Skip navigation
× You have 2 more free articles available this month. Subscribe today.

$57,000 Awarded in Illinois Prison Beating

In 1999 an Illinois state prisoner was awarded nearly $57,000 in damages and fees following trial on his charges that fellow prisoners beat him while a guard stood and watched.

Ronnie W. Carroll filed suit in the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois alleging that while incarcerated at the Statesville Correctional center he was beaten unconscious by three prisoner gang members as the result of a "gang violation." The gang members approached Carroll's cell door and told him he was going to be beaten as "punishment." The gang members left and later returned accompanied by guard Jefferey White. After White asked Carroll, "Are you ready?" White opened the cell door and entered with the three gang members. Once inside, the three-gang members proceeded to beat Carroll with leather gloves containing a metal bar while White watched. When Carroll finally regained consciousness and was bleeding from the mouth, nose and forehead, White told Carroll he would get him some BandAids.

Carroll filed suit requesting over $200,000. After surviving summary judgment and rejecting a $5,000 settlement offer, the case went to trial. Carroll was represented by attorneys Robert L. Bynam and Andrew M. Jacobs of the Chicago law firm of Jenner & Block. The jury ruled in Carroll's favor and the following sums were awarded: $1,000 in compensatory damages and $2,000 in punitive damages to Carroll; and attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $53,832. The total verdict reached $56,382. See Carroll v. Detella, et al., and #96CV2371, USDC, N.D. I11. Eastern Division. (Cite as: 1999 WL 413475 (N.D. IL) Unpublished opinion.

As a digital subscriber to Prison Legal News, you can access full text and downloads for this and other premium content.

Subscribe today

Already a subscriber? Login

Related legal case

Carroll v. Detella et al

F. Reduction of the Lodestar Figure

Having calculated a lodestar figure, the court now considers whether the lodestar should be reduced to reflect plaintiffs' limited success. "If ... a plaintiff has achieved only partial or limited success, the product of hours reasonably expended on the litigation as a whole times a reasonable hourly rate may be an excessive amount." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 436, 103 S.Ct. 1933, 1941 (1983).

Defendants argue that the jury award of $3,000.00 is much smaller than the requested attorneys' fees, and that the fees should therefore be reduced to an amount proportional to the amount recovered. Plaintiff responds that $3,000.00, including $2,000.00 in punitive damages, is a substantial recognition of a wrong that was done to the plaintiff. Plaintiff further responds that the defendants' uncooperative attitude caused plaintiff to expend time on tasks which otherwise would have been unnecessary.

*5 The court notes that the lodestar amount of $192,191.00 exceeds the jury award of $3,000.00 by a factor of more than 60 to 1. In other words, if the lodestar amount were to be awarded, the plaintiff would receive more than $60.00 in attorneys' fees for every $1.00 he received in actual damages. Moreover, the plaintiff failed to prove liability against four of the five defendants. The court finds that awarding the lodestar amount would therefore not be reasonable given plaintiff's limited success.

The court also finds, however, that several circumstances justify a fee award somewhat larger than what might be granted otherwise. First, the court finds that the plaintiff's fees were inflated by defendants' own actions. Defendants refused to agree to any of plaintiff counsel's motions in limine, thus requiring plaintiff's counsel to brief every issue. Defendants also submitted a witness list of 38 witnesses, thus requiring plaintiff's counsel to prepare to examine all 38 potential witnesses. Second, the fees requested do not cover Jenner & Block's full cost of litigating this action. The firm has not requested reimbursement for $33,745.00 in attorneys' fees. This voluntary decision to reduce its fees weighs against further reduction by this court. Third, the external benefits (benefits not reaped by the plaintiff himself) created by this litigation warrant a fee greater than that justified by the damage award alone. Lenard v. Argento, 808 F 2d 1242, 1248 (7th Cir.1987). Carroll's victory may well cause the Department of Corrections to adopt systemic changes designed to prevent correctional officers from abusing inmates. This potential external benefit justifies a higher fee award. Fourth, the court recognizes that a jury is likely to give a prison inmate a lower award than that jury would give a free person complaining of a comparable wrong. If attorneys' fees were to be strictly linked to the size of the damage award, attorneys would be less likely to take on inmate lawsuits, where the damage award is likely to be low even where the wrong is severe.

Having considered the factors weighing against reduction against the small size of the damage award and the failure to prove liability against four of the five defendants, the court finds that a reasonable reduction in the lodestar is four-fifths, or 80 percent. Reducing the lodestar by 80 percent produces a adjusted figure of $38,438.00. ($192,191.00 multiplied by 0.2 equals $38,438.00.) Although the adjusted figure is still about thirteen times higher than the damage award given by the jury, the court finds that this disproportionately large fee award is justified by the special circumstances discussed above. Attorneys' fees are therefore awarded in the amount of $38,438.00.


Plaintiff submitted a bill of costs totaling $15,544.00, later subtracting $150.00 for a final figure of $15,394.00. The $150.00 subtraction is for the lodging at the Springfield Hilton during plaintiff counsel's trip to visit a prison in the area. Defendants had objected that cheaper lodging is available in the Springfield area, and so plaintiff voluntarily agreed to drop that charge. The court finds that defendants' other objections to plaintiffs' fees are without merit. For example, defendants object to costs for a meal at McDonald's charged during one of Jacobs' trips Downstate. Defendants cite no authority to support their contention that meals consumed while traveling are not a recoverable cost. In fact, meals are a recoverable cost. David v. AM International, 131 F.R.D. 86, 90 (E.D.Penn.1990). Moreover, the court's review of the receipts show that Jacobs' business meals were quite inexpensive. Submitted receipts include a $3.59 lunch at Burger King, a $3.67 lunch at Taco Bell, and what may be the cheapest business lunch ever recorded, a $1.85 lunch purchased from the vending machines at Tamms Correctional Center. The court warns Jacobs that reliance on fast food and vending machines may over the long term be detrimental to his health, but commends him for his frugality with regard to business expenses. The court therefore grants the plaintiff's petition for costs in the amount of $15,394.00.


