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Adams v. City of Shreveport

United States District Court, W.D. Louisiana, Shreveport Division

June 12, 2018

LEGEE ADAMS
v.
CITY OF SHREVEPORT, ET AL.

          HORNSBY, MAGISTRATE Judge

          MEMORANDUM RULING

          S. MAURICE HICKS, JR., UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT CHIEF JUDGE

         Before the Court is a “Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs” (Record Document 112) filed by Defendants, the City of Shreveport (the “City”), Cpl. Colin Neville (“Neville”), and Cpl. Stacy Coleman (“Coleman”) (collectively the “Defendants”). Defendants seek to recover all attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and 28 U.S.C. § 1927. Plaintiff LeGee Adams (“Plaintiff”) opposed the motion. See Record Document 114. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.

         BACKGROUND[1]

         On November 5, 2015, Plaintiff, through his attorneys, filed a Complaint alleging various claims against Defendants. See Record Document 2. Prior to filing the Complaint, Plaintiff's counsel, specifically the attorneys at Romanucci & Blandin, LLC, submitted a preservation letter and a public records request to the City, and the City provided copies of various reports pertaining to Plaintiff's arrest. See Record Document 112-2, Exh. A; Record Document 117-1, Exh. A. Plaintiff's Complaint included the following allegations:

13. At that time, OFFICERS NEVILLE and COLEMAN spotted LEGEE ADAMS walking with the other male and, without reasonable suspicion or provocation, activated the lights and sirens on their patrol vehicle and accelerated towards LEGEE ADAMS and the other male.
* * *
18. Near or on Prentiss Avenue, OFFICER COLEMAN then approached LEGEE ADAMS, by forcefully and violently grabbing LEGEE ADAMS' shoulder and then throwing LEGEE ADAMS to the ground.
* * *
22. Despite hearing and acknowledging LEGEE ADAMS' statements, and aware that LEGEE ADAMS was not resisting arrest or attempting to flee, OFFICER COLEMAN violently grabbed LEGEE ADAMS' arm, which was then position below LEGEE ADAMS' body in an injured and protective position, and forcefully pulled it behind LEGEE ADAMS' back.

Record Document 2.

         Defendants filed an Answer on December 10, 2015, denying the allegations and also raising the affirmative defense of qualified immunity. See Record Document 4. Defendants also affirmatively sought relief in the form of attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. See id. Defendants did not file a motion to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint, but rather, after the completion of discovery, filed a motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of Plaintiff's claims of false arrest, failure to intervene, the claim of excessive force against Neville, and all claims against the City. See Record Document 21. On August 28, 2017, the Court granted the motion and dismissed all claims except the claim of excessive force against Coleman. See Record Document 64. The findings of fact and law made by the Court in dismissing these claims were based on clearly established law. See id.

         Defendants acknowledged that there was a genuine dispute of material fact precluding summary judgment as to the Plaintiff's claims against Coleman, but at all times maintained that such claims were disputed. See Record Document 21 at 7. On Sunday, March 25, 2018, prior to proceeding to trial, Defendants requested that Plaintiff voluntarily dismiss his claim against Coleman. See Record Document 112-2, Exh. B. Plaintiff refused. On March 26, 2018, a jury trial began on Plaintiff's claims of excessive force against Coleman. On March 27, 2018, the jury returned a unanimous verdict in favor of Coleman. See Record Document 102, 103, 110, 111.

         Through the course of litigation, the Court held three (3) scheduling conferences and one (1) pre-trial conference. See Record Documents 14, 36, 75, 95. Prior to filings related to trial, only twenty (20) documents were filed by both parties in this matter. See Record Document 114-3. Plaintiff filed six (6) motions in limine prior to trial and one (1) motion to reconsider the Court's ruling on Plaintiff's motions in limine. At trial, Plaintiff's case in chief on liability consisted of two witnesses and some other evidence, with the entirety of the liability portion lasting only a day and a half. See Record Document 114-2.

         Defendants filed the instant Motion for Attorneys' Fees on April 11, 2018, arguing they are entitled to attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and 28 U.S.C. § 1927. See Record Document 112. Plaintiff opposed the motion and asserts he brought no frivolous claims and his course of litigation did not unreasonably and vexatiously multiply the proceedings. See Record Document 114. Defendants have filed a reply. See Record Document 117. Thus, this matter is fully briefed and ripe for decision.

         LAW AND ANALYSIS

         Defendants argue they are the prevailing party with respect to the Section 1983 claims; thus, they maintain they are entitled to recover attorneys' fees and costs under Section 1988(b) and Section 1927, as “Plaintiff's counsel disregarded well-established law and/or advocated claims they either knew or should have known lacked factual and legal support after a reasonable inquiry, and therefore unreasonably and vexastiously multiplied these proceedings.” Record Document 112-1 at 9.

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Attorneys' Fees and Costs Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988

         Title 42 of the United States Code, Section 1988 provides the Court with discretion to award attorney's fees and costs to the prevailing party in Civil Rights' litigation. See 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (2018). The governing law permits prevailing defendants an award of attorney's fees under section 1988 only upon a finding that the plaintiff's action “was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.” Nance v. New Orleans & Baton Rouge Steamship Pilots Ass'n, 2006 WL 2338193, *8 (E.D. La. 2006), quoting Christianburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 422, 98 S.Ct. 694 (1978) (emphasis added). In the context of prevailing defendants, Section 1988(b) is meant “to protect defendants from burdensome litigation having no legal or factual basis.” Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 833, 131 S.Ct. 2205, 2213 (2011) (citation omitted). The Fox court further reasoned:

[A] defendant may deserve fees even if not all the plaintiff's claims were frivolous.... That remains true when the plaintiff's suit also includes non-frivolous claims. The defendant, of course, is not entitled to any fees arising from these non-frivolous charges. But the presence of reasonable allegations in a suit does not immunize the plaintiff against paying for the fees that his frivolous claims imposed.

Id. at 834, 131 S.Ct. at 2214 (internal citations omitted). When a plaintiff has asserted both frivolous and non-frivolous claims, a court may grant reasonable attorney's fees to the defendant “only for the costs that the defendant would not have incurred but for the frivolous claims.” Id.

         In determining whether a suit is frivolous, a district court must focus on the question of whether or not the case is so lacking in arguable merit as to be groundless or without foundation rather than whether the claim was ultimately successful. See Jones, 656 F.2d at 1145. Factors to be considered in making such determination include: “(1) whether the plaintiff established a prima facie case, (2) whether the defendant offered to settle, and (3) whether the court held a full trial.” Myers v. City of W. Monroe, 211 F.3d 289, 292 (5th Cir. 2000). These factors are “guideposts, ” and frivolousness must be judged on a case-by-case basis. See Doe v. Silsbee Indep. Sch. Dist., 440 Fed.Appx. 421, 425 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam).The Fifth Circuit has “generally affirmed awards of attorney's fees where the plaintiff's civil rights claim lacks a basis in fact or relies on an undisputably meritless legal theory.” Id. “Implicit in this approach is the premise that plaintiff knew or should have known the legal or evidentiary deficiencies of his claim.” Id.

         II. ...


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