Wilson v. Yavapai County Sheriff's Office et al

Filing 35

ORDER that Plaintiff's 33 Motion for Reconsideration is denied. That the Yavapai County Defendants' 32 Motion to Strike Plaintiff's Response to Defense Reply is denied. Defendants' 23 Motion for Attorneys' Fees is granted in the amount of $9,820.00. Signed by Judge James A Teilborg on 7/31/12.(DMT)

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1 WO 2 3 4 IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 FOR THE DISTRICT OF ARIZONA 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 ) ) ) Plaintiff, ) ) vs. ) ) ) Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office; Yavapai County Attorney’s Office; Paul ) ) Julian, individually; Mary Hamm, individually; Sheila Polk, individually; ) Anna Mary Glaab, individually; Yavapai ) ) County, Arizona; Sam Dubois, ) individually; ) ) Defendants. ) ) Dale Wilson, CV 11-08199-PHX-JAT ORDER 16 17 Pending before the Court are: (1) Plaintiff’s Note to the Court and Motion to Re-Open 18 this Complaint (Doc. 33), (2) the Yavapai County Defendants’ Motion to Strike Plaintiff’s 19 Response to Defense Reply (Doc. 32); and (3) and Defendants’ Motion for Attorneys’ Fees 20 (Doc. 23). The Court now rules on the Motions. 21 I. BACKGROUND 22 On December 12, 2011, Plaintiff pro se Dale Wilson (“Plaintiff”) filed a Complaint 23 alleging that, on April 15, 2009, he was arrested and charged with a misdemeanor under Title 24 28 of the Arizona Revised Statutes after a traffic stop that was “without a warrant and 25 without probable cause.” Doc. 1 at 18. Plaintiff also alleged claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. 26 Id. at 28. All of Plaintiffs claims related to his argument that the Yarnell Justice Court 27 (“Justice Court”) in Yavapai County did not have subject matter jurisdiction over traffic 28 violations and that the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office (“YCSO”) should have turned the 1 citation over to the Arizona Department of Transportation, which, Plaintiff alleged, has 2 “primary and exclusive jurisdiction over the Motor Vehicle Code” in Arizona. Id. 3 On March 29, 2012, this Court granted Defendants’ Motion to Dismiss, finding that 4 Plaintiff’s claims were barred by judicial and prosecutorial immunity, the Younger 5 Abstention doctrine, and the applicable statutes of limitations. Doc. 21. Plaintiff now moves 6 for reconsideration of this Court’s March 29, 2012 Order dismissing his case (Doc. 33) and 7 Defendants move for an award of attorneys’ fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) in the 8 amount of $9,820.00 (Doc. 23 at 2). 9 II. PLAINTIFF’S MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION 10 A. 11 Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, a motion for reconsideration can be 12 brought under either Rule 59(e) or Rule 60(b). Fuller v. M.G. Jewelry, 950 F.2d 1437, 1442 13 (9th Cir. 1991) (citing Taylor v. Knapp, 871 F.2d 803, 805 (9th Cir. 1989)). Rule 59(e) 14 governs motions filed within 28 days of entry of judgment. See Coyaso v. Bradley Pac. 15 Aviation, Inc., CIV. 11-00267 JMS, 2012 WL 1883718 (D. Haw. May 21, 2012); United 16 States v. Comprehensive Drug Testing, Inc., 513 F.3d 1085, 1098 (9th Cir. 2008). “A Rule 17 59(e) motion should not be granted ‘unless the district court is presented with newly 18 discovered evidence, committed clear error, or if there is an intervening change in the 19 controlling law.’” McQuillion v. Duncan, 343 F.3d 1012, 1014 (9th Cir. 2003) (quoting 20 McDowell v. Calderon, 197 F.3d 1253, 1255 (9th Cir. 1999) (en banc)). Generally, the Court 21 will deny a motion for reconsideration absent a showing of manifest error or a showing of 22 new facts or legal authority that could not have been brought to the Court’s attention earlier 23 with reasonable diligence. L.R.Civ.P. 7.2(g). Legal Standard 24 Alternatively, if a motion for reconsideration is filed more than 28 days after the 25 judgment, it will be considered under Rule 60(b). Rule 60(b) provides for reconsideration 26 only upon a showing of: (1) mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect; (2) newly 27 discovered evidence; (3) fraud, misrepresentation or other misconduct of the adverse party; 28 (4) a void judgment; (5) a satisfied, released or discharged judgment, or (6) “extraordinary -2- 1 circumstances” which would justify relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b); see Fuller, 950 F.2d at 2 1442 (citing Taylor, 871 F.2d at 805). 