United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
DONALD KATZ and KAREN S. MARKEL, individually, Plaintiffs,
THE VILLAGE OF BEVERLY HILLS, CHRIS WILSON, DANIEL GOSSELIN, JEANNE BAKER and JOHN DOE, jointly and severally, Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR
ATTORNEY FEES AND COSTS AND SANCTIONS [ECF NO. 75.]
V. PARKER U.S. DISTRICT JUDGE
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. Presently before the Court is
Defendant's motion for attorney fees and costs and
sanctions. (ECF No. 75.) For the reasons that follow,
this Court is denying Defendant's motion.
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.)
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.)
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
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).
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).
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. Id.
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.
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
determining whether a plaintiff's claim is
“frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation,
” the Supreme Court in Christiansburg cautions