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

Nominal Damage Award Verdict Nets $197,505 in Attorney Fee Award

A federal district court awarded $197,505 in attorney fees following a jury's nominal damage award after finding excessive force by guards upon detainees was a custom or practice at the Sacramento County Main Jail (SCMJ).

The plaintiffs, a prisoner and non-prisoner at the time the action was filed, brought suit in March 2006 alleging five claims against six named defendants. Only a Monell claim, which alleged the use of excessive force against plaintiffs Robert E. Hunter and Howard Eley at SCMJ was the result of an official custom or practice, survived to proceed to trial November 2008.

A jury verdict found no liability, but that verdict was vacated due to inadequate Monell instructions. A retrial ensued with the jury rendering a verdict on March 1, 2013. The jury found for the plaintiffs and awarded each of them $1.00 in nominal damages.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Daniel M. Karalash, moved for $416,605 in attorney's fees for 1,190.3 hours of work at $350 per hour. The defendants contested the motion.  The court reduced the hours by 61.7 hours to exclude work on unsuccessful, or unrelated, work and transportation time. It found “the requested rate of $350 per hour is reasonable.” This brought the lodestar award figure down to $395,010.

Based upon the plaintiffs’ limited success, the defendants argued the award “should be reduced by at least 90%.” The court noted the action will benefit the public because the jury verdict forces Sacramento county to “take a closer look at [its practices concerning the] level of force used by its officers in SCMJ.”

Nonetheless, that the plaintiffs only received nominal damages and did not obtain injunctive or declaratory relief compelled the court to reduce the lodestar by 50%. As such, the court awarded $197,505 in attorney’s fees. Costs were the subject of a separate motion not addressed by the court. Finally, the court held the PLRA did not apply to this case because it was brought by a prisoner and non-prisoner, and there is “no logical way to separate the attorney's fees expended on behalf of the two plaintiffs.”

See: Hunter v. County of Sacramento, U.S.D.C. (E.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:06-cv-00457; 2014 U.S. Dist Lexis 147540

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

Hunter v. County of Sacramento