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Doe v. Rutherford County

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville Division

February 4, 2015

JANE DOE, JOHN and MARY DOE, Parents and Legal Guardians of the Minor Child, JUNE DOE; JOHN and MARY DOE, Parents and Legal Guardians of the Minor Child, SALLY DOE, Plaintiffs,
v.
RUTHERFORD COUNTY, TENNESSEE, BOARD OF EDUCATION, Defendant

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For Jane Doe, Mary Doe, Parent and Legal Guardian of the minor children, Sally and June Doe, John Doe, The legal parent and legal guardian of Sally and June Doe, Plaintiffs: Amy J. Farrar, LEAD ATTORNEY, Joshua A. Jenkins, Sonya Smith Wright, Hagan & Farrar, PLLC, Murfreesboro, TN; Kerry E. Knox, LEAD ATTORNEY, Castelli & Knox, LLP, Murfreesboro, TN.

For Rutherford County, Tennessee, Board of Education, Defendant: David Randall Mantooth, LEAD ATTORNEY, Leighann Davis Ness, Leitner, Williams, Dooley, and Napolitan (Nashville), Nashville, TN.

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MEMORANDUM

ALETA A. TRAUGER, United States District Judge.

Following a jury trial, the jury entered a verdict in favor of the defendant on all counts other than plaintiff Jane Doe's Title IX retaliation claim. Pending before the court are several post-trial motions and related requests for costs, including the plaintiffs' Motion for New Trial (Docket No. 202), the defendant's Post-Trial Motion for Costs (Docket No. 184), plaintiff Jane Doe's Motion for Attorney's Fees (Docket No. 197), Jane Doe's Bill of Costs (Docket No. 199), and the defendant's Bill of Costs (Docket No. 201). For the reasons stated herein, the various requests for fees and costs will be granted in part and denied in part, the court will award Jane Doe $3,105.53 in pre-offer of judgment fees and expenses and nominal damages,

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the court will award the defendant $12,289.65 in post-offer of judgment expenses against Jane Doe only, and the court will deny an award of costs to the defendant relative to June and Sally Doe.

BACKGROUND

I. The Parties, the Claims, and the Trial Verdict

This case involved claims by Jane Doe, June Doe, and Sally Doe (the " Doe Sisters" ). During the relevant time frame, the Doe Sisters were enrolled in, and played basketball for, Siegel High School (" SHS" ), a school overseen by the defendant, the Rutherford County Board of Education (the " RCBE" ).[1] The basic facts of this case are set forth in the court's August 18, 2014 Memorandum, familiarity with which is assumed. (Docket No. 117.)

Briefly, in their Second Amended Complaint (Docket No. 30), the Doe Sisters alleged that Allison Bush, whose father coaches SHS's basketball team, " goosed" them during practice,[2] that the school did not adequately respond when the Doe Sisters (via their parents) reported this activity to SHS and RCBE officials, and that the coach retaliated against the Doe Sisters for reporting the alleged sexual assaults. Each sister asserted a claim for discrimination and a claim for retaliation under Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1682.

On August 18, 2014, the court denied the defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Docket No. 118.) On September 30, 2014, a jury trial began on all six claims ( i.e., two per plaintiff). The jury began its deliberations on October 6, 2014. On October 7, 2014, the jury rendered a verdict, finding in favor of the defendant on all claims other than Jane Doe's Title IX retaliation claim. With respect to Jane Doe's retaliation claim, although the jury found the RCBE liable for retaliation, the jury awarded her only nominal damages of $1.00. The verdict form was docketed on October 8, 2014 (Docket No. 178), and the court entered the judgment on October 9, 2010. (Docket No. 180).[3]

II. Post-Trial Motions and Bills of Costs

A. Motion for New Trial

On November 5, 2014, the plaintiffs filed the instant Motion for New Trial under Rule 59 (Docket No. 202), in support of which they have filed a Memorandum of Law (Docket No. 203). The plaintiffs essentially assert three arguments: (1) the verdicts against Jane Doe (on her sexual harassment claim) and against Jane Doe and Sally Doe (on their sexual harassment and retaliation claims) were against the weight of the evidence; (2) it is " reasonably probable" that defense counsel's reference to evidence excluded by the court

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in his closing argument influenced the jury's verdict, and (3) the jury's award of nominal damages on Jane Doe's retaliation claim bears no relationship to the evidence.[4]

The defendant has filed a Response in opposition. (Docket No. 217.)

B. RCBE's Motion for Costs

On October 20, 2014, the RCBE filed a Motion for Costs (Docket No. 184), in support of which it has filed a Memorandum of Law (Docket No. 185), the Affidavit of D. Randall Mantooth (Docket No. 186) (attaching a 4/25/13 Rule 68 Offer of Judgment (Ex. 1) and a 5/13/13 Rule 68 Offer of Judgment (Ex. 2)), and an associated proposed Bill of Costs (Docket No. 189, Attach. No. 1).[5] In the motion, the RCBE demands an award of all compensable litigation costs under 28 U.S.C. § 1920 (which do not include attorney's fees) that it incurred after May 13, 2013, the date on which it served its second Rule 68 Offer of Judgment (the " Offer of Judgment" ) on the plaintiffs.[6] To keep the record clear, the court will generally refer to the RCBE's request for costs under § 1920 as its request for " post-offer expenses." In the motion, the RCBE also argues that, even though she is a " prevailing party" under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 (the applicable fee-shifting statute), Jane Doe is not entitled to any attorney's fees or litigation costs (as defined under § 1920) incurred after May 13, 2013 by operation of Rule 68. The court will refer to these types of charges as " pre-offer fees" and " pre-offer expenses." Finally, the RCBE argues that, regardless of the court's decision concerning the Rule 68 motion, Jane Doe is not entitled to recover any litigation expenses or fees (pre- or post-offer) because the verdict was only a " technical victory."

The plaintiffs have filed a Response in opposition to the defendant's Motion for Costs (Docket No. 190), in support of which they have filed a Memorandum of Law (Docket No. 191) and declarations from the Doe Sisters and their parents (Docket Nos. 192-195) attesting to their inability to pay any monetary award against them. Among other arguments, the plaintiffs contend that the Offer of Judgment was ambiguous ...


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