United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Columbia Division
NEWBERN MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
WILLIAM L. CAMPBELL, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
before the Court are Defendants' Motion for Costs
Including Attorneys' Fees (Doc. No. 101); Plaintiff's
Motion for Attorneys' Fees, Costs, and Expenses (Doc. No.
105); and Defendants' Motion Objecting to and Seeking
Review of Clerk's Taxation of Costs (Doc. No. 112).
reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's Motion for
Attorneys' Fees, Costs, and Expenses (Doc. No. 105) is
GRANTED in part, and DENIED
in part. The Court awards Plaintiff attorneys' fees in
the amount of $ 75, 000 and approves the Clerk's taxation
of costs in the amount of $4782.51. Defendants' Motion
for Costs Including Attorneys' Fees (Doc. No. 101) and
Motion Objecting to and Seeking Review of Clerk's
Taxation of Costs (Doc. No. 112) are DENIED.
brought this action against Defendants Marshall County Board
of Education and Jackie Abernathy, Director of Marshall
County Schools, for deprivation of her Fourth Amendment right
to be free from unreasonable searches arising out of two
separate actions -- compelling Plaintiff to take two drug
tests and requiring her to disclose her prescription
medication. (Doc. No. 18). Plaintiff also claimed Defendants
suspended her in violation of her Fourteenth Amendment right
to due process, and in violation of the Americans With
Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Tenured Teacher
Act (“TTA”). (Id.)
to trial, Defendants moved for summary judgment on all
Plaintiff's claims except the Fourth Amendment compelled
drug tests claim. (Doc. No. 38). Judge Waverly D. Crenshaw,
Jr. granted summary judgment on the individual capacity
claims against Defendant Abernathy under the ADA and the TTA,
and denied the motion in all other respects. (Doc. Nos. 59,
60), The case was subsequently transferred to the undersigned
Judge. (Doc. No. 64).
trial in this case began on December 11, 2018 and lasted four
days. (Doc. Nos. 95, 96). On the first day of trial,
Plaintiff voluntarily dismissed her Fourteenth Amendment
claim. After both sides presented their evidence, Defendants
moved for judgment as a matter of law under Rule 50 of the
Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. The Court denied the
motion. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Plaintiff on
the Fourth Amendment compelled drug tests claim, and on her
claim she was suspended in violation of the TTA. (Doc. No.
96). The jury found in favor of Defendants on the Fourth
Amendment claim relating to the disclosure of Plaintiff's
prescription medication, and on her ADA claim. (Id.)
The jury awarded Plaintiff one dollar on the Fourth Amendment
drug tests claim, and $3, 640 on the TTA claim.
Defendants' Request for Attorneys' Fees
seek attorneys' fees and expenses as the prevailing party
on Plaintiff's ADA claim. Defendants base their claim for
fees on the provisions of 42 U.S.C. §§ 12005,
12117, and 2000e-5(k). “[W]hile prevailing plaintiffs are
entitled to attorney's fees under [the Civil Rights Act]
in all but special circumstances, prevailing defendants are
entitled to attorney's fees much less frequently.”
Smith v. Smythe-Cramer Co., 754 F.2d 180, 182 (6th
Cir. 1985) (citing Christiansburg Garment Co. v.
EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 417-18 (1978)). “[A] district
court may in its discretion award attorney's fees to a
prevailing defendant in a Title VII case upon a finding that
the plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable, or
without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad
faith.” Id.; see also Green v. City of
Southfield, Michigan, 2019 WL 1716007, at *1 (6th Cir.
Apr. 16, 2019); Hescott v. City of Saginaw, 757 F.3d
518, 529 (6th Cir. 2014). “[A] plaintiff may
have an entirely reasonable ground for bringing suit even
when the law or facts appear questionable or unfavorable at
the outset.” Id. “Therefore, a plaintiff
should not be assessed his opponent's attorney's fees
unless the court finds the claim was groundless at the outset
or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly
became so.” Id. An award of attorney's
fees against a losing plaintiff in a civil rights action is
“an extreme sanction, and must be limited to truly
egregious cases of misconduct.” Id.
argue they should recover one-third of their attorneys'
fees because they prevailed on Plaintiff's ADA claim.
Defendants contend Plaintiff's ADA claim was frivolous
because she was not able to show the elements of a prima
facie case at trial, and because Judge Crenshaw came
very close to dismissing the ADA claim prior to trial.
Plaintiff argues her ADA claim was not frivolous, and points
out Defendants' unsuccessful efforts to dismiss the claim
through a motion for summary judgment and a motion for
judgment as a matter of law at the close of proof at trial.
