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Willis v. Ean Holdings

Court of Appeals of Louisiana, First Circuit

April 12, 2017

MARSHA A. WILLIS
v.
EAN HOLDINGS DBA/ENTERPRISE RENT A CAR, ELCO INSURANCE GROUP, INC, TOYOTA MOTOR CORPORATION, AND TROY DAVID THIBODAUX

         On Appeal from the 19th Judicial District Court In and for the Parish of East Baton Rouge State of Louisiana Trial Court No. 614, 425 Honorable R. Michael Caldwell, Judge Presiding

          Marsha A. Willis Plaintiff-Appellee, In Proper Person

          David A. Salley A. Jacob Culotta, Jr. Attorneys for Defendant-Appellee, EAN Holdings, LLC

          Thomas W. Darling Attorney for Defendant-Appellant, Empire Fire & Marine Insurance Co.

          Donna Powe Green Attorney for Defendant-Appellee, Rental Insurance Services, Inc.

          BEFORE: HIGGINBOTHAM, THERIOT, AND CHUTZ, JJ.

          HIGGINBOTHAM, J.

         Empire Fire and Marine Insurance Company (Empire) appeals the judgment of the trial court ordering Marsha Willis to pay attorney fees, costs, and sanctions to Empire contending that the award was abusively low. Ms. Willis answered the appeal asserting that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees to Empire.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         As set forth in the related appeal, Willis v. EAN Holdings d/b/a Enterprise Rent A Car, 2015-1538 (La.App. 1st Cir. --/--/-), ___So.3d___, Ms. Willis, an attorney representing herself, filed a petition against Empire asserting several causes of action including state law claims of fraud and breach of contract, and federal law claims under the Fourteenth Amendment, as well as civil rights violations under 42 U.S.C.A. §1985, and equal rights violations under 42 U.S.C.A. §1981.

         On April 7, 2015, Empire filed a motion for summary judgment contending that no genuine issues of material fact exist regarding any of the causes of action Ms. Willis set forth in her petition. Empire's motion for summary judgment was heard by the trial court on June 1, 2015, after which the trial court concluded that Ms. Willis "has no evidence to support any issues of material fact against [Empire]" and "has shown no basis for recovery against [Empire]." On June 16, 2015, a judgment was signed granting Empire's motion for summary judgment and dismissing Ms. Willis' claims against Empire with prejudice. Ms. Willis appealed the trial court's judgment, and in the related appeal also handed down this day, we affirmed the judgment of the trial court. See Willis, ___So.3d at___.

         After the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Empire, Empire filed a motion for costs, attorney fees, and sanctions as the "prevailing party" under 42 U.S.C.A. §§1981 and 1985 and under La. Code Civ. P. art. 863(D). Empire's motion was heard by the trial court on September 28, 2015. On October 14, 2015, judgment was signed granting Empire's motion, awarding Empire $801.01 for the court costs Empire incurred as of the date of its motion, and $175.00 for the court costs Empire incurred in bringing its motion. Additionally, the judgment awarded attorney fees in the amount of $1, 000.00 pursuant to 42 U.S.C.A. § 1988(b) and La. Code Civ. P. art. 863(D). It is from this judgment that Empire appeals contending that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding only $1, 000.00 in attorney fees. Ms. Willis answered the appeal asserting that the trial court abused its discretion in awarding attorney fees to Empire.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Title 42, § 1988(b) of the United States Code allows the trial court, in its discretion, to award a prevailing party reasonable attorney fees and provides in pertinent part: "In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of sections 1981 ... [and] 1985 ... of this title ... the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." In this matter, Empire was the prevailing party in Ms. Willis' ...


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