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Coley v. Lucas County

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Western Division

January 11, 2017

Denise M. Coley, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Lucas County, Ohio, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER

          James G. Carr Sr. U.S. District Judge

         This is a civil rights case arising from the death of an inmate-Carlton Benton-in the Lucas County Jail.

         Plaintiffs, Benton's survivors, brought this civil rights action based on alleged violations of Benton's constitutional rights and various state laws.

         In August, 2016, defendants made a Fed.R.Civ.P. 68 offer of judgment (“offer”), which plaintiffs accepted. All that remains is the amount of attorneys' fees and costs to which plaintiffs' counsel are entitled and, accordingly, the proper analysis for calculating those fees and costs.

         For the reasons that follow, I conclude the lodestar analysis found in 42 U.S.C. § 1988 applies, and plaintiffs' counsel shall recover based on the prevailing hourly rate in Toledo, Ohio.

         Background

         This case arises from the death of Carlton Benton, a pretrial detainee in the Lucas County Jail. Plaintiffs allege that Benton's death was the result of wrongful acts committed by various Lucas County officials and that other Lucas County officials tried to cover up those wrongful acts.

         Plaintiffs allege the altercation that resulted in Benton's death occurred in his medical cell on or about May 30, 2004.

         According to the complaint, defendants Deputy Schmeltz and Officer Gray entered the medical cell and placed Benton, who remained handcuffed, on a bed and attempted to remove his restraints. When Benton began to struggle with the officers, making it difficult to remove the restraints, defendant Officer Gray grabbed Benton from behind and placed him in a “sleeper hold.” Benton stopped resisting, gasped for air, and was then unconscious. According to plaintiffs, defendant Officer Gray ordered the officers to leave Benton's cell. Officer Benton did not inform medical personnel of the incident or seek any medical care for Benton. A few minutes later, a county deputy found Benton, who was taken to the hospital and declared brain dead the next day.

         Based on allegedly false statements by various defendants and incomplete or inaccurate information regarding Benton's death, the Lucas County Coroner stated in a 2004 autopsy report that Benton died from natural causes. However, in 2008, the Federal Bureau of Investigation began an external investigation into Benton's death. Around that same time, the Lucas County Coroner issued a new autopsy report, stating Benton's death was a homicide.

         In April, 2009, the Department of Justice filed an indictment in the Northern District of Ohio containing multiple counts against defendants in the present action.

         Upon learning of the true cause of Benton's death and the cover-up, Benton's surviving family members brought this § 1983 action. Plaintiffs allege that Benton's death occurred as result of the actions taken by defendants Deputy Schmeltz and Officer Gray and that they acted in concert with defendants Sheriff Telb and Captain McBroom to conceal the circumstances of Benton's death. This civil action was stayed pending final adjudication of the related criminal proceedings.

         On August, 8, 2016, defendants made a Rule 68 offer of judgment. In addition to the provision to pay a specific amount of compensatory damages ($750, 000), the offer includes a separate award for reasonable attorneys' fees and costs (not to exceed $750, 000), to be agreed upon by the parties or, in the event the parties could not reach an agreement, to be determined by me. Further, the offer expressly states that it was “intended to resolve any and all of Plaintiffs' claims against Defendants in ...


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