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Michigan Prisoners Deliberate Indifference Claim Nets $73,906 In Fees

Michigan Prisoner's Deliberate Indifference Claim Nets $73,906 In Fees

On October 20, 2005, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Michigan, Southern Division, awarded $73,906 in attorneys fees to a plaintiff who prevailed on his claim of deliberate indifference against a Kalamazoo deputy. The Court additionally held that attorney fee caps outlined under the Prison Litigation Reform Act (PLRA) were inapplicable.

For two days in May 2000 Tyjmas Blackmore languished in the Kalamazoo, Michigan, county jail before a jail nurse diagnosed him with classic signs of appendicitis. Blackmore had begun complaining of severe abdominal pain an hour after he was arrested. The deputies only response, however, was to give him antacids. After the nurse's diagnosis Blackmore was transferred to a hospital where he underwent a successful appendectomy.

In May 2002 Blackmore filed suit in federal district court pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. He named the County, the sheriff, and 23 deputies as defendants. Blackmore specifically claimed deliberate indifference to his serious medical needs and a failure on the County's part to adequately train its jailers.

The district court granted summary judgment to the defendants and Blackmore appealed. In Blackmore v. Kalamazoo County, 390 F.3d 890 (6th Cir. 2004), the Sixth Circuit reversed the district court and held that verifying medical evidence was not required in cases where a plaintiffs illness or injury was so obvious that even a layperson would recognize the need for a doctor [see PLN, June 2005, p. 39]. A jury subsequently awarded Blackmore compensatory damages of $50,000 against Deputy Jason Pardee.

Following the jurys verdict, Blackmore moved for attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 in the amount of $129,611. The figure included fees of $120,436 for the law firm of Plunkett & Cooney, and $9,175 for Bendure & Thomas.

The district court granted the motion in part and denied it in part. Initially the Court noted that the fee caps outlined in 42 U.S.C. § 1997e (d)(3) were inapplicable since the language of the PLRA, which applies to prisoner lawsuits, clearly refers to those currently imprisoned, rather than previous imprisonment.

The Court next eliminated portions of the bill it deemed duplicative, unnecessary, excessive, or inadequately documented. Then, considering each attorney's experience and the number of hours worked on the case, the Court arrived at a lodestar amount of $92,382. (A lodestar is defined as the number of hours reasonably expended multiplied by a reasonable hourly rate.)

Continuing, the district court noted that Blackmore had not prevailed on his failure to train claim against the County and the Sheriff, which were based on different facts and legal theories and are severable from his deliberate indifference claim against the officers. Thus, the court reasoned that Blackmores failure on this claim merited a 20% downward departure from the loadstar figure, resulting in an actual award of $73,906 in attorneys' fees. See: Blackmore v. Misner, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 25882.

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Related legal case

Blackmore v. Misner