Hanson v. Blaine County et al
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER Defendants' Motion for Attorney's Fees (Dkt. 205 ) is GRANTED IN PART AN DENIED IN PART as described above. Pursuant to the Court's Order (Dkt. 84 ), Defendants are awarded attorney fees in the amount of $1,834.00, with $1,245.00 being paid to Defendants Blaine County and Ramsey, and $589.00 being paid to Defendants Gooding County, Gough, Shubert, and Gonzalez. Defendants are awarded costs in the amount of $2443.46, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54. Signed by Judge B. Lynn Winmill. (caused to be mailed to non Registered Participants at the addresses listed on the Notice of Electronic Filing (NEF) by (jp)
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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF IDAHO
Case No. 1:16-cv-00421-BLW
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND
BLAINE COUNTY, GENE D.
RAMSEY, GOODING COUNTY,
SHAUN GOUGH, IDAHO
DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS,
KEVIN WAYT, WILLIAM SHUBERT,
JESUS GONZALEZ, JUDITH
PETERSON and JOHN DOES I-X,
Before the Court is Defendants’ Motion for Attorney’s Fees. Dkt. 205.
Plaintiff opposes the motion. Dkt. 207. For the reasons explained below, the Court
will grant the motion in part and deny it in part.
Plaintiff, Scott Hanson was arrested in Blaine County in September 2014 for
an alleged parole violation. Shortly before his arrest, Hanson had cataract surgery
to his right eye. Hanson alleged defendants’ failure to provide medical care while
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he was incarcerated resulted in his going blind in his right eye. It is not disputed
that Hanson lost vision in his right eye after being arrested, the only issues were
whether any of the defendants were indifferent or caused his injury.
Hanson sued the defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 alleging violations of
his Eighth and Fourteenth Amendment rights. In August 2017, this Court
dismissed Hanson’s claims against Defendant Wayt pursuant to Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Dkt. 44. In July 2018, Defendants Blaine County,
Gooding County, Gough, and Ramsey were granted summary judgment and were
subsequently dismissed from the case. Dkt. 82. Defendant Peterson and Hanson
reached a stipulation to dismiss her from the case in November 2019. Dkt. 164.
Defendants Shubert and Gonzalez proceeded to a jury trial and eventually received
a defense verdict.
A court may, in its discretion, allow the prevailing party of a 42 U.S.C. §
1983 action reasonable attorney’s fees as part of the costs. 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b).
Attorney’s fees may be awarded to a prevailing defendant in civil rights cases only
upon “a finding that the plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without
foundation.” Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 421 (1978).
This rigorous standard applies to prevailing defendants because the “policy
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considerations which support the award of fees to a prevailing plaintiff are not
present in the case of a prevailing defendant.” Id. at 418–19, (internal quotation
marks omitted); see also id. at 422 (“To take the further step of assessing attorney’s
fees against plaintiffs simply because they do not finally prevail would
substantially add to the risks inhering in most litigation and would undercut the
efforts of Congress to promote the vigorous enforcement” of civil rights statutes).
A civil rights claim under Section 1983 is not “frivolous” merely because
the “plaintiff did not ultimately prevail.” EEOC v. Bruno’s Rest., 13 F.3d 285, 287
(9th Cir. 1993) (quoting Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 421–22). If the plaintiff
“made plausible arguments as to why they should prevail[,] the fact that the
arguments were not successful doesn’t make them frivolous.” R.P. ex rel. C.P. v.
Prescott Unified Sch. Dist., 631 F.3d 1117, 1126 (9th Cir. 2011). When deciding a
motion for attorney’s fees, the plaintiff’s claim must be judged at the time the
complaint is filed. Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 421-22. Attorney's fees may be
awarded against an unsuccessful Section 1983 plaintiff only “in exceptional
circumstances.” Barry v. Fowler, 902 F.2d 770, 773 (9th Cir. 1990).
The Ninth Circuit has held that “[a] case may be deemed frivolous only
when the result is obvious or the ... arguments of error are wholly without merit.”
Karam v. City of Burbank, 352 F.3d 1188, 1195 (9th Cir. 2003) (internal citation
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and quotation marks omitted). A plaintiff’s civil rights claim is “frivolous,” under
Christiansburg, if it “lacks an arguable basis in either law or fact.” Neitzke v.
Williams, 490 U.S. 319, 325 (1989). The prevailing defendant “bears the burden of
establishing that the fees for which it is asking are in fact incurred solely by the
need to defend against those frivolous claims.” Harris v. Maricopa Cnty. Super.
Ct., 631 F.3d 963, 971 (9th Cir. 2011).
Applying the above standards, the Court finds that Hanson’s Section 1983
claim was not “frivolous” or “wholly without merit.” At the time of his complaint,
Hanson had suffered a real injury – going blind in his right eye – and had alleged
that Defendants’ care, or lack thereof, caused his injury.
The only defendant dismissed prior to summary judgment was Defendant
Wayt based on qualified immunity. Hanson’s claims against defendants Gooding
County, Blaine County, Gough, and Ramsey survived until summary judgment,
when these defendants were dismissed. Finally, defendants Peterson, Shubert, and
Gonzalez, motions for summary judgment were denied. Shubert and Gonzalez
were granted a defense verdict after a full trial. The Court is well familiar with the
procedural and factual history of this case. Simply put, while Hanson did not
prevail against the County Defendants, his claims against them were not frivolous.
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This is especially true at the time he filed his complaint.
Merely prevailing in a lawsuit does not equate to the type of exceptional
circumstances necessary for the defendants to be awarded attorney’s fees in this
case. Therefore, the Court will not award attorney fees to the defendants for
prevailing in this lawsuit.
The Court previously granted Defendants’ motion for attorney fees
associated with filing their motion to strike. Dkt. 84. Pursuant to that order, the
Court will award Defendants’ attorney fees in the amount of $1,834.00, with
$1,245.00 being paid to Defendants Blaine County and Ramsey, and $589.00 being
paid to Defendants Gooding County, Gough, Shubert, and Gonzalez. Dkt. 84. The
Court will also order costs to be paid pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
IT IS ORDERED that:
1. Defendants’ Motion for Attorney’s Fees (Dkt. 205) is GRANTED IN PART
AN DENIED IN PART as described above.
2. Pursuant to the Court’s Order (Dkt. 84), Defendants are awarded attorney
fees in the amount of $1,834.00, with $1,245.00 being paid to Defendants
Blaine County and Ramsey, and $589.00 being paid to Defendants Gooding
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County, Gough, Shubert, and Gonzalez.
3. Defendants are awarded costs in the amount of $2443.46, pursuant to
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54.
DATED: July 19, 2021
B. Lynn Winmill
U.S. District Court Judge
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