Joyce v. Town of Dennis et al
Judge Nathaniel M. Gorton: ORDER entered. MEMORANDUM AND ORDER: "In accordance with the foregoing, 1) Plaintiff's motion for attorneys' fees (Docket No. 90 ) is ALLOWED, in part, and DENIED, in part. Plaintiff is awarded $87,28 7 in fees and $4,764 in costs. 2) Plaintiff's motion for injunctive relief (Docket No. 91 ) is ALLOWED, in part, and DENIED, in part. Defendants are ordered to issue a directive, to be provided to all members and posted at Town-owned golf courses and on the courses' website, that there shall be no distinction, restriction or discrimination on the basis of gender at either of the golf courses. So ordered."(Moore, Kellyann)
United States District Court
District of Massachusetts
TOWN OF DENNIS, DENNIS PINES
GOLF COURSE, DENNIS HIGHLANDS,
ROBERT CANEVAZZI, MICHAEL
CUMMINGS, DENNIS PENNER and
Civil Action No.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
Plaintiff Elaine Joyce (“Joyce”) brought suit against
the Town of Dennis (“the Town”), two Town-owned golf courses and
several individual defendants for gender discrimination.
dispute arose out of the defendants’ refusal to allow Joyce to
play in a men’s members-only tournament at Dennis Pines Golf
Course in May, 2007.
The case is currently on remand from the
First Circuit Court of Appeals for reconsideration of 1) the
size of the award of attorneys’ fees to Joyce’s counsel and 2)
the propriety of permanent injunctive relief.
The facts of this case have been described at length in
previous Orders issued by this Court (Docket Nos. 49, 52, 58 and
110) and by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Joyce v. Town
of Dennis, 720 F.3d 12 (1st Cir. 2013).
The following are the
salient facts for the purpose of this Memorandum and Order.
Joyce filed her Complaint in February, 2008 and the parties
subsequently filed cross-motions for summary judgment.
March, 2010, this Court found that defendants were liable on six
of the eleven counts, and dismissed the other five counts.
found in Joyce’s favor with respect to her claims that 1) the
Town defendants violated her rights under the Equal Protection
Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and 2) both Town and
individual defendants violated Massachusetts anti-discrimination
It dismissed Joyce’s claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983
against individual defendants and her claim arising under the
Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, M.G.L. c. 93A.
subsequently denied Joyce’s emergency motion for sanctions based
on statements made by defendants’ counsel to the media
concerning the case and a purported settlement offer.
In light of the impending trial on damages, the Court in a
January, 2011 declined to instruct the jury on punitive damages
but announced its intent to award reasonable attorneys’ fees to
Joyce as the prevailing party following the jury trial.
rejected a settlement offer of $35,001 in February, 2011, and a
jury awarded Joyce $15,000 in compensatory damages after a fiveday trial in March, 2011.
After trial, Joyce petitioned the Court for $167,855 in
legal services and $4,993 in costs.
She also sought injunctive
relief requiring defendants to take specific actions to prevent
gender discrimination at Town-owned golf courses.
denied her motion for injunctive relief and awarded $30,000 in
fees and $4,600 in costs.
Joyce appealed that Order and the decision not to give a
punitive damages charge to the First Circuit and the defendants
cross-appealed the attorney fees award.
In June, 2013, the
First Circuit affirmed the punitive damages ruling but vacated
the attorneys’ fees award and denial of injunctive relief and
remanded for further proceedings.
Attorney Fees and Costs
The basic measure of reasonable attorney’s fees in civil
rights cases under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B, § 9 is a “fair
market rate for time reasonably spent preparing and litigating a
case”. Fontaine v. Ebtec Corp., 613 N.E.2d 881, 891 (Mass.
The First Circuit has adopted the two-step lodestar
method for calculating a reasonable fee. Torres-Rivera v.
O’Neill-Cancel, 524 F.3d 331, 336 (1st Cir. 2008).
lodestar figure is calculated by multiplying the number of hours
reasonably and productively expended on the litigation by a
reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433
Second, the court may adjust the lodestar up or down
based on factors such as
the nature of the case and issues presented, the time
and labor required, the amount of damages involved,
the result obtained, the experience, reputation and
ability of the attorney, the usual price charged for
similar services by other attorneys in the same area
and the amount of awards in similar cases.
