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North v. Cuyahoga County

United States District Court, N.D. Ohio, Eastern Division

September 5, 2017

CAMERON NORTH, Plaintiff,
v.
CUYAHOGA COUNTY, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          DAN AARON POLSTER UNITED STATE DISTRICT JUDGE.

         The above-captioned case is before the Court on “Defendants' Motion to Be Declared ‘Prevailing Parties' and for an Award of Reasonable Attorneys' Fees, Nontaxable Expenses, and Taxable Costs, and for Submission of Evidence of Same.” Doc #: 85 [hereinafter “Motion for Expenses”].

         I. Background

         With the filing of the Amended Complaint on April 5, 2016, the above-captioned case included five named defendants: Cuyahoga County, S. Mirolovich, M. Elhalaby, C. Clack, and S. Hester. Doc #: 21. Each defendant was ultimately dismissed:

• On June 13, 2017, North voluntarily dismissed Hester and Elhalaby without prejudice. Doc ##: 73, 74.
• On July 19, 2017, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Mirolovich. Doc ##: 78, 79.
• On August 14, 2017, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Cuyahoga County and Clack. Doc ##: 83, 84.

         On August 28, Defendants Cuyahoga County, Elhalaby, Clack, and Hester (collectively, “County Defendants”) filed the instant Motion for Expenses pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), 42 U.S.C. § 1988, and 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

         II. Legal Standards

         “In the United States, the prevailing litigant is ordinarily not entitled to collect a reasonable attorneys' fee from the loser.” Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc'y, 421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975). 42 U.S.C. 1988(b) is an exception to this general rule, which provides (as to § 1983 and certain other statutes), “the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.” A party reaches prevailing party status by obtaining a judgment on the merits or a court-ordered consent decree. Buckhannon Board and Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia Dep't of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598, 603-04 (2001). While district courts traditionally award attorney's fees to prevailing plaintiffs in all but special circumstances, attorneys' fees may be awarded to prevailing defendants only upon a finding that the plaintiff's action was “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad faith.” Smith v. Smythe-Cramer Co., 754 F.2d 180, 182-83 (6th Cir. 1985) (citing Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 421 (1978)). “Yet because ‘[a]n award of attorney's fees against a losing plaintiff in a civil rights action is an extreme sanction, ' it ‘must be limited to truly egregious cases of misconduct.'” Lowery v. Jefferson Cty. Bd. of Educ., 586 F.3d 427, 437 (6th Cir. 2009) (quoting Jones v. Continental Corp., 789 F.2d 1225, 1232 (6th Cir. 1986); see Serrano v. Cintas Corp., 699 F.3d 884, 905 (6th Cir. 2012) (finding that losing numerous motions, failing to respond properly to discovery requests, refusal to produce information, and withdrawal of claims for lack of merit did not constitute egregious and unreasonable conduct).

         In contrast to 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which shifts attorneys fees to the losing party, 28 U.S.C. § 1927 provides that any attorney “who so multiplies the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses, and attorney's fees reasonably incurred because of such conduct.” “Sanctions are warranted when an attorney objectively ‘falls short of the obligations owed by a member of the bar to the court and which, as a result, causes additional expense to the opposing party.'” Red Carpet Studios Div. of Source Advantage, Ltd. v. Sater, 465 F.3d 642, 646 (6th Cir. 2006) (quoting In re Ruben, 825 F.2d 977, 984 (6th Cir. 1987)). The purpose of such sanctions “is to deter dilatory litigation practices and to punish aggressive tactics that far exceed zealous advocacy, ” and these sanctions may be appropriate when an attorney “intentionally abuses the judicial process or knowingly disregards the risk that his actions will needlessly multiply proceedings.” Id. While a finding of “subjective bad faith” is not required, the conduct must have been something “more than negligence or incompetence.” Id.

         Finally, ”[u]nless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs--other than attorney's fees--should be allowed to the prevailing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). “[T]he decision whether to award costs ultimately lies within the sound discretion of the district court.” Marx v. Gen. Revenue Corp., 568 U.S. 371, 377 (2013). Recovery pursuant to Rule 54(d) is limited to certain enumerated categories of costs. See 28 U.S.C. § 1920 (listing appropriate items of cost); see also In re Cardizem CD Antitrust Litig., 481 F.3d 355, 359 (6th Cir. 2007) (“[T]he discretion that Rule 54(d)(1) gives courts . . . is discretion to decline requests for costs, not discretion to award costs that § 1920 fails to enumerate.”); see also 10-54 Moore's Federal Practice - Civil § 54.103 (2017).

         III. Discussion

         A. ...


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