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Moore v. Tangipahoa Parish School Board

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

December 19, 2017

M.C. MOORE, ET AL.
v.
TANGIPAHOA PARISH SCHOOL BOARD, ET AL.

         SECTION "B"(1)

          ORDER AND REASONS

         Before the Court is the Court Compliance Officer's “Motion for Attorney's Fees for Representation of Court Compliance Officer on Appeal.” Rec. Doc. 1477. Defendant timely filed an opposition. Rec. Doc. 1486. For the reasons discussed below, IT IS ORDERED that the motion (Rec. Doc. 1477) is GRANTED. The CCO is awarded $17, 462.28 for reimbursement of reasonable expenses incurred during appellate litigation, to be paid by Defendant.

         FACTUAL BACKGROUND AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         The role of the Court Compliance Officer was created and defined by court order. See Rec. Docs. 876 at 26-27, 876-4 at 27-31, 703-1 at 1-4, 956 at 4, 1204. The CCO's “job is to monitor and insure that the letter and spirit of the case law and orders of the court are followed regarding school board responsibility to desegregate schools . . . .” Rec. Doc. 703-1. The CCO earns a salary and is “paid in advance or reimbursed” for his “reasonable expenses . . . relative to carrying out [his] duties . . . and relative to the performance of the job . . . .” Rec. Doc. 703-1 at 2-3. The CCO also has “the authority to engage appropriate support personnel to assist in the carrying out of his duties and responsibilities . . . .” Rec. Doc. 1204 at 2. Defendant is financially responsible for the CCO's salary and reasonable expenses. Rec. Doc. 703-1 at 2-3.

         On July 22, 2015, the CCO moved the Court to establish an hourly rate of compensation for his work. Rec. Doc. 1289. Plaintiffs and Defendant jointly opposed the CCO's motion and argued that the CCO's salary should remain fixed at $4, 000.00 per month. Rec. Doc. 1302. On December 8, 2015, after considering the Parties' arguments and the nature of the CCO's work, the Court ordered that the CCO's compensation be increased from $4, 000.00 per month to $8, 000.00 per month. Rec. Doc. 1326. Defendant sought review in the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals. Rec. Doc. 1340. The CCO argued that the Fifth Circuit lacked jurisdiction to hear the appeal and that the order increasing his compensation should be affirmed. See Moore v. Tangipahoa Par. Sch. Bd., 843 F.3d 198, 200-03 (5th Cir. 2016). On December 6, 2016, the Fifth Circuit held that it had jurisdiction to hear the appeal and affirmed the increase to the CCO's salary. See id.

         On August 24, 2017, the CCO moved the Court to award him attorney's fees incurred while litigating the appeal of the Court's decision to increase his compensation. Rec. Doc. 1477. Defendant timely filed its opposition, arguing that (1) the Court's orders creating the CCO position do not entitle the CCO to an award of attorney's fees, (2) the CCO's motion for attorney's fees is untimely, (3) awarding attorney's fees would alter the Fifth Circuit's mandate, and (4) the CCO's motion is substantively deficient. Rec Doc. 1486.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         The CCO's motion seeks reimbursement for the attorney's fees he incurred while litigating the appeal of the Court's decision to increase his salary. Rec. Doc. 1477. But the CCO's motion does not indicate whether he seeks an award of attorney's fees as such, or whether he seeks reimbursement for reasonable expenses that just happen to be attorney's fees. The Court will address each argument in turn.

         A. THE CCO HAS WAIVED ANY CLAIM TO ATTORNEY'S FEES UNDER FEDERAL RULE OF CIVIL PROCEDURE 54

         “Unless a statute or court order provides otherwise, [a] motion [for attorney's fees] must . . . be filed no later than 14 days after the entry of judgment . . . .” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2)(B). The CCO did not file the instant motion within the 14-day deadline. While excusable neglect can save an otherwise untimely motion for attorney's fees, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(b), the CCO does not advance that argument here.[1] The CCO has therefore waived his claim to attorney's fees under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54. See United Indus., Inc. v. Simon-Hartley, Ltd., 91 F.3d 762, 764-66 (5th Cir. 1996).

         B. THE COURT'S ORDERS ENTITLE THE CCO TO REIMBURSEMENT OF ATTORNEY'S FEES FOR LITIGATING THE APPEAL

         The CCO is tasked with “ensur[ing] compliance with the orders of the court” and can seek reimbursement from Defendant for “reasonable expenses . . . relative to carrying out [his] duties . . . and relative to the performance of the job . . . .” Rec. Doc. 703-1 at 1-4. The CCO's job description was subsequently modified to allow the CCO to “engage appropriate support personnel.” Rec. Doc. 1204 at 2. Therefore, the CCO's request for attorney's fees is viable if (1) litigating the appeal was part of his duties, (2) the appellate attorneys retained by the CCO were “appropriate support personnel, ” and (3) the fees charged are reasonable. See Rec. Doc. 703-1 at 1-4, 1204 at 2.

         Litigating the appeal was part of the CCO's duties because he acted in defense of a Court order. The CCO's role is sufficiently expansive to seek reimbursement for retaining appellate counsel because he has “wide latitude in making determinations about his duties and responsibilities.” Rec. Doc. 1477-1 at 4-5. “The duties and responsibilities outline[d][in the various orders defining the CCO role] are intended to be a guideline and do not limit the rights of the compliance officer to ensure that the orders of the [C]ourt are enforced.” Rec. Doc. 703-1 at 1.

         As the Court observed when resetting the CCO's compensation in 2015, the CCO plays an integral role in the “intensified efforts to achieve unitary status.” Rec. Doc. 1326 at 5-6. The role imposes serious obligations on the person who serves as the CCO and prevents them from pursuing other remunerative activities. See Id. Adequate compensation attracts and retains qualified individuals to the position and meaningfully aids the Court and the parties in the ongoing “work towards full unitary status.” Id. Therefore, the CCO's ...


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