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Silent settlement doesn't include fees, costs

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A federal judge rejected a northern Indiana sheriff's argument that a settlement agreement in a civil rights case includes attorney's fees and costs when the agreement doesn't say anything on the issue.

In a Dec. 30 order from Chief Judge Robert L. Miller Jr. of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Indiana, South Bend Division, St. Joseph County Sheriff Frank Canarecci Jr. claimed a $75,000 settlement reached between the sheriff and the relatives of a jail inmate who killed himself included attorney's fees for the plaintiffs even though the settlement stated nothing about the matter.

Relatives of inmate Gregory Zick sued Canarecci and 26 other defendants in 2005 after Zick committed suicide while in jail in 2003. Summary judgment was granted to all the defendants on the federal claims, except for an Eighth Amendment claim against Canarecci. The parties settled in the summer of 2009 before the issue went to trial. Cathy Minix and Steven Zick, Gregory Zick's mother and brother, filed a motion for nearly $745,000 in attorney's fees and costs.

Chief Judge Miller denied Canarecci's motion to strike in Cathy Minix and Steven Zick v. Sheriff Frank Canarecci Jr., et al., No. 3:05-CV-144, because there was no evidence the parties' settlement was intended to include attorney's fees and costs. Canarecci argued that a court could assume a settlement agreement in a civil rights case that didn't spell out attorney's fees and costs automatically included them in the settlement. Chief Judge Miller noted the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has yet to take up this question.

"To assume that an agreement such as this one was meant to include attorney's fees and costs would run counter to Congress' policy of awarding attorney's fees to private attorneys general," wrote Judge Miller.

The judge also rejected the request for almost $750,000 in attorney's fees and costs because the plaintiffs' application fell below the level of specificity required by Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 434. The plaintiffs weren't specific enough in the amount of hours worked by the attorneys or expert witness fees on only the Eighth Amendment claim. Chief Judge Miller allowed the plaintiffs leave to re-file their motion within 10 days of the order "with a more reasonable request and with more reliable yardsticks by which the court may determine their award."

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  2. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  3. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  4. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  5. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

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