Katz et al v. Beverly Hills, Village of et al
OPINION and ORDER Denying Defendant's 75 Motion for Attorney Fees and Costs and Sanctions. Signed by District Judge Linda V. Parker. (RLou)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF MICHIGAN
DONALD KATZ and KAREN S.
Civil Case No. 13-11568
Honorable Linda V. Parker
THE VILLAGE OF BEVERLY HILLS,
CHRIS WILSON, DANIEL GOSSELIN,
JEANNE BAKER and JOHN DOE,
jointly and severally,
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION FOR
ATTORNEY FEES AND COSTS AND SANCTIONS [ECF NO. 75.]
Plaintiffs Donald Katz and Karen Markel (collectively “Plaintiffs”) filed this
action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that their constitutional rights were
violated when Defendant Village of Beverly Hills engaged in a pattern of
discriminatory disparate treatment due to Plaintiffs’ religious affiliation. (ECF No.
63 at Pg ID 622-23.) This Court granted Defendant’s motion for summary
judgment and dismissed Plaintiffs’ complaint with prejudice.1 Presently before the
This decision was recently affirmed by the Sixth Circuit. Katz et al. v. Village of
Beverly Hills, No. 16-1574, 2017 WL 360551 (6th Cir. Jan. 25, 2017).
Court is Defendant’s motion for attorney fees and costs and sanctions.2 (ECF No.
75.) For the reasons that follow, this Court is denying Defendant’s motion.
Plaintiffs are husband and wife and are of the Jewish faith. (Third Am.
Compl., ECF No. 39 at Pg. ID 347.) They reside in Oakland County, Michigan
and are the owners of the property located at 32286 Auburn Drive, Beverly Hills,
MI 48025. (Id.) In their complaint, Plaintiffs recount various encounters they
experienced involving themselves, the Village Public Safety Department, and their
neighbors. (Id. at Pg. ID 348.) These instances occurred between 2005 through
2013. (See id., ECF No. 39 at 348-356.)
Plaintiffs filed their initial complaint on April 5, 2013. (ECF No. 1.)
Plaintiffs quickly amended their complaint on April 11, 2013 and July 15, 2013.
(ECF Nos. 3, 4.) Defendant filed a motion to dismiss for judgment on the
pleadings and for summary judgment on August 4, 2014. (ECF No. 23.) This
Court granted Plaintiffs an opportunity to amend their complaint on October 2,
2014. Plaintiffs subsequently filed a third amended complaint on October 16, 2014.
(ECF No. 39.) The Third Amended Complaint was filed after Plaintiffs retained
new counsel. (See id.)
Defendant did not present an argument in favor of sanctioning Plaintiffs in its
initial brief for this motion and withdrew any request for Rule 11 sanctions in its
reply brief. (ECF Nos. 75, 82 at Pg ID 1196.) Therefore, the Court’s analysis only
addresses attorney fees and costs.
On July 15, 2015, Defendant filed its motion for judgment on the pleadings
and/or summary judgment, pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 12(c) and
56. (ECF No. 61.) The motion was fully briefed. This Court entered a judgment in
favor of Defendant and dismissed the case on March 31, 2016. (ECF No. 72.) On
April 28, 2016, Defendant filed the instant motion to recover attorney fees and
costs and sanctions. (ECF No. 75.)
Attorney Fees and Costs
This Court has the discretion to allow the prevailing party in a 42 U.S.C. §
1983 suit “a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b)
(2000). “Awards to prevailing defendants will depend on the factual
circumstances of each case.” Smith v. Smythe-Cramer Co., 654 F.2d 180, 183 (6th
Cir. 1985). The Supreme Court established that a district court may only award
attorney fees to a prevailing defendant if the plaintiff’s claim was “frivolous,
unreasonable, or without foundation.” Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434
U.S. 412, 421 (1978).
Courts are cautious in awarding attorney fees in civil rights cases when
plaintiffs’ do not prevail because awarding attorney fees “would substantially add
to the risks [inherent] in most litigation and would undercut the efforts of Congress
to promote the vigorous enforcement of the provisions of Title VII.”
Christiansburg Garment Co., 434 U.S. at 422. The Sixth Circuit has limited the
cases where it will award attorney fees to a prevailing defendant in a civil rights
action “to truly egregious cases of misconduct.” Jones v. Continental Corp., 789
F.2d 1225, 1232 (6th Cir. 1986).
The Sixth Circuit has found cases where plaintiff’s claim “was clearly
defective at the outset of the case” as an example of an egregious case warranting
an award of attorney fees to a prevailing defendant. Wolfe v. Perry, 412 F.3d 707
(6th Cir. 2005); see also Smith v. Smythe-Cramer Co., 654 F.2d at 183 (finding that
case must be “groundless from the outset” to award attorney’s fees to prevailing
defendant). In Wolfe, the plaintiff had filed a complaint alleging that his Fourth
Amendment rights were violated when an illegal search occurred at his home. 412
F.3d at 721. During his deposition, plaintiff admitted that he did not own or reside
in the home where the alleged illegal search took place; rather it belonged to his
parents. Id. at 709, 721. This admission contradicted plaintiff’s complaint, where
he stated that the defendant had conducted a search of the residence without
probable cause. Id. Plaintiff’s admission made it clear that his complaint was
based on a set of untrue facts and therefore, his case was defective from the outset.
