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LOWDEN v. MURPHY

June 24, 1987

Michael Lowden and Janet Lowden, h/w
v.
James C. Murphy, Individually and as a Police Officer of the Borough of Aldan Police Department



The opinion of the court was delivered by: BECHTLE

 BECHTLE, J.

 Presently before the court is plaintiff Michael Lowden's petition for costs, expenses and attorney's fees pursuant to the Civil Rights Attorney's Fee Award Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988. For the reasons stated herein, plaintiff's petition will be granted in part and denied in part.

 FACTS

 On June 15, 1984, plaintiffs Michael and Janet Lowden, husband and wife, retained Linda S. Battistini, Esquire to file suit against defendants James C. Murphy ("Murphy") and the Borough of Aldan ("the Borough") for violations of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. § 1983, as well as for state law claims of assault, battery, invasion of privacy, negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and for plaintiff Janet Lowden's claim for loss of consortium. The complaint was filed on January 16, 1986. The prayer for relief included a request for "costs and attorney's fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988." On February 17, 1986, defendants made a settlement offer of $ 5,000.00. That offer was rejected by plaintiffs.

 Plaintiffs' § 1983 claim asserted that defendant Police Officer Murphy invaded plaintiffs' privacy in answering a police radio call of a domestic disturbance at plaintiffs' residence and that once defendant Murphy was inside plaintiffs' residence he used excessive force in arresting plaintiff Michael Lowden.

 Pursuant to Local Civil Rule 8, the case was tried before a three member arbitration panel which, on August 27, 1986, made an award in favor of all defendants. Plaintiffs timely filed a demand for a trial de novo pursuant to Local Civil Rule 8(7).

 The case was tried before a jury from December 15 to December 17, 1986, and was submitted to the jury by way of interrogatories on which to record the verdict. On December 16, 1986, before the case went to the jury, the court granted defendant Borough of Aldan's motion for nonsuit, and judgment was entered in favor of the Borough and against plaintiffs Michael and Janet Lowden. The negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims also did not go to the jury. On December 17, 1986, the jury answered the interrogatories and rendered a verdict of $ 622.00 of compensatory damages and no punitive damages in favor of plaintiff Michael Lowden and against defendant Murphy. This verdict was based on the jury's finding that defendant Murphy violated plaintiff Michael Lowden's civil rights by using excessive force on him, but did not violate plaintiff Michael Lowden's civil rights by invading his privacy. The jury also found that defendant Murphy committed assault and/or battery upon plaintiff Michael Lowden. The jury also rendered a verdict in favor of defendant Murphy and against plaintiff Janet Lowden. Judgment was entered on these verdicts on December 17, 1986. On January 8, 1987, the court denied plaintiffs' motion for a new trial on the issue of damages.

 Plaintiff filed a request for attorney's fees of $ 22,883.33 under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which provides that a prevailing party in a § 1983 action may be awarded attorney's fees "as part of the costs." The $ 22,883.33 claimed as attorney's fees includes fees for work performed after the $ 5,000.00 pretrial settlement offer. Plaintiff also seeks $ 3,041.34 in costs other than attorney's fees from defendant. Defendant requests the court to decline to award these latter post-settlement offer costs and attorney's fees pursuant to Rule 68 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

 DISCUSSION

 Title 42 U.S.C. § 1988 provides that: "In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of section [] . . . 1983 . . . the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." (Emphasis added).

 The legal issue raised by plaintiff's instant petition is identical to that addressed by the United States Supreme Court in Marek v. Chesny, 473 U.S. 1, 87 L. Ed. 2d 1, 105 S. Ct. 3012 (1985): ". . . whether attorney's fees incurred by a plaintiff subsequent to an offer of settlement under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68 must be paid by the defendant under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, when the plaintiff recovers a judgment less than the offer." Id. at 3.

 
Rule 68 provides that if a timely pretrial offer of settlement is not accepted and "the judgment finally obtained by the offeree is not more favorable than the offer, the offeree must pay the costs incurred after the making of the offer." (Emphasis added.) The plain purpose of Rule 68 is to encourage settlement and avoid litigation. Advisory Committee Note on Rules of Civil Procedure, Report of Proposed Amendments, 5 F.R.D. 433, 483, n. 1 (1946), 28 U.S.C. App., p. 637; Delta Air Lines, Inc. v. August, 450 U.S. 346, 352, [67 L. Ed. 2d 287, 101 S. Ct. 1146] (1981). The Rule prompts ...

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