Vallejos v. Lovelace Medical Center et al
ORDER by Circuit Judge Paul Kelly, Jr. granting 26 Defendant Lovelace's Motion for Attorneys' Fees. (rt)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
DISTRICT OF NEW MEXICO
GERALD E. VALLEJOS,
LOVELACE MEDICAL CENTER, and
the 2nd JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT,
ORDER GRANTING ATTORNEYS’ FEES
THIS MATTER comes on for consideration of Defendant Lovelace’s Motion for
Attorneys’ Fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) filed June 7, 2017. ECF No. 26. 1 Upon
consideration thereof, the motion is well-taken and should be granted. 2
Mr. Vallejos filed a state-court action against Lovelace, his former employer, and
various individuals claiming that they retaliated against him for engaging in protected
activities in violation of Title VII and the New Mexico Human Rights Act (NMHRA).
Unless otherwise indicated, ECF references documents in this case, 1:17-cv-00183PJK-WPL.
Mr. Vallejos has not responded to the motion for attorneys’ fees. This failure to
respond constitutes consent that briefing is complete and consent to grant the motion.
Vallejos v. Lovelace Med. Ctr., No. CV-2011-01355 (N.M. D. Ct. Feb. 4, 2011). He
further alleged that he was subject to defamation and mental and emotional distress
because of a hostile work environment, denied due process, and denied favorable
personnel actions prior to his termination. Id. Defendants removed the action to federal
court. Vallejos v. Lovelace Med. Ctr., No. 1:11-cv-00206-WJ-KBM (D.N.M. Mar. 8,
2011), ECF No. 1. The federal district court then dismissed the individual defendants for
failure to exhaust administrative remedies as to the NMHRA claims and because they
were not proper defendants under Title VII. Id. (1:11-cv-00206-WJ-KBM) ECF No. 18.
Sua sponte, the federal district court dismissed the federal claims against Lovelace for
failure to state a plausible claim, but gave Mr. Vallejos leave to amend his claims against
the employer. Id. The federal district court later dismissed the amended federal claims
under Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). Id. (1:11-cv-00206-WJ-KBM) ECF No. 21. The statelaw claims were remanded to state district court. Id.
In state district court, Lovelace filed a motion to dismiss which was granted in
part, and denied in part. ECF No. 16-1, at 4 (state district court docket sheet). The case
proceeded and ultimately, the state district court granted Lovelace’s motion for summary
judgment and denied Mr. Vallejos’s motion for summary judgment as moot.
ECF No. 1-1, at 16–17 (state district court order). The case was dismissed with
prejudice. Id. This is corroborated by the written transcript of the motion hearing. Id. at
6–7 (state district court transcript). Undeterred, Mr. Vallejos filed a motion to reconsider
and the case was reopened. Id. at 18 (motion for relief from order). The state district
judge hearing the motion flatly rejected Mr. Vallejos’s claim that he had been awarded
summary judgment on his defamation claim. Id. at 20–21 (transcript of hearing on
motion for relief from order and order memorializing the ruling).
Mr. Vallejos filed this action alleging that Defendants, acting under color of state
law, violated his constitutional rights when he did not obtain a state-court judgment in his
favor. He alleged concerted fraudulent activity between two state-court judges and statecourt personnel, depriving him of federally protected rights. This court dismissed the
complaint against the Second Judicial District Court for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction, ECF No. 18, and granted Lovelace’s motion to dismiss the case with
prejudice for failure to state a claim, ECF No. 20.
Though it is the exception, a prevailing defendant in a civil rights action may
recover reasonable attorneys’ fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) if the suit was “vexatious,
frivolous, or brought to harass or embarrass the defendant.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461
U.S. 424, 429 n.2 (1983); see also Mitchell v. City of Moore, 218 F.3d 1190, 1203 (10th
Cir. 2000). A defendant’s victory does not warrant attorneys’ fees, but such fees may be
justified when a plaintiff continues to litigate when it should have been apparent that the
suit was frivolous, unreasonable or groundless. Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC,
434 U.S. 412, 421 (1978). Subjective bad faith is not required. Id.
This court has already determined that Mr. Vallejos’s claims of concerted
fraudulent activity between two state-court judges and court personnel are completely
speculative. The gravamen of Mr. Vallejos’s federal civil rights complaint, that summary
judgment actually was granted in his favor (on his defamation claim) in the state-court
proceeding, is completely contradicted by the record. A different state-court judge told
Mr. Vallejos this in denying his motion for reconsideration. Thus, it was not reasonable
for Mr. Vallejos to file this action given the lack of a factual basis.
Of course, attorneys’ fees must be reasonable, starting first with a reasonable
number of hours expended times a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 424.
Lovelace has requested the following:
Counsel has exercised billing judgment, for example, by reducing the number of hours
claimed by strategies not pursued. ECF No. 26 at 7. The billing rates reflect the amount
charged the client (Lovelace), and even though they may be higher than those charged by
other employment law defense lawyers, the court finds that they are reasonable. Counsel
is familiar with the variety of claims Mr. Vallejos has pursued against Lovelace in several
forums. Though the issues in this case are straightforward, the procedural journey is not.
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED that Defendant Lovelace’s Motion for
Attorneys’ Fees filed June 7, 2017 (ECF No. 26) is granted and a judgment shall enter
awarding Lovelace $4,498.10 in attorneys’ fees to be paid by Mr. Vallejos.
DATED this 27th day of June 2017, at Santa Fe, New Mexico.
United States Circuit Judge
Sitting by Designation
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