Derrick v. Morris et al
MEMORANDUM (Order to follow as separate docket entry). (sc)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
SYLVIA MORRIS, et al.,
Presently before the Court for consideration is Plaintiff’s Bill of Costs in
which he seeks to recover the amount of the filing fees expended in initiating this
matter. (Doc. No. 41.) Defendants have filed a response opposing Plaintiff’s Bill
of Costs. (Doc. No. 42.) This matter is ripe for review.
On March 23, 2016, Plaintiff Derrick Barnes, an inmate currently confined
at the State Correctional Institution at Benner Township, Bellefonte, Pennsylvania
(“SCI-Benner”), filed a complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against nine
Defendants, including several individuals employed at SCI-Smithfield. (Doc. No.
1.) On February 17, 2017, Defendants filed an answer to the complaint. (Doc. No.
23.) On October 11, 2017, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
41(a)(1)(A)(ii),1 the parties agreed to a stipulated dismissal of this action with
prejudice. (Doc. No. 39.) On October 16, 2017, the Court entered an Order
confirming the stipulation. (Doc. No. 40.) Thereafter, on November 17, 2017,
Plaintiff filed a Bill of Costs (Doc. No. 41), to which Defendants filed a response
in opposition. (Doc. No. 42). Plaintiff subsequently filed a reply on December 8,
2017. (Doc. No. 44.)
Plaintiff argues that he is entitled to recover the amount of the filing fees
expended in initiating this matter. (Doc. No. 41, 44.) Defendants contend that the
terms of the Settlement Agreement and Release (“Agreement”) entered willingly
between the parties encompasses the sum total of the consideration Plaintiff is to
receive, and therefore, there is no basis for the Bill of Costs. (Doc. No. 43.)
Rule 54(d)(1) provides that the losing party to an action shall reimburse the
prevailing party for the latter’s costs, other than attorney fees, unless the court
decides otherwise. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). The issue presently before the Court is,
however, whether Plaintiff constitutes a “prevailing party,” when the parties
stipulated to dismissing this matter with prejudice, pursuant to Rule
Rule 41(a)(1) provides for the voluntary dismissal of an action without a Court order by filing:
(i) a notice of dismissal before the opposing party serves either an answer or a motion for
summary judgment; or (ii) a stipulation of dismissal signed by all parties who have appeared.
41(a)(1)(A)(ii). See Smalley v. Account Services Collections, Inc., No. 2:15-cv1488, 2017 WL 1092678, at *1 (W.D. Pa. Mar. 23, 2017).
When parties stipulate to a dismissal pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), there
is no entry of judgment by the Court. The parties have an absolute right to a
dismissal by stipulation, and thus the Court’s role in resolving the matter is
minimal. 8 JAMES W. MOORE, MOORE’S FEDERAL PRACTICE – CIVIL §
41.34 (2005). The stipulation must be filed in court, but does not require a court
order. Camacho v. Mancuso, 53 F.3d 48, 51 (4th Cir. 1995); 8 JAMES W.
MOORE, MOORE’S FEDERAL PRACTICE – CIVIL § 41.34(2). A “voluntary
stipulation of dismissal under Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) … is immediately selfexecuting. No separate entry or order is required to effectuate the dismissal.”
State Nat’l Ins. Co. v. Cty. of Camden, 824 F.3d 399, 407 (3d Cir. 2016).
The Supreme Court, in Buckhannon Bd. and Care Home, Inc., et al. v. West
Virginia Dep’t of Health and Human Res., 532 U.S. 593 (2001), explained that “a
prevailing party is one who has been awarded some relief by the court.” Id. at 603.
The Court emphasized the need for a “judicial imprimatur” or “judicial relief.” Id.
at 605-06 (emphasis original). Thus, Buckhannon requires some role of the Court
in the resolution of an action in order to judicially determine who prevailed in that
action. “A defendant’s voluntary change in conduct, although perhaps
accomplishing what the plaintiff sought to achieve by lawsuit,” is not enough. Id.
at 605. Likewise, “[p]rivate settlements do not entail the judicial approval and
oversight involved in consent decrees” and are thus not sufficient. Id. at 604 n.7;
Smalley, 2017 WL 1092678 at *1.
While the Third Circuit Court of Appeals has not addressed whether a party
can be considered a “prevailing party” upon stipulating to a dismissal with
prejudice under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(a)(1)(A)(ii), several district
courts in this circuit have held that voluntary dismissals are not sufficient to confer
“prevailing-party” status because they do not require “judicial intervention or
relief.” Smalley, 2017 WL 1092678 at *2 (collecting cases). Moreover, while a
dismissal with “prejudice” under Rule 41(a)(1)(A)(ii) may effect a change in the
legal relationship of the parties, it is still insufficient to confer “prevailing-party”
status because it is not a “court-ordered change.” Bryant v. MV Transp., Inc., 231
F.R.D. 480, 481 (E.D. Va. 2005).
Here, the parties stipulated to dismiss this case. Their stipulation did not
require the Court’s approval. Once the stipulation was filed, the case ended. The
fact that the Court subsequently entered an order confirming the stipulation does
not change that. See Smalley, 2017 WL 1092678 at *3. Moreover, it did not alter
the legal relationship of the parties. Id. To the extent the parties’ legal relationship
has been altered, it was by their own agreement and not by any action of this
Court. Id.; Bryant, 231 F.R.D. at 482 n.5. “Because a stipulation of dismissal does
not result in a judgment or judicially sanctioned relief, on which Buckhannon
premises ‘prevailing party’ status, it follows that a defendant dismissed pursuant to
a stipulation of dismissal is not a ‘prevailing party.’” Malibu Media, 152 F. Supp.
3d at 501. Accordingly, Plaintiff cannot be considered a “prevailing party” in this
case and his Bill of Costs must be denied.
Moreover, the Court finds merit in Defendants’ argument that the
Agreement entered into between the parties “encompasses the sum total of the
consideration that Plaintiff is to receive.” (Doc. No. 42 at 2.) Specifically,
paragraph 1 of the Agreement provides:
In consideration of the parties’ agreement and obligation
contained in this Agreement, the Department agrees to
pay Barnes the sum of Two Thousand Five Hundred
Said monies represent the
liquidation in full, of all Barnes’ claims against the
Department, arising out of or related to the matters
described in the complaint at Docket No. 1:16-cv-00500
in the United States District Court for the Middle District
of Pennsylvania, including all claims for monetarily
compensable damages for emotional injury, physical
injury, medical injury and attendant pain and suffering,
and the liquidation in full of all claims for attorney
fees and costs resulting from this action. Barnes shall
receive no consideration other than that which the
Department has agreed to provide herein.
(Doc. No. 42 at 2; Ex. A at 1) (emphasis added).
Here, the Agreement specifically sets forth that the consideration includes
“all claims for attorney fees and costs resulting from this action.” (Id.)
Accordingly, the Court does not find that this Agreement is “silent on costs” as
averred by Plaintiff. (Doc. No. 44.) Consequently, Plaintiff has received all the
consideration he has agreed to and is not entitled to recover the amount of the
filings fees expended in initiating this matter.
For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiff’s Bill of Costs will be denied. An
appropriate Order follows.
s/Sylvia H. Rambo
SYLVIA H. RAMBO
United States District Judge
Dated: January 9, 2018
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