Haddad v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 920 N.E.2d 278, 281 (Mass.
2010) (rescript) (quoting Linthicum v. Archambault, 398 N.E.2d
482, 488 (Mass. 1979), overruled in part on other grounds by
Knapp Shoes, Inc. v. Sylvania Shoe Mfg. Corp., 640 N.E.2d 1101,
1104-05 (Mass. 1994)).
The burden of proving the reasonableness
of the requested fees to be awarded falls upon the applicant.
Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11 (1984).
Opinion of the First Circuit
On appeal, the First Circuit vacated this Court’s award of
$30,000 in attorneys’ fees and $4,600 in costs.
It found that
this Court had underestimated the amount of success Joyce
obtained by virtue of its rulings that a Town-owned golf course
is a “public accommodation” under Massachusetts law and
rejecting the defendants’ arguments for a “separate but equal”
exception and had further given too little weight to the policy
choice underlying fee-shifting statutes in linking attorneys’
fees to the jury’s relatively modest damages award of $15,000.
It also held that it was improper to give any weight to Joyce’s
refusal to accept the Town’s settlement offer of $35,001.
remanded to this Court for reconsideration of a reasonable fee
in light of its holding.
Upon consideration of the First Circuit’s opinion and the
submissions of the parties, the Court will award $87,287 in
The court is not convinced that the $167,855
in fees requested by Joyce is reasonable in light of the time
and labor required to litigate the case, the result obtained and
the nature of the legal and factual questions at issue. See
Haddad, 920 N.E.2d 278, 281 (Mass. 2010).
First, the Court will subtract $46,624 from the lodestar to
account for areas in which the amount of time expended was
unreasonable or unnecessary. See id. at 283-84.
As the Court
noted in its previous order, Joyce’s counsel spent excessive
time briefing motions for summary judgment, petitioning for
attorneys’ fees and injunctive relief and responding to the
defendants’ cross-motion for summary judgment. See Berman v.
Linnane, 748 N.E.2d 466, 469 (Mass. 2001) (reducing hours used
to calculate lodestar in light of unnecessary and repetitive
As a result, it finds that counsel are entitled to 75%
of the hours claimed with respect to those motions and, as
result, will subtract approximately $15,000 from the lodestar.
The Court will also subtract approximately $8,000, or about 50%
of the amount billed for conferencing, to account for its
previous finding that Joyce’s counsel spent excessive time
conferencing with each other about the case.
The Court remains convinced, moreover, that it was
unnecessary for two experienced trial attorneys each to attend
the entire trial, especially when the Court had already
determined that defendants were liable and trial was limited to
whether Joyce was entitled to compensatory damages for emotional
distress. See Lipsett v. Blanco, 975 F.2d 934, 938 (1st Cir.
1992) (“As a general matter, the time for two or three lawyers
in a courtroom or conference, when one would do, may obviously
be discounted.” (citations and internal quotation marks
It will therefore reduce the number of hours that
Attorney Studen and Attorney Murray billed during the trial by
The Court will not, however, reduce the number of
hours claimed pre-trial as many overlap with the motions
addressed above, and therefore Attorney Studen and Attorney
Murray will be compensated for significantly more than 50% of
the total time spent on the case as a whole.
On the other hand, the time spent on the unsuccessful
motion for sanctions will not be factored into the lodestar.
The motion was filed after Joyce prevailed on many of her claims
at the summary judgment stage and nearly one year before trial
on damages and, moreover, was based on conduct by the Town’s
attorney rather than the discriminatory conduct of the
As a result, the unsuccessful motion was
insufficiently related to the success plaintiff obtained at
either stage and the Court will deduct approximately $8,800
accordingly. Cf. Alfonso v. Aufiero, 66 F. Supp. 2d 183, 194-95
(D. Mass. 1999) (denying compensation for malicious prosecution
claim that stemmed from set of events that were “distinct” from
the events underlying the successful claims).
