Love v. MHM Correctional Services, Inc.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER GRANTING 27 MOTION for Attorneys' Fees ; MHM's attorneys' fees in the amount of $112,100.80 are ASSESSED against Mr. Love; further ORDERING that costs are taxed against plaintiff; directing the clerk to tax the $2,571.41 billed in MHM's 31 Bill of Costs. Signed by Chief Judge William Keith Watkins on 1/22/2014. (djy, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
CASE NO. 2:12-CV-682-WKW
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is Defendant MHM Correctional Services, Inc.’s timely
Motion for Attorneys’ Fees, filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
(Doc. # 27.)
Plaintiff Andrus Love has responded in opposition,
proceeding pro se. (Doc. # 29.)1
On January 14, 2014, a hearing on the motion was held, at which time
Natasha Wilson, Esq., counsel for MHM, verified the authenticity of the evidence
supporting MHM’s request for $112,100.80 in fees. Mr. Love represented that he
had notice of MHM’s motion and that he did not object to MHM’s evidence or
computation of fees. He opposes the motion because he believes that his former
attorney should be held responsible for any fee award – not him. After careful
Mr. Love was represented by counsel through final judgment in this case, but his
attorney withdrew on October 25, 2013.
consideration of the evidence, arguments, and relevant law, the court finds that
MHM’s motion for attorneys’ fees is due to be granted.
I. STANDARD FOR AWARDING ATTORNEYS’ FEES
Normally, parties bear the burden of paying their own attorneys’ fees. See
Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc’y, 421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975). But
MHM invokes the court’s discretionary authority, established by statute, to award
“a reasonable attorney’s fee” to a “prevailing party” in a Title VII suit. 42 U.S.C.
§ 2000e-5(k); Id. at § 1988(b). “[A] district court may in its discretion award
attorney’s fees to a prevailing defendant in a Title VII case upon a finding that the
plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though
not brought in subjective bad faith.” Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434
U.S. 412, 421 (1978). The Eleventh Circuit has held that a case is not likely
“frivolous” where the plaintiff puts forward evidence sufficient to support his
claim. Sullivan v. Sch. Bd. of Pinellas Cnty., 773 F.2d 1182, 1189 (11th Cir.
1985). The important factors to consider include whether the plaintiff established a
prima facie case; whether the defendant offered to settle; and whether the district
court dismissed the case before trial. Id. These are “not hard and fast rules” – just
“general guidelines” to be applied on a “case-by-case basis.” Id.
II. THE ARGUMENTS
MHM represents that it repeatedly requested that Mr. Love dismiss his case
with prejudice because his legally insufficient claims would fail to withstand a
summary judgment motion, yet Mr. Love ignored MHM’s requests and proceeded
to litigate “knowingly frivolous claims” (Doc. # 27, at 2) “in bad faith” (Doc. # 271, at 4).
Citing the Sullivan factors, MHM demonstrates that: (1) this court
concluded that Mr. Love failed to make a prima facie case in support of any of his
three Title VII claims; (2) MHM never offered a substantial settlement to Mr.
Love; and (3) the case was resolved at summary judgment, prior to trial.2 Hence,
MHM argues that it is entitled to attorneys’ fees and expenses as the prevailing
party, and it estimates its fees and expenses to be $112,100.80. (Doc. #27-1, at 8.)
Mr. Love responds to the motion by arguing that his former attorney,
Juraldine Battle-Hodge, should assume responsibility for any fee award in favor of
MHM. (Doc. # 29, at 1.) In his response and at the January 14, 2014 hearing, Mr.
Love criticized generally Ms. Battle-Hodge’s performance, her accessibility to
him, and her lack of ardor in prosecuting his claims. He asserted that the court
should deny MHM’s motion because his claims against MHM were potentially
On September 23, 2013, this court granted MHM’s motion for summary judgment and
concluded that Mr. Love failed to establish a prima facie case of gender discrimination, race
discrimination, or retaliation. (Doc. # 25.)
meritorious, and even if they were not, Ms. Battle-Hodge failed to advise him that
he should dismiss his case voluntarily.
