United States District Court, E.D. Michigan, Southern Division
MICHIGAN STATE A. PHILIP RANDOLPH INSTITUTE, ET AL., Plaintiffs,
RUTH A. JOHNSON, Defendant.
K. Majzoub, United States Magistrate Judge.
OPINIONAND ORDER GRANTINGPLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR
ATTORNEYS' FEESANDCOSTS [#169]INPART
Gershwin A. Drain, United States District Court Judge.
before the Court is Plaintiffs Michigan State A. Philip
Randolph Institute, Mary Lansdown, Erin Comartin, Dion
Williams, and Common Cause's Motion for Attorneys'
Fees and Costs. Dkt. No. 169. For the reasons set forth
below, the Court will GRANT the Motion IN PART [#169] and
award attorneys' fees and costs in the amount of $530,
initiated this suit against Michigan Secretary of State Ruth
A. Johnson (“Defendant”) on May 24, 2016,
challenging the constitutionality of Public Act 268, which
eliminated straight-ticket voting in Michigan. Dkt. No. 1. On
July 22, 2016, the Court granted Plaintiffs' Motion for a
Preliminary Injunction, thereby enjoining the statute from
going into effect. Dkt. No. 25. As a result, straight-ticket
voting remained available for both the November 2016 General
Election and the November 2017 Odd-Year Election.
See Dkt. No. 172, p. 5 (Pg. ID 4969).
August 1, 2018, after conducting a bench trial, the Court
entered a Judgment in favor of Plaintiffs and granted their
request for a permanent injunction. Dkt. No. 151; Dkt. No.
152. Defendant appealed, and on September 5, 2018, the Sixth
Circuit issued a stay of that injunction. Dkt. No. 161.
Consequently, Public Act 268 was operative for the November
2018 General Election. Dkt. No. 172, p. 6 (Pg. ID 4970).
the 2018 General Election, Michigan voters passed Proposal
18-3, which amended the Michigan Constitution to preserve
straight-ticket voting. Id. Because of the
amendment, this case became moot on appeal, and the Sixth
Circuit entered an order directing the Court to vacate
judgment and dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint on remand.
Dkt. No. 163.
Plaintiffs bring the instant Motion, arguing they are
entitled to $1, 149, 041.25 in attorneys' fees and costs
pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and 52 U.S.C. §
10310(e) because they obtained a favorable judgment in the
district court that was never reversed on the merits. Dkt.
Plaintiffs are the Prevailing Party with Respect to the
Court's Order Granting a Preliminary Injunction.
42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), the ‘prevailing party' in
an action to enforce civil rights under § 1983 may
recover ‘a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the
costs' of litigation.” Green Party of Tenn. v.
Hargett, 767 F.3d 533, 552 (6th Cir. 2014) (quoting
Hescott v. City of Saginaw, 757 F.3d 518, 2014 WL
2959289, at *3 (6th Cir. 2014)). “To be considered a
prevailing party, a litigant must have ‘receive[d] at
least some relief on the merits of his claim' amounting
to a ‘court-ordered change in the legal relationship
between the plaintiff and the defendant.'”
Id. (quoting Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home,
Inc. v. W.Va. Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532
U.S. 598, 603-04 (2001)). “Absent a direct benefit, the
plaintiff achieves only a symbolic victory, which §
1988(b) does not compensate.” McQueary v.
Conway, 614 F.3d 591, 598 (6th Cir. 2010).
certain contexts, the attainment of a preliminary injunction
can serve as a basis for prevailing party status. See
McQueary, 614 F.3d at 600. Courts are thus instructed to
exercise their discretion and undertake a case-specific
factual inquiry. Id. at 604. Generally, “there
is only prevailing party status if the [preliminary]
injunction represents an unambiguous indication of probable
success on the merits, and not merely a maintenance of the
status quo ordered because the balance of the equities
greatly favors the plaintiff.” Dubuc v. Green Oak
Twp., 312 F.3d 736, 753 (6th Cir. 2002) (internal
quotations omitted). Additionally, where a claimant wins a
preliminary injunction, and nothing more, a request for
attorney's fees should typically be denied. See
McQueary, 614 F.3d at 604; see also Sole v.
Wyner, 551 U.S. 74, 86 (2007) (“We decide only
that a plaintiff who gains a preliminary injunction does not
qualify for an award of counsel fees under § 1988(b) if
the merits of the case are ultimately decided against
the Court finds that Plaintiffs are entitled to
attorneys' fees in connection with their request for a
preliminary injunction. The Court granted Plaintiffs'
request for a preliminary injunction on July 22, 2016. Dkt.
