O. Matthew Thomas v. San Francisco Travel Association

Filing 67

ORDER by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers denying 55 Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs. (fs, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 6/8/2016)

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1 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 2 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 3 4 O. MATTHEW THOMAS, Case No. 14-cv-03043-YGR Plaintiff, 5 v. ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY’S FEES AND COSTS 6 7 SAN FRANCISCO TRAVEL ASSOCIATION, Re: Dkt. No. 55 Defendant. 8 9 This case arises out of a Section 1981 claim brought by plaintiff O. Matthew Thomas against defendant San Francisco Travel Association based on allegations that defendant refused to 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 enter into a contractual relationship with plaintiff because of race-based discrimination. The Court 12 granted summary judgment in favor of defendant, thereby dismissing plaintiff’s claims. (Dkt. No 13 51.) Before the Court now is defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees and costs. (Dkt. No. 55.) 14 Plaintiff filed a response (Dkt. No. 62) and a request for a continuance to find new counsel to 15 defend against the motion (Dkt. No. 65). Defendant replied. (Dkt. No. 64.) Having carefully 16 considered the papers submitted and the pleadings, and for the reasons set out more fully below, 17 the Court DENIES defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees and costs.1 18 Under Section 1988, in an action or proceeding under Section 1981, a court, “in its 19 discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney’s fee 20 as part of the costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Because “Congress wanted to encourage individuals to 21 seek relief for violations of their civil rights, [Section] 1988 operates asymmetrically.” Braunstein 22 v. Az. Dep’t of Transp., 683 F.3d 1177, 1187 (9th Cir. 2012). District courts may award prevailing 23 defendants only in “exceptional circumstances” where the court “finds that the plaintiff’s claims 24 are ‘frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless,’” whereas prevailing plaintiffs “may receive 25 attorney’s fees as a matter of course.” Id.2 26 1 27 28 The Court adopts the Background section in its Order Denying Motion for Leave to Amend; Granting Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. No. 51.) 2 Frivolous in the Ninth Circuit, means that the “result is obvious” or the plaintiff’s 1 Moreover, courts must resist the “temptation to engage in post hoc reasoning by 2 concluding that, because a plaintiff did not ultimately prevail, his action must have been 3 unreasonable or without foundation.” Surrell v. Cal. Water Serv. Co., No. 04-cv-2143, 2006 WL 4 1153758, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Apr. 28, 2006) (denying motion for fees despite granting summary 5 judgment in favor of defendants) (quoting Christianburg Garment Co. v. E.E.O.C., 434 U.S. 412, 6 421–22 (1978)). “The fact that plaintiff was unable to provide proper evidence to raise a triable 7 issue of fact, does not mean that [his] claims were unreasonable, frivolous, or without foundation.” 8 Id. 9 Defendant moves the Court to find that this was such an exceptional case such that defendant should be awarded attorney’s fees. However, that defendant prevailed on summary 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 judgment is not sufficient to show that this case is so “exceptional” as to merit an award of 12 attorney’s fees against plaintiff. Here, plaintiff was advised by his attorney, who later abandoned 13 his case, that he had a reasonable belief that plaintiff had been discriminated against because of his 14 race, and that that factor was, at least in part, a reason why defendant initially offered him 15 allegedly unfavorable terms and then subsequently refused to consummate the contract. The Court 16 is not prepared to find, given the circumstances of this case, that it falls into the “exceptional” case 17 contemplated by the statute for awarding prevailing defendants with attorney’s fees. Accordingly, 18 defendant’s motion for attorney’s fees and costs is DENIED. 19 20 21 22 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: June 8, 2016 ______________________________________ YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT JUDGE 23 24 25 26 27 28 arguments are “wholly without merit.” McConnell v. Critchlow, 661 F.2d 116, 118 (9th Cir. 1981) (citation omitted). “The terms ‘frivolous,’ ‘unreasonable,’ and ‘without foundation’ as used in this context do not have appreciably different meanings.” Alaska Right to Life v. Feldman, 504 F.3d 840, 852 (9th Cir. 2007) (citation omitted). 2

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