3 B. 4 Plaintiff filed a Motion to Re-Open the Complaint, which the Court construes as a 5 Motion for Reconsideration (“Motion”) on July 13, 2012 (Doc. 33), more than 28 days after 6 judgment was entered in favor of Defendants on March 29, 2012 (Doc. 22). Although 7 Plaintiff failed to indicate which Federal Rule of Civil Procedure governs his Motion for 8 Reconsideration, Rule 60(b) must apply because Plaintiff did not file his motion within 28 9 days as required by Rule 59(e). In his Motion, Plaintiff alleges that he has “discovered the 10 ‘smoking gun’ which proves his contention that the justice courts and the county attorney’s 11 office lack jurisdiction over the motor vehicle code in Arizona.” Doc. 33 at 2. Previously, 12 Plaintiff argued that Arizona Revised Statutes section 28-332 “plainly state[s] that [the] 13 Arizona Department of Transportation enjoy[s] ‘primary and exclusive jurisdiction’ over the 14 motor vehicle code.” Doc. 29 at 2. Analysis 15 Plaintiff now argues that, under Arizona Revised Statutes section 28-333, “the 16 Arizona Attorney General is the only entity empowered to prosecute and defend matters 17 arising under this Title.” Doc. 33 at 2. Plaintiff further contends that the “present manner of 18 handling traffic tickets in Arizona is incorrect, against the laws, and an institutional, systemic 19 deprivation of the rights of all who come to justice courts to have their traffic tickets 20 adjudicated.” Id. at 3. 21 While Plaintiff argues that these circumstances justify reconsideration, a Rule 60(b) 22 motion can only be granted if Plaintiff carries his burden of establishing excusable neglect, 23 newly discovered evidence, fraud, a void or satisfied judgment, or “extraordinary 24 circumstances” that justify relief. Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b); see Fuller, 950 F.2d at 1442 (citing 25 Taylor, 871 F.2d at 805). Here, Plaintiff’s failure to cite a pre-existing statute and/or to 26 pursue a different theory of his case does not constitute excusable neglect for the purpose of 27 granting a motion for reconsideration. Further Plaintiff does not state, in a legally sufficient 28 manner, the relationship between Arizona Revised Statutes section 28-333 and the issues in -3- 1 the case. Additionally, the Court agrees with Defendants that Plaintiff’s Motion for 2 Reconsideration further illustrates his determination to pursue baseless claims in the federal 3 forum. See Doc. 34 at 2. 4 Thus, because Plaintiff failed to argue or present evidence supporting any of the 5 factors necessary for this Court to grant a Rule 60(b) motion for reconsideration, Plaintiff’s 6 Motion is denied. 7 III. 8 9 ATTORNEYS’ FEES A. Defendants’ Entitlement to Attorneys’ Fees 1. Legal Standard 10 Defendants bring their Motion for Attorneys’ Fees and Costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. 11 § 1988(b), which states in relevant part: “In an action or proceeding to enforce a provision 12 of section . . . 1983 . . . of this title, . . . the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing 13 party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs. . . .” The 14 court may, in its discretion, award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party in a Civil Rights Act 15 case upon a finding that the plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without 16 foundation, even though not brought in bad faith. Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 17 U.S. 412, 421 (1978). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has further clarified this standard, 18 holding that attorneys’ fees are awardable in an action brought under § 1983 if the action was 19 unreasonable, frivolous, meritless or without foundation, or when the plaintiff continued to 20 litigate after it clearly became unreasonable, frivolous, meritless or without foundation. Herb 21 Hallman Chevrolet, Inc. v. Nash-Holmes, 169 F.3d 636, 645 (9th Cir. 1999). 