No. 25. As a result, Defendant was precluded from enforcing
Public Act 268 during two election cycles: the November 2016
General Election and the November 2017 Odd-Year Election.
Furthermore, the preliminary injunction was predicated on the
likelihood that Plaintiffs would succeed on the merits of
their claims, and not just on maintaining the status quo.
See id.; Dubuc, 312 F.3d at 753.
the preliminary injunction, Plaintiffs went on to win on the
merits of their claims, obtaining both a favorable Judgment
and an Order permanently enjoining Public Act 268.
See Dkt. No. 151; Dkt. No. 152. Although the Sixth
Circuit stayed the permanent injunction, and later dismissed
the case on appeal as moot, this Court's decision was
never reversed on the merits. Hence, this is not a case where
Plaintiffs obtained a preliminary injunction, only to receive
an unfavorable outcome in the end. Cf. Sole, 551
U.S. at 83 (“Prevailing party status, we hold, does not
attend achievement of a preliminary injunction that is
reversed, dissolved, or otherwise undone by the final
decision in the same case.”). Nor is this a case where
Plaintiffs obtained a preliminary injunction, and nothing
more. See McQueary, 614 F.3d at 604. Accordingly,
Plaintiffs are the prevailing party with respect to the
Court's Order granting a preliminary injunction.
Plaintiffs are not the Prevailing Party with Respect to the
Court's Order Granting a Permanent Injunction.
Plaintiffs were the prevailing party with respect to the
Court's Order granting a preliminary injunction, the same
cannot be said regarding the Order granting a permanent
to achieve prevailing party status, a litigant must receive
at least some relief on the merits of his claim.
Hargett, 767 F.3d at 552. “If the court of
appeals reverses on the merits of the underlying claims, the
formerly prevailing party no longer prevails and is no longer
entitled to fees.” Id. But “if the
reversal is not on the merits, it does not necessarily upset
the prevailing party's status.” Id.
“When plaintiffs clearly succeeded in obtaining the
relief sought before the district court and an intervening
event rendered the case moot on appeal, plaintiffs are still
prevailing parties for the purposes of attorney's fees
for the district court litigation.” Id.
(quoting Diffenderfer v. Gomez-Colon, 587 F.3d 445,
454 (1st Cir. 2009)).
it is undisputed that Plaintiffs obtained the relief that
they sought from this Court. Indeed, the Court entered a
Judgment in their favor and granted their request to
permanently enjoin Public Act 268. The Sixth Circuit did not
reverse this decision on the merits; rather, an intervening
event, the passage of Proposal 18-3, rendered the case moot
on appeal. Under these facts, Plaintiffs would be considered
the prevailing party for purposes of attorneys' fees.
concedes that, in theory, this is the correct conclusion.
See Dkt. No. 172, p. 12 (Pg. ID 4976)
(“Defendants [sic] agree, generally, that a dismissal
on mootness grounds based on a statutory change (or in this
case constitutional amendment) and a vacatur of the district
court order do not, in and of themselves, negate a
party's status as a prevailing party.”). However,
Defendant contends that the Sixth Circuit's stay of the
permanent injunction alters the prevailing party analysis
because the stay prevented any court-ordered change in the
parties' legal relationship from materializing. See
Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12 (1992) (“[A]
plaintiff ‘prevails' when actual relief on the
merits of his claim materially alters the legal relationship
between the parties by modifying the defendant's behavior
in a way that directly benefits the plaintiff.”).
Although it does not appear that the Sixth Circuit has ever
addressed this issue, Defendant presents two out-of-circuit
cases in support.
first cites to UFO Chuting of Hawaii, Inc. v. Smith,
where the Ninth Circuit held that plaintiffs were not the
prevailing party under § 1988 despite having initially
obtained a final judgment and a permanent injunction. 508
F.3d 1189, 1198 (9th Cir. 2007). In that case, plaintiffs
filed suit challenging whether a Hawaii statute prohibiting
parasailing activity from December 15 to May 15 of each year
was pre-empted by federal law. Id. at 1191. The
district court held that it was, and permanently enjoined the
the President signed into law a bill permitting Hawaii to
enforce that very statute. Id. at 1192. Immediately
after, the state filed a motion to stay the permanent
injunction and vacate the judgment. Id. On December
13 of that year, two days before the permanent injunction was
set to go into effect, the district court granted both
motions and entered summary judgment in favor of the state.
Id. The district court also denied plaintiffs'
motion for attorney's fees, reasoning that plaintiffs
were not the prevailing party because the permanent
injunction was never implemented, and therefore, plaintiffs
never received its benefit. Id. The Ninth Circuit
affirmed that decision on the same grounds. Id. at