In addition to his case being defective from the outset, the plaintiff in Wolfe
continued to pursue litigation after his deposition, with the case ultimately ending
when the court made a ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Id. The Sixth
Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to award attorney fees in Wolfe
because plaintiff’s claims “were frivolous and lacked factual support.” Id. at 722.
Another factor courts turn to in determining whether a case is egregious is
whether a motion to dismiss was filed. This district has found that a defendant’s
failure to file a motion for dismissal as an indication that the claim was not
groundless from the outset. Sprague v. Forystek, No. 05-73977, 2007 WL
2812300 at *3 (E.D. Mich. Sept. 26, 2007); see also Smith, 654 F.2d at 183 (“[T]he
mere fact that allegations prove legally insufficient to require a trial does not, for
that reason alone, render a complaint groundless.”)
In determining whether a plaintiff’s claim is “frivolous, unreasonable, or
without foundation,” the Supreme Court in Christiansburg cautions district courts
from engaging in post hoc reasoning:
[It] is important that a district court resist the understandable
temptation to engage in post hoc reasoning by concluding that,
because a plaintiff did not ultimately prevail, his action must have
been unreasonable or without foundation. This kind of hindsight logic
could discourage all but the most airtight claims, for seldom can a
prospective plaintiff be sure of ultimate success. No matter how
honest one's belief that he has been the victim of discrimination, no
matter how meritorious one's claim may appear at the outset, the
course of litigation is rarely predictable. Decisive facts may not
emerge until discovery or trial. The law may change or clarify in the
midst of litigation. Even when the law or the facts appear
questionable or unfavorable at the outset, a party may have an entirely
reasonable ground for bringing suit.
Id. at 421-22.
Defendant contends that they are entitled to attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. §
1988 because Plaintiffs “were entirely unable to defeat Defendant’s motion for
summary judgment with any measurable evidence.” (ECF No. 75 at Pg ID 1035.)
In particular, Defendant notes that this Court held that Plaintiffs’ equal protection
claim was time barred. See Katz v. Village of Beverly Hills, No. 13-11568, 2016
WL 1259086 at *5 (E.D. Mich. Mar. 31, 2016). Defendant also quotes this Court’s
opinion granting Defendant’s motion for summary judgment to emphasize that
Plaintiffs failed to allege sufficient facts to survive the summary judgment stage.
(ECF No. 75 at Pg ID 1036.)
First, this Court notes that Plaintiffs’ failure to allege sufficient facts to
defeat the summary judgment motion does not make Plaintiffs’ allegations
groundless. See Smith, 654 F.2d at 183 (“[T]he mere fact that allegations prove
legally insufficient to require a trial does not, for that reason alone, render a
complaint groundless.”); see also Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 15-16 (1980)
(“Allegations that, upon careful examination, prove legally insufficient to require a
trial are not, for that reason alone, ‘groundless’ or ‘without foundation’ as required
Here, the record contains nothing to indicate that Plaintiffs were completely
unjustified in believing that Defendant discriminated against them because of their
Jewish faith. While Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim was time barred, this Court
also stated that “[i]t is apparent to the Court that Plaintiffs’ equal protection claim
was complete and cognizable in 2005.” Katz, No. 13-11568, 2016 WL 1259086 at
*5. This Court acknowledged that the facts as alleged by Plaintiffs “show that one
individual officer – Officer Byrwa – was utterly intolerant, and on one occasion,
Officer Byrwa discriminated against Katz on the basis of religious affiliation.” Id.
Plaintiffs’ belief that other officers held similar intolerant beliefs does not render
their claim frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless. The Court must consider
Plaintiffs’ perspective at the time of filing the complaint. It is entirely reasonable
for Plaintiffs to have believed at the outset of litigation that Officer Byrwa’s
behavior was indicative of standard operating procedure in Beverly Hills or among
officers. See id. at *6.
This Court’s finding that there was no genuine issue of material fact does not
render their claim frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless. Therefore, this Court is
denying Defendant’s motion for attorney fees and costs.
IT IS ORDERED that Defendant’s motion for attorney fees and costs (ECF
No. 75) is DENIED.
s/ Linda V. Parker
LINDA V. PARKER
U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
Dated: February 6, 2017
I hereby certify that a copy of the foregoing document was mailed to counsel of
record and/or pro se parties on this date, February 6, 2017, by electronic and/or
U.S. First Class mail.
s/ Richard Loury
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?