Evans v. Mobile County Health Department
ORDER denying 57 Motion to Alter Judgment. Signed by Chief Judge William H. Steele on 3/8/2012. (sdb)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
MOBILE COUNTY HEALTH
) CIVIL ACTION 10-0600-WS-C
This matter is before the Court on the defendant’s motion to amend final
judgment. (Doc. 57). The Magistrate Judge found that the plaintiff spoliated evidence,
(Doc. 41), and the Court affirmed. (Doc. 51). The Magistrate Judge awarded attorney’s
fees in the amount of $8,155 as a sanction for the spoliation, (Doc. 49), which award the
plaintiff did not appeal. Instead, the plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss her lawsuit with
prejudice, on the grounds that she “is unable to pay the sanctions necessary for her to
proceed with this case.” (Doc. 53).
The plaintiff’s motion fell within Rule 41(a)(2), which provides for dismissal on
the plaintiff’s request “on terms that the court considers proper.” The defendant sought
as terms: (1) entry of final judgment reflecting dismissal with prejudice; (2) taxation of
costs; and (3) inclusion of the fee award in the judgment. (Doc. 54). The Court accepted
as terms the entry of final judgment and the award of costs but declined to enter judgment
awarding the defendant $8,155 in affirmative relief. (Doc. 55). By the instant motion,
which invokes Rule 59(e), the defendant seeks amendment of the final judgment to
include such affirmative relief. The grant or denial of such a motion is left to the
discretion of the trial court. Chapman v. AI Transport, 229 F.3d 1012, 1023-24 (11th Cir.
2000) (en banc).
The defendant did not support its request for inclusion of the fee award in the final
judgment with argument or authority but simply made the request. (Doc. 54). In
particular, the defendant did not address Rule 41(a)(2) or explain why the discretion it
affords the Court1 should be exercised in favor of including such a provision as a term of
granting the plaintiff’s motion. That silence alone was sufficient to support the Court’s
decision not to include in the judgment an affirmative award of relief to the defendant.
While the defendant now offers an explanation for its request, it comes too late. 2
Nor would the defendant’s explanation have made a difference had it been timely
raised. The defendant argues that it requires the fee award to be reduced to a judgment in
order to streamline its enforcement of the award, but this begs the question whether the
Court should condition dismissal of the action on the inclusion in the judgment of an
affirmative grant of relief to the defendant. As noted, the plaintiff offered to dismiss her
action with prejudice, and the defendant likewise insisted that the dismissal be with
prejudice. Appellate courts have repeatedly rejected the imposition of attorney’s fees on
plaintiffs who voluntarily dismiss with prejudice absent at least “extraordinary
circumstances.”3 The mere existence of a fee award as a sanction does not approach this
E.g., Pontenberg v. Boston Scientific Corp., 252 F.3d 1253, 1256 (11th Cir. 2001) (“In
exercising its broad equitable discretion under Rule 41(a)(2), the district court must weigh the
relevant equities and do justice between the parties in each case, imposing such costs and
attaching such conditions to the dismissal as are deemed appropriate.”) (internal quotes omitted).
Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U.S. 471, 486 n.5 (2008) (“Rule 59(e) … may not be
used to relitigate old matters, or to raise arguments or present evidence that could have been
raised prior to the entry of judgment.”) (internal quotes omitted); accord Arthur v. King, 500
F.3d 1335, 1343 (11th Cir. 2007). Instead, “[t]he only grounds for granting [a Rule 59] motion
are newly-discovered evidence or manifest errors of law or fact.” Id. (internal quotes omitted).
Motions to reconsider “do not, in short, serve to relieve a party of the consequences of its
original, limited presentation.” Nelson v. Whirlpool Corp., 668 F. Supp. 2d 1368, 1379 n.3 (S.D.
Ala. 2009) (internal quotes omitted).
Compare Vanguard Environmental, Inc. v. Kerin, 528 F.3d 756, 760 (10th Cir. 2008)
(“A defendant may not recover attorneys’ fees when a plaintiff voluntarily dismisses an action
On the contrary, it appears that providing the defendant its requested relief would
affirmatively improve its position over that created by the Magistrate Judge’s order. The
Magistrate Judge ordered the plaintiff to pay the defendant the awarded attorney’s fees by
a date certain or face his recommendation to the Court that the action be dismissed for
failure to prosecute and failure to obey lawful orders, and he expressly refused the
defendant’s request4 to impose both dismissal and a fee award as cumulative sanctions.
(Doc. 41 at 29-31). That is, the plaintiff was given a choice of paying the award or
having her action dismissed, and the plaintiff elected the latter alternative. The
defendant, however, seeks to force on the plaintiff both alternatives, even though the
Magistrate Judge rejected precisely this result. Nothing brought to the Court’s attention
supports the proposition that the defendant should be awarded such a windfall.
Even absent this incongruity, the Court would not exercise its discretion in favor
of including in the judgment an affirmative award to the defendant. Had the plaintiff not
agreed to a voluntary dismissal, the defendant would have incurred much more than
$8,155 in attorney’s fees just in the course of preparing and defending a motion for
summary judgment, let alone the cost of preparing for and attending trial had such a
motion been unsuccessful. Given the American rule and the high bar of Christianburg
Garment, the Court cannot assume that the plaintiff would have been required to pay the
defendant’s attorney’s fees at the conclusion of this litigation (and the defendant does not
suggest she would have been). Thus, the plaintiff’s voluntary dismissal has saved the
with prejudice, however, absent ‘exceptional circumstances.’”) with Colombrito v. Kelly, 764
F.2d 122, 133-35 (2nd Cir. 1985) (finding even an “exceptional circumstances” standard too low,
but leaving open the possibility of some higher standard) and Cauley v. Wilson, 754 F.2d 769,
771 (7th Cir. 1985) (indicating that an award of fees would never be appropriate after a dismissal
with prejudice “because the defendant cannot be made to defend again”) (internal quotes
(Doc. 36 at 1).
defendant a large sum of unreimbursable attorney’s fees in this litigation, and her
dismissal with prejudice guarantees the defendant will not have to incur fees in some
future litigation. Even without a judgment of $8,155, the defendant comes out well
For the reasons set forth above, the defendant’s motion to amend final judgment
DONE and ORDERED this 8th day of March, 2012.
s/ WILLIAM H. STEELE
CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
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