The Court will further reduce the lodestar by 10% on the
basis that the claimed hourly rates are insufficiently supported
and are high compared with rates awarded to similarly
experienced attorneys. See Gay Officers Action League v. Puerto
Rico, 247 F.3d 288, 296 (1st Cir. 2001) (“[T]he court may take
guidance from, but is not bound by, an attorney’s standard
First, Joyce has not provided sufficient evidence to
corroborate her claims that the hourly rates she used to
calculate the lodestar amount reflect the prevailing rates in
the community. See Blum v. Stenson, 465 U.S. 886, 895 n.11
(1984) (“[T]he burden is on the fee applicant to produce
satisfactory evidence—in addition to the attorney’s own
affidavits—that the requested rates are in line with those
prevailing in the community for similar services by lawyers of
reasonably comparable skill, experience, and reputation.”).
First, she provided no information with respect to the
experience and skill level for the associates who contributed
significant work to the case.
Furthermore, this Court is not bound to accept the
conclusions of the Massachusetts trial court judge who found the
rates charged by attorneys at Burns & Levinson, including
Attorney Studen’s rate of $525 per hour, to be reasonable.
Moreover, defendant presents convincing evidence that the
prevailing rate in discrimination cases in the Boston area is
significantly lower than the rates charged by Joyce’s counsel.
See, e.g., Fryer v. A.S.A.P. Fire & Safety Corp., Inc., 750 F.
Supp. 2d 331, 338-40 (D. Mass. 2010) (finding hourly rates of
$325 and $350 reasonable for attorneys with comparable
experience and credentials).
Finally, the Court will decrease the resulting lodestar
amount of $109,108 by an additional 20% to $87,287.
reduction is warranted by the fact that this case involved a
relatively straight-forward fact pattern and legal theory.
Furthermore, while the First Circuit vacated the previous fee
award in part because it found that plaintiff attained greater
success than her relatively small damages award would indicate,
the success emphasized by the First Circuit was achieved at the
summary judgment stage rather than at the jury trial on damages
nearly one year later.
This Court deems significant the fact that, to the extent
it is able to decipher the convoluted bills presented, Joyce’s
attorneys spent only slightly more time between the filing of
the case in February, 2008, and entry of summary judgment in
Joyce’s favor on most of her claims in March, 2010, than they
spent thereafter pursuing monetary damages.
The Court finds
that it is fair to reduce the total fee award where a
substantial amount of legal fees were incurred with respect to
Joyce’s individual damages claim, on which she was largely
unsuccessful, after she had obtained summary judgment on the
issue of broader import to the public. Cf. Killeen v. Westban
Hotel Venture, LP, 872 N.E.2d 731, 792 (Mass. App. Ct. 2007)
(explaining that it is reasonable to reduce compensable hours if
the time spent was “wholly disproportionate to the interests at
stake” (quoting Stratos v. Dep’t of Pub. Welfare, 439 N.E.2d
778, 786 (Mass. 1982)).
Joyce previously requested $4,993 in costs.
awarded $4,600 after excluding 1) $164 in costs incurred after
Joyce rejected the February, 2011 settlement offer and 2) noncompensable costs for parking, taxis, meals and “stenographic
The First Circuit Court of Appeals did not expressly
vacate that award along with the award of attorneys’ fees.
Nevertheless, this Court assumes that the First Circuit’s
holding that it was improper to take into account the rejected
settlement offer when awarding attorneys’ fees applies to costs
As a result, it will award $4,764 in costs.
III. Injunctive Relief
The First Circuit vacated the denial of injunctive relief
on the grounds that the Court had not conducted the necessary
four-factor inquiry and, in particular, had failed to examine
whether the plaintiff would suffer irreparable harm in the
absence of an injunction.
The Court will therefore consider
whether the following prerequisites are satisfied:
(1) plaintiff prevailed on the merits; (2)
plaintiff would suffer irreparable injury in the
absence of injunctive relief; (3) the harm to
plaintiff would outweigh the harm the defendant[s]
would suffer from the imposition of an injunction; and
(4) the public interest would not be adversely
affected by an injunction.
Asociacion de Educacion Privada de P.R., Inc. v. García-Padilla,
490 F.3d 1, 8 (1st Cir. 2007).
The First Circuit reasoned that Joyce “easily satisfies”
the first, third and fourth requirements, leaving only the issue
of whether or not she would suffer irreparable injury in the
absence of injunctive relief. Joyce, 720 F.3d at 25.
reconsidering the record, the Court agrees with the First
Circuit that those three requirements are satisfied and finds,
with respect to the remaining requirement, that it is possible
that Joyce will suffer future discrimination.