MHM replies that Mr. Love has not and cannot show that his claims were
meritorious and argues that Mr. Love wanted to prosecute his case “in an attempt
to punish MHM” for “misperceived wrongs.” (Doc. # 34, at 1.) As for Mr. Love’s
effort to deflect responsibility away from himself and onto Ms. Battle-Hodge,
MHM cites Durrett v. Jenkins Brickyard, Inc., 678 F.2d 911, 916 (11th Cir. 1982),
for its propositions that “an attorney is his client’s agent and representative,” and
thus, “the client retains ultimate authority over the conduct of litigation.” The
Durrett court held that “the perception that [plaintiff’s] counsel was primarily at
fault in filing or maintaining a frivolous, groundless, or unreasonable claim should
play no role in the decision whether to assess attorney’s fees against the plaintiff in
a Title VII case.” Id.3 4
Durrett also provides that the prevailing party may seek assessment of attorneys’ fees
“against counsel who has either willfully disobeyed a court order or acted in bad faith,
vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons.” 678 F.2d at 919. However, MHM does not
seek an order assessing fees against Ms. Battle-Hodge.
The court in Durrett also held that district courts should consider, “as a limiting factor,
the plaintiff’s financial resources” to pay an attorney’s fee award. Id. at 917. The court advised
that the plaintiff’s inability to pay did not mean that the district court should decline altogether to
award fees to the prevailing defendant because not assessing fees would not deter the filing of
frivolous lawsuits. Id. Thus, a determination of indigence will “limit, but not eliminate, the
award.” Id.; see also Nesmith v. Martin Marietta Aerospace, 833 F.2d 1489, 1491 (11th Cir.
1987) (citing Durrett and affirming a modification of a fee award amount in consideration of
plaintiff’s ability to pay). Durrett suggests that complete indigence, or limited ability to pay, is a
finding that must be “established” with evidence or testimony. See 678 F.2d at 917. And in the
similar context of determining the amount of costs to award a prevailing party pursuant to
Upon consideration of the arguments, evidence, and law, the court concludes
that MHM has met the Christianburg standard by showing that Mr. Love filed and
continued to prosecute a frivolous lawsuit. In addition to not proving a prima facie
case, not receiving an offer to settle, and losing at summary judgment, see Sullivan,
773 F.2d at 1189, Mr. Love declined, on more than one occasion during this
litigation, to voluntarily dismiss his suit when presented with
of success at summary judgment. (See Doc. # 27-2, at 20, 22, 35–37). Before
MHM filed its motion for summary judgment, Ms. Wilson represented to Ms.
Battle-Hodge that she would try to convince her client not to seek attorneys’ fees
and costs if Mr. Love would dismiss the case, but Mr. Love would not budge.
(Doc. # 27-2, at 35–37.)
Mr. Love’s argument that Ms. Battle-Hodge is to blame is not grounds for
this court to deny MHM’s motion to assess fees against Mr. Love. See Durrett,
678 F.2d at 916. Therefore, MHM is entitled to an award against Mr. Love for its
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), the Eleventh Circuit held that “[i]f a district court . . .
chooses to consider the non-prevailing party’s financial status, it should require substantial
documentation of a true inability to pay.” Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1039 (11th
Cir. 2000) (en banc).
Here, Mr. Love’s written response is silent about ability to pay. He asserted in his
argument at the January 14, 2014 hearing that he does not have the resources to pay a large fee
award, but he did not offer any evidence to show his inability to pay. Thus, the court lacks a
foundation upon which to consider reducing any fee award on the basis of inability to pay.
reasonable attorneys’ fees. Furthermore, the court finds that the fees charged and
hours expended in this case are reasonable and necessarily incurred in defense of
the claims. See Norman v. Hous. Auth. of City of Montgomery, 836 F.2d 1292,
1299–1302 (11th Cir. 1988). Accordingly, under the circumstances of this case,
MHM’s motion for attorneys’ fees is due to be granted.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) provides that costs, other than
attorneys’ fees, “should be allowed to the prevailing party.” In this case, the Clerk
of the Court has yet to tax MHM’s costs as billed (Doc. # 31) because the final
judgment does not expressly provide that costs are taxed against Mr. Love. (See
Doc. # 26.) Thus, this order will clarify that the Clerk of the Court shall tax costs
against Mr. Love as billed by MHM in its Bill of Costs.
It is ORDERED that MHM’s motion for attorneys’ fees (Doc. # 27) is
MHM’s attorneys’ fees in the amount of $112,100.80 are
ASSESSED against Mr. Love.
It is further ORDERED that costs are TAXED against Plaintiff. The Clerk
of the Court is DIRECTED to tax the $2,571.41 billed in MHM’s Bill of Costs
(Doc. # 31).
DONE this 22nd day of January, 2014.
/s/ W. Keith Watkins
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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