Jergens v. Marias Medical Center et al
ORDER; Defendants Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 66 ) is DENIED. Signed by Judge Brian Morris on 9/9/2021. (TLO)
Case 4:20-cv-00015-BMM Document 76 Filed 09/09/21 Page 1 of 4
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MONTANA
GREAT FALLS DIVISION
MARIAS MEDICAL CENTER; BOARD
OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS OF
TOOLE COUNTY; and CINDY LAMB, in
her individual capacity, severally, or in the
Plaintiff Jeanette Jergens (“Jergens”) filed a complaint against the Marias
Medical Center, the Board of County Commissioners of Toole County, and Cindy
Lamb on February 26, 2020. (Doc. 1). Jergens alleged that Defendants violated the
Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) and the due process clause of the United
States Constitution. (Doc. 1 at 6). Jergens’s complaint followed two suits in
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Montana state court arising from the same employment dispute between herself
and Defendants. In the first of these two state cases (Jergens I), the jury awarded
Jergens $80,762 for her claims of privacy violations and discrimination. (Doc. 64
at 3-4). In the latter case (Jergens II), Jergens sought to add claims identical to the
claims she brought before this Court, however, she later withdrew her motion to
amend and the state court subsequently dismissed the complaint. (Doc. 31).
The Court granted summary judgment to Defendants on July 30, 3021,
finding that Jergens’ claim under the FMLA was time-barred, that she suffered no
prejudice by her employer’s failure to inform her of her rights under the FMLA,
and that res judicata barred both her FMLA claim and due process claim. (Doc.
Defendants have filed a motion for attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
1988(b). (Doc. 66). Defendants request a fee of $16,192.50. (Doc. 67 a 6). Plaintiff
objects. (Doc. 70).
The Court may discretionarily award reasonable attorney fees to the
prevailing party in a suit to vindicate civil rights. 42 U.S.C. §1988(b). Attorney's
fees should be granted to a defendant in a civil rights action only upon a finding
that the plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.
Summers v. Teichert & Son, Inc., 127 F.3d 1150, 1154 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting
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Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Emp. Opportunity Comm’n, 434 U.S. 412,
421 (1978)). In considering what constitutes a claim that is frivolous, unreasonable
or groundless, it is important that a court resist the understandable temptation to
engage in post hoc reasoning by concluding that, because a plaintiff did not
ultimately prevail, her action must have been unreasonable or without foundation.
C.W. v. Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 784 F.3d 1237, 1245 (9th Cir. 2015).
Jergens’s claims, though ultimately unsuccessful, did not rise to the rise to
the standard of “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.” 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. Christiansburg Garment Co., 434
U.S. at 422. Jergens had reasonable grounds for bringing suit, having already
prevailed on facts related to this case in a previous suit—Jergens I. (Doc. 67 at 2).
Defendants rely on the fact that “[n]either the Plaintiff, the defense, nor this
Court could find any support whatsoever” for Jergens’s civil rights claim. (Doc. 71
at 5). When little case law exists on point and a claim raises a novel question,
however, the claim is much less likely to be considered frivolous. C.W. v.
Capistrano Unified Sch. Dist., 784 F.3d 1237, 1245 (9th Cir. 2015). Jergens’s
claim was novel, and ultimately unsuccessful as a matter of law, but that does not
render it frivolous or lacking in foundation.
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Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that:
Defendant’s Motion for Attorney Fees (Doc. 66) is DENIED.
Dated the 9th day of September, 2021.
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