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Robinson v. City of Baton Rouge

United States District Court, M.D. Louisiana

May 22, 2017

GEORGE W. ROBINSON,
v.
CITY OF BATON ROUGE AND THE PARISH OF EAST BATON ROUGE,

          RULING AND ORDER

          JOHN W. DeGRAVELLES UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on the Motion to Tax Costs and To Award Attorneys' Fees (Doc. 139) by the Defendants, City of Baton Rouge, Plaintiffs George W. Robinson, Jr., and Demetra Parsons Robinson oppose the motion. (Doc. 142.) Defendants have filed a reply. (Doc. 145.) Oral argument is not necessary. Having carefully considered the law, facts in the record, and arguments and submissions of the parties, the motion is denied.

         I. Background

         The Plaintiffs are real estate developers who attempted to develop a subdivision within the City/Parish. Pursuant to state and local law, they submitted a preliminary plat for approval to the City/Parish's Planning Commission. The Planning Commission denied approval. This suit ensued.

         Plaintiffs originally asserted the following claims: (1) a writ of mandamus requiring the approval of preliminary plat; (2) declaratory relief finding that the Planning Commission acted improperly; (3) an unconstitutional taking under state law; (4) an inverse condemnation claim under federal law; (5) a substantive due process claim; and (6) a procedural due process claim. (Doc. 1-2.)

         Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs claims pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). (Doc. 14.) The Court granted the motion with respect to the writ of mandamus and request for declaratory relief, but, in all other respects, the motion was denied. (Doc. 36.)

         Defendants later moved for summary judgment. (Doc. 62.) After extensive briefing, which included a sur-reply by the Plaintiffs (Doc. 80), the Court granted the Defendant's motion in most respects, dismissing all claims except the regulatory taking claim under state and federal law. (Doc. 115.) The Court's extensive ruling was eighty-four pages. (Id.)

         This matter was tried for three days beginning on October 31, 2016. (Docs. 130-32.) Again, the key question was whether the Plaintiffs suffered a regulatory taking under federal and state law. This complex legal question required a number of witnesses and difficult jury instructions. After the Plaintiffs rested, the Court denied a motion for judgment as a matter of law by the Defendants. The matter went to the jury shortly thereafter, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the Defendants.

         II. Arguments of the Parties

         Defendants seek attorneys' fees and costs. They initially ask for $100, 000 in costs and attorneys' fees. Defendants specifically seek $25, 000 in costs for transcripts, "expert witness fees, " and "fees for depositions." Defendants also want $75, 000 in attorneys' fees, purportedly under the lodestar method-$250 per hour for 300 hours worked, which they claim is well below the approximately 700 to 800 hours worked in total.

         Plaintiffs respond that the motion should be denied in full. As to costs, Plaintiffs state that Defendants provide insufficient explanation for what they seek and ask for well more than what they are entitled to under the law.

         Further, Plaintiffs assert that Defendants are not entitled to attorneys' fees because, legally, in actions under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, prevailing defendants can recover attorneys' fees only if Plaintiffs' claims are "frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation." This is determined by evaluating, among other things, whether the plaintiff had established a prima facie case, whether the defendant had offered to settle, whether the court had dismissed the case or had a full trial, whether the claim was barred by state sovereign immunity, or whether the claim was moot. (See Doc. 142 at 4-6 (citations omitted).) Here, Plaintiffs survived a Rule 12(b)(6) challenge, the Court did not grant the Defendant's motion for summary judgment in full, and the Court denied Defendant's Rule 50 motion. Further, the claims were not barred by state sovereign immunity and was not moot. Thus, Plaintiffs claim, Defendants lack a legal basis for obtaining attorneys' fees.

         Plaintiffs also maintain that Defendants are not entitled to attorneys' fees because Defendant has not submitted the proper documentation. Thus, there is no factual basis for the request for attorneys' fees.

         In closing, Plaintiffs argue that the Court should exercise its discretion to deny the motion in toto. Plaintiffs contend that the Court should order each ...


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