22 However, “a defendant is entitled only to the amount of attorneys fees attributable 23 exclusively to a plaintiff’s frivolous claims.” Harris v. Maricopa County Superior Court, 631 24 F.3d 963, 971 (9th Cir. 2011). An action is frivolous, for purpose of an attorneys’ fees award 25 under § 1988, when the result appears obvious or the arguments are wholly without merit. 26 See Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 422. A defendant can recover attorneys’ fees if the plaintiff 27 violates the § 1988 standard at any point during the litigation, not just at its inception. Id. 28 2. Analysis -4- 1 Defendants argue that they are entitled to an award of attorneys’ fees because 2 “Plaintiff’s claims demonstrate that he has filed a suit (and now a subsequent appeal) based 3 on claims that have no legal basis.” Doc. 28 at 4. Specifically, Defendants’ argue that 4 Plaintiff’s case is frivolous because his main contention (“that ADOT has exclusive 5 jurisdiction over criminal traffic offenses”) is baseless and unsupported. Doc. 30 at 3. The 6 Court agrees. 7 In its Order granting Defendant’s Motion to Dismiss, this Court found that “Plaintiff’s 8 claims [were] barred by judicial and prosecutorial immunity, the Younger Abstention 9 doctrine, and applicable statutes of limitations” and that “Plaintiff could not overcome these 10 bars to his claims through any amendments.” Doc. 21 at 11. Plaintiff knew or should have 11 known that his claims lacked merit prior to this Order. First, Plaintiff already had a decision 12 from the Arizona Court of Appeals regarding his most prominent claim—that exclusive 13 jurisdiction to adjudicate his criminal misdemeanor case lies solely with the Arizona 14 Department of Transportation—when he filed his original Complaint in December 2011. See 15 Doc. 1 at 9. The Arizona Court of Appeals opinion specifically found that Plaintiff had the 16 ability to raise his claims based on the constitutionality of the municipal court’s jurisdiction 17 in the course of his state court appeal. And indeed, in holding that Plaintiff’s claim was 18 barred by the Younger Abstention doctrine, this Court again advised Plaintiff that these 19 claims had to be brought in the course of the normal appellate process in state court. Second, 20 Plaintiff at no time makes any cognizable legal argument that certain Defendants were not 21 entitled to judicial or prosecutorial immunity. Finally, while Plaintiff may have believed his 22 § 1983 false arrest and conspiracy claims were not frivolous at the outset of litigation, after 23 Defendants argued that these claims were barred by the applicable statute of limitations, 24 Plaintiff failed to present any cognizable legal argument that they were not time-barred. 25 Accordingly, Plaintiff had every reason and opportunity to withdraw his frivolous claims, but 26 chose instead to pursue them. 27 For the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that all of Plaintiff’s claims were frivolous, 28 meritless, or without foundation. Plaintiff’s repeated filings, both repetitive and frivolous in -5- 1 nature, further support this finding. 2 Accordingly, the Court finds that Defendants are entitled to their attorneys’ fees in 3 defending Plaintiff’s frivolous claims in this case and must now determine whether or not the 4 claimed fees are reasonable. 