*6 Defendants DeTella, Jockisch and Springborn, the defendants who were found not liable by the jury, request $3,068.00 in costs under Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d). The practical effect of assessing $3,068.00 in costs against Carroll would be to leave him $68.00 poorer than he would have been had he never filed this suit ($3,000.00 judgment minus $3,068.00 in costs equals a negative $68.00). Carroll is currently indigent, with a negative balance of $4.00 in his prison trust account. Exhibit 2 to Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Bill of Costs. Further, it appears that in the near future Carroll may be assessed a charge of $1,274.00 in connection with an unrelated case pending in Illinois state court. Plaintiff's Response to Defendant's Bill of Costs at 4-5. "[I]t is within the discretion of the district court to consider a plaintiff's indigency in denying costs under Rule 54(d)." Badillo v. Central Steel & Wire Co., 717 F.2d 1160, 1165 (7th Cir.1983). The court therefore denies the defendants' petition for costs on the basis of the plaintiff's indigency.


Judgment as a matter of law is proper only if, when the evidence is viewed in the light least favorable to the moving party, the verdict is unsupported. Isaksen v. Vermont Castings, Inc., 825 F .2d 1158, 1163 (7th Cir.1987). When viewed in the light least favorable to Officer White, the evidence shows that he approached Carroll's cell door accompanied by three inmates, that Officer White signaled for the door to be opened, and that he entered the cell along with the other inmates and watched while one of the other inmates beat Carroll until he was unconscious. Such evidence is clearly sufficient to fulfill the legal standard for a prison employee's liability for fostering an assault. Billman v. Indiana Department of Corrections, 56 F.3d 785, 788 (7th Cir.1995). The motion of judgment as a matter of law is therefore denied.

White has moved in the alternative for a new trial. A district court has broad discretion in determining whether or not to grant a new trial. McNabola v. Chicago Transit Authority, 10 F.3d 501, 516 (7th Cir.1993). In disposing of a motion for a new trial, the district court must decide if the verdict is against the weight of the evidence, or if the trial was unfair to the moving party for some other reason. Valbert v. Pass, 866 F.3d 237, 239 (7th Cir.1989).

It appears that White has adopted a "kitchen sink" strategy in filing his motion for a new trial, as he takes virtually every unfavorable ruling made by this court as grounds for a new trial. White's numerous arguments can be grouped into five categories: (1) the verdict was against the weight of the evidence; (2) the court erroneously admitted Carroll's polygraph test results into evidence; (3) various jury instructions were improper; (4) various exhibits were erroneously admitted into evidence or erroneously excluded; and (5) "several witnesses" (only one of which is actually named in White's motion) were barred from testifying. The court finds that: (1) The verdict was not against the weight of the evidence. White himself testified that he observed Carroll in his cell bleeding on the day of the alleged assault. A reasonable jury could infer from this testimony and Carroll's testimony that Carroll would not be bleeding unless he had been assaulted, and that he could not have been assaulted unless White had opened the locked door to Carroll's cell. (2) The court acted within its discretion in admitting Carroll's polygraph test results, Simmons, Inc. v. Pinkerton's, Inc., 762 F.2d 591, 604 (7th Cir.1985).(3) The jury instructions were not improper. (4) The court did not err in admitting or excluding the challenged exhibits into evidence. (5) The court did not err in barring the defendant's witnesses from testifying. The social worker who counseled Carroll was properly barred from testifying because her conversations with Carroll were privileged. White's challenge to the court's decision to exclude "several witnesses" not named in White's motion need not be addressed given White's failure to identify the witnesses he refers to. In sum, none of the many objections raised by the defendant show that the verdict was against the weight of the evidence or that the trial was unfair, and so White's motion for a new trial is denied.

*7 White has moved in the alternative for remittur. "A trial judge may vacate a jury's verdict for excessiveness only when the award was monstrously excessive or the award has no rational connection to the evidence." DiBiasio v. Illinois Central Railroad, 52 F.3d 678, 687 (7th Cir.1995) (internal quotation marks omitted). When making this decision the court may take into consideration whether the award is out of line when compared to other awards in similar cases. Id. Other courts have upheld much higher damage awards in similar cases. In Blissett v. Coughlin, 66 F.3d 531, 536 (2d Cir.1995), the court upheld a compensatory award of $75,000.00 where several prison guards beat and choked an inmate until he fell unconscious. In Cooper v. Casey, 97 F.3d 914 (7th Cir.1996) the court upheld a punitive damage award of $22,500.00 in a prison beating case. The court therefore finds that an award of $1,000.00 in compensatory and $2,000.00 in punitive damages is not excessive and denies White's motion for remittur.


For the above-stated reasons, plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees is GRANTED in the amount of $38,438.00, and the plaintiff's motion for costs is GRANTED in the amount of $15,394.00, for a total of $53,832.00. Defendants DeTella's, Jockisch's, and Springborn's motion for costs is DENIED. Defendant White's motion for judgment as a matter of law or in the alternative, for a new trial, or in the alternative, for remittur is DENIED.


Not Reported in F.Supp.2d, 1999 WL 413475 (N.D.Ill.)