt Stumm filed a Bill of Costs, [Filing No. 91], and Motion for Attorney Fees, [Filing No. 93]. The Court addresses each in turn.



         A. Costs

         Matt Stumm seeks a total of $1, 277.27 in costs, consisting of $400 for the filing fee, $28 for fees for service of summonses and subpoenas, and $849.27 for transcripts. [Filing No. 91 at 1.] He attaches an invoice sent to his counsel by Russell Schiener, reflecting a total cost of $624.27 for transcript preparation, as well as a copy of a check written to Mr. Schiener in the amount of $225. [Filing No. 91 at 3-4.]

         Defendants object to the Bill of Costs, first arguing that Matt Stumm is not a “prevailing party” for purposes of Rule 54(d) because he obtained a favorable judgment on only four of the seven claims he asserted and recovered only 21 to 30% of the amount of damages he sought. [Filing No. 94 at 94 at 1-3.] Defendants further argue that, even if Matt Stumm is a prevailing party, he is not entitled to recover the costs he requests because: (1) there is no itemization or documentation to support the $28 in costs for the service of summonses or subpoenas; and (2) the submitted invoice only demonstrates $624.27 in costs for transcripts, while he requests $849.27. [Filing No. 94 at 3-4.] Finally, Defendants argue that, because Matt Stumm was one of three plaintiffs, if costs are awarded, they should be reduced by a third. [Filing No. 94 at 4.]

         Matt Stumm responds that he is a prevailing party and there is no bar against receiving costs related to time spent on rejected claims where, as here, those claims were intertwined with successful claims. [Filing No. 95 at 2.] While he concedes that the $28 charge was incorrect, he maintains that $849.27 is the correct amount for transcripts and attaches another invoice showing the additional $225 in charges. [Filing No. 95 at 2]. He argues that, even if he alone had pursued only his successful claims, he would have incurred the same costs by paying the filing fee and deposing the other Plaintiffs and Defendants as witnesses. [Filing No. 95 at 2-3.]

         Under Rule 54(d), “prevailing party” means “a party who has obtained some relief in an action, even if that party has not sustained all of his or her claims.” First Commodity Traders, Inc. v. Heinold Commodities, Inc., 766 F.2d 1007, 1015 (7th Cir. 1985) (citation omitted). The party must have been successful “as to the substantial part of the litigation.” Id. (internal quotations and citation omitted); see also Northbrook, 924 F.2d at 641-42 (concluding that the party who “prevailed on the resolution of th[e] central issue” was the “prevailing party”).

         Here, the Court determines that Matt Stumm is a “prevailing party” within the meaning of Rule 54(d). Although he obtained a favorable verdict against only two of the four named Defendants, he was asserting the same claims against each, and the jury agreed with him on the central issue of the case-whether the recording and use of his conversations without his knowledge violated the Constitution and the Wiretap Act. SeeNorthbrook, 924 F.2d at 641-42. Because the parties agree that the $28 cost for service of summonses and subpoenas is ...

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