5 6 B. Reasonableness of Defendants’ Attorneys’ Fees 1. Legal Standard 7 28 U.S.C. § 1988 allows the prevailing party reimbursement of only a reasonable fee. 8 The proper method of determining a reasonable attorney’s fee is the lodestar method of 9 calculation, which multiplies the number of hours the prevailing party reasonably expended 10 on the litigation (as supported by adequate documentation) by a reasonable hourly rate for 11 the region and for the experience of the lawyer. In re Bluetooth Headset Products Liab. 12 Litig., 654 F.3d 935, 941–42 (9th Cir. 2011) (internal citations omitted). The prevailing 13 market rate in the community is indicative of a reasonable hourly rate. Jordan v. Multnomah 14 County, 815 F.2d 1258, 1262 (9th Cir. 1987). Additionally, the claimant must show that the 15 time spent was reasonably necessary and that its counsel made “a good faith effort to exclude 16 from [the] fee request hours that are excessive, redundant, or otherwise unnecessary.” Id. at 17 1263 (quoting Sealey, Inc. v. Easy Living, Inc., 743 F.2d 1378, 1385 (9th Cir. 1984)). 18 Although the lodestar figure is presumptively reasonable, the court may adjust it 19 upward or downward by an appropriate positive or negative multiplier reflecting a host of 20 reasonableness factors. Bluetooth, 654 F.3d at 942. Rare and exceptional circumstances that 21 can be taken into account for an enhancement of the lodestar figure are (1) when the hourly 22 rate does not represent the attorneys’ true market value (court can calculate by linking the 23 attorneys’ ability to the prevailing market rate), (2) when the litigation includes an 24 extraordinary outlay of expenses and is exceptionally protracted (court can calculate by, for 25 example, applying a standard rate of interest to the qualifying outlays and expenses), and (3) 26 when there is an exceptional delay in the payment of fees (the court can calculate by basing 27 the award on current hourly rates or by adjusting the fee based on historical rates to reflect 28 the present value). Perdue v. Kenny A. ex rel. Winn, __ U.S. __, 130 S. Ct. 1662, 1674-75 -6- 1 (2010). 2 2. Analysis 3 The Court finds that the attorneys’ fees requested by Defendants are reasonable under 4 the lodestar method. An hourly rate of $205/hour based on defense counsel’s 22 years of 5 experience is certainly reasonable for this type of work within the Phoenix area. 6 Additionally, the Court finds that Defendants’ submitted records “sufficient[ly] detail[ed] 7 that a neutral judge [could] make a fair evaluation of the time expended, the nature and need 8 for the service, and the reasonable fees to be allowed.” Jordan at 1263 (quoting Hensley v. 9 Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 441 (Burger, C.J., concurring)). The number of hours set forth by 10 Defendants’ counsel in Defendants’ Supporting Document 2 (Doc. 28-1 at 6–9) are 11 appropriate and reasonable based upon the nature of the matter. 12 Plaintiff argues that attorneys’ fees should not be awarded because his financial 13 situation makes the payment of Defendants’ attorneys’ fees an undue burden. Specifically, 14 Plaintiff alleges that he has been “unemployed and has been for over a year.” Doc. 29 at 3. 15 While financial hardship weighs in Plaintiff’s favor, he has failed to offer sufficient evidence 16 to overcome Defendants’ entitlement to attorneys’ fees. 17 Finally, the Court could increase Defendants’ attorneys’ fees because counsel was not 18 charging his true market value in this case. See Doc. 28 at 6 (explaining that defense counsel 19 reduces his rate from $300 to $205 for government clients). However, while the Supreme 20 Court allows for the enhancement of a lodestar figure where, as here, “the hourly rate does 21 not represent the attorneys’ true market value,” Perdue, 130 S. Ct. at 1668, this Court 22 declines to grant an upward departure due to Plaintiff’s alleged financial burden. The Court 23 does find, however, that Defendants’ attorneys’ fees, as requested, are reasonable under the 24 circumstances. 25 IV. CONCLUSION 26 Based on the foregoing, 27 IT IS ORDERED that Plaintiff’s Motion for Reconsideration (Doc. 33) is denied. 28 IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that the Yavapai County Defendants’ Motion to Strike -7- 1 2 3 4 Plaintiff’s Response to Defense Reply (Doc. 32) is denied. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Defendants’ Motion for Attorneys’ Fees (Doc. 23) is granted in the amount of $9,820.00. DATED this 31st day of July, 2012. 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 -8-

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