Court finds Defendants are not entitled to an award of
attorney fees because the ADA claim was not frivolous or
groundless. See Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC,
434 U.S. 412, 417-18 (1978). Awarding fees to Defendants in
this case would run counter to the concerns raised by the
Supreme Court in Christianburg that district courts
“resist the understandable temptation to engage in
post hoc reasoning by concluding that, because a
plaintiff did not ultimately prevail, his actions must have
been unreasonable or without foundation.” 434 U.S. at
421-22. Here, although she did not prevail, Plaintiff
presented sufficient evidence to defeat Defendants'
motion for summary judgment and to defeat Defendants'
motion for judgment as a matter of law at the close of proof.
As the Court said in denying the latter motion, a reasonable
jury could have found in favor of Plaintiff on that claim. As
such, based on the high standard for awarding attorneys'
fees to prevailing defendants in discrimination cases, the
Court finds Defendants are not entitled to attorneys'
Plaintiff's Request for Attorneys' Fees
her Motion, Plaintiff requests attorneys' fees under 42
U.S.C. Section 1988 as the prevailing party on her Fourth
Amendment compelled drug tests claim. Section 1988 provides:
“In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of
[section 1983], the court, in its discretion, may allow the
prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable
attorney's fee as part of the costs. . .” The
purpose for fee-shifting in civil rights cases is to
encourage the private enforcement of civil rights:
When a plaintiff succeeds in remedying a civil rights
violation, we have stated, he serves ‘as a
“private attorney general, vindicating a policy that
Congress considered of the highest priority.' Newman
v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 390 U.S. 400, 402, 88
S.Ct. 964, 19 L.Ed.2d 1263 (1968) (per curiam). He
therefore ‘should ordinarily recover an attorney's
fee' from the defendant-the party whose misconduct
created the need for legal action. Christiansburg Garment
Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 416, 98 S.Ct. 694, 54 L.Ed.2d
648 (1978) (internal quotation marks omitted). Fee-shifting
in such a case at once reimburses a plaintiff for ‘what
it cos[t][him] to vindicate [civil] rights,'
Riverside v. Rivera, 477 U.S. 561, 577- 578, 106
S.Ct. 2686, 91 L.Ed.2d 466 (1986) (internal quotation marks
omitted), and holds to account ‘a violator of federal
law,' Christiansburg, 434 U.S., at 418, 98 S.Ct.
Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 833, 131 S.Ct. 2205, 180
L.Ed.2d 45 (2011).
plaintiff in a civil rights case need not succeed on every
claim in order to be considered a prevailing party. Green
Party of Tennessee v. Hargett, 767 F.3d 533, 552
(6th Cir. 2014). “Success on a single claim
is sufficient to become a prevailing party.”
Id. The Sixth Circuit has explained that a plaintiff
“crosses the threshold to ‘prevailing party'
status by succeeding on a single claim, even if he loses on
several others and even if that limited success does not
grant him the ‘primary relief' he sought.”
McQueary v. Conway, 614 F.3d 591, 603 (6th Cir.
2010) (citing Tex. State Teachers Ass'n v. Garland
Indep. Sch. Dist., 489 U.S. 782, 790-91, 109 S.Ct. 1486,
103 L.Ed.2d 866 (1989) and Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S.
103, 111, 113 S.Ct. 566, 575, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992)). The
Sixth Circuit has found a plaintiff to be a prevailing party
“even where twelve of his fourteen claims were
dismissed.” Woods v. Willis, 631 Fed.Appx.
359, 364 (6th Cir. 2015) (citing Berger v. City of
Mayfield Heights, 265 F.3d 399, 406 (6th Cir.2001)). A
plaintiff who wins nominal damages only is a prevailing party
under Section 1988. Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. at
115- 16. “The significance of the relief obtained goes
only to the amount of fees.” Id.
the plaintiff's unmeritorious claims are based on
different facts and legal theories than the meritorious
claims, “a court must treat them ‘as if they had
been raised in separate lawsuits, and therefore no fee may be
awarded for services on the unsuccessful
claim[s].'” Green Party., 767 F.3d at
552-53 (quoting Tex. State Teachers Ass'n, 489
U.S. at 789). Where the plaintiff's meritorious and
unmeritorious claims “'arise out of a common core
of facts, and involve related legal theories, '”
however, “a court should not exempt from its fee award
the hours spent on the claims that did not succeed.”
Id., at 553. In that case, however, the court should
consider, “as its ultimate guide, ‘the degree of
success obtained.'” Id.
jury ruled in favor of Plaintiff with regard to her Fourth
Amendment claim involving the two compelled drug tests, and
therefore, she is the “prevailing party” for
purposes of Section 1988. In addition, Defendants do not
appear to dispute that Plaintiff's Fourth Amendment claim
arose out of a common core of facts and related legal
theories as her