To demonstrate the prospect of future harm justifying
permanent equitable relief, the First Circuit requires
plaintiffs to demonstrate more than the fact that they were
injured by an unlawful practice in the past. Steir v. Girl
Scouts of the USA, 383 F.3d 7, 16 (1st Cir. 2004) (citing O’Shea
v. Littleton, 414 U.S. 488, 495-96 (1974)).
[i]t is not enough for a plaintiff to assert that she
“could be” subjected in the future to the effects of
an unlawful policy or illegal conduct by a defendant-the prospect of harm must have an “immediacy and
Id. (quoting Golden v. Zwickler, 394 U.S. 103, 109 (1969)).
The question of whether plaintiff is likely to face future
illegal discrimination is worth further exploration.
On the one
hand, the defendants have already adopted and disseminated the
policy that Joyce demanded.
Specifically, the Golf Advisory
Committee (“GAC”), which is the volunteer group responsible for
course policies at the Town-owned golf courses, adopted United
States Golfing Association (“USGA”) rules that allow women to
play in all events so long as they play from the same tees as
other competitors and adjust their handicaps accordingly.
Furthermore, GAC voted to adopt that policy in October, 2007,
less than six months after the tournament from which Joyce was
It also contacted Joyce on multiple occasions to
invite her to meetings about changing the rules.
On the other hand, there is evidence that the policy change
was implemented deliberately and, perhaps, begrudgingly.
Chairman of the GAC initially told Joyce that he thought there
were equal opportunities for men and women to play in
tournaments according to the 2007 schedule, which was not the
The Town made no change to the 2007 tournament schedule
and the Tournament Committee, a subset of the GAC, initially
recommended adding a women’s field to every tournament during
the 2008 season rather than making tournaments gender-neutral.
Moreover, the Town vigorously litigated the case and maintained
throughout that it had no obligation to offer gender-neutral
The Town’s initial dissemination of its change in policy
was also problematic.
It did not make a general announcement to
all members and instead included a statement in the 2008
Tournament Information Packet that said that “[a]ll tournaments
will follow USGA guidelines for participation.”
Administrator, Robert Cavenazzi, acknowledged that he would not
have understood from that statement that the Town had changed
its gender policy for golf tournaments, and the Court finds it
likely that members did not understand its significance either.
In sum, despite the policy change, Joyce has pointed to
sufficient evidence that she may be subjected to ongoing
discrimination to satisfy the four-factor inquiry. See GarcíaPadilla, 490 F.3d at 8.
The remaining issue, then, concerns the
scope of appropriate injunctive relief on these facts.
Keeping in mind the First Circuit’s directive that
permanent injunctive relief must be “narrowly tailored to give
only the relief to which plaintiffs are entitled,” Brown v. Trs.
of Bos. Univ., 891 F.2d 337, 361 (1st Cir. 1989) (citing
Califano v. Yamanski, 442 U.S. 682, 702 (1972)), the Court finds
that much of the relief Joyce seeks sweeps too broadly or is too
vaguely worded to be enforceable.
Requiring defendants to issue
a directive that clarifies its policy toward gender-based
discrimination at Town-owned golf courses is, however, warranted
for the aforementioned reasons.
As a result, the Court will
order the defendants to issue a directive, to be provided to all
members and posted at Town-owned golf courses and on the
courses’ website, that there shall be no distinction,
restriction or discrimination on the basis of gender at either
of the golf courses.
In accordance with the foregoing,
Plaintiff’s motion for attorneys’ fees (Docket No. 90)
is ALLOWED, in part, and DENIED, in part. Plaintiff
is awarded $87,287 in fees and $4,764 in costs.
Plaintiff’s motion for injunctive relief (Docket No.
91) is ALLOWED, in part, and DENIED, in part.
Defendants are ordered to issue a directive, to be
provided to all members and posted at Town-owned golf
courses and on the courses’ website, that there shall
be no distinction, restriction or discrimination on
the basis of gender at either of the golf courses.
/s/ Nathaniel M. Gorton
Nathaniel M. Gorton
United States District Judge
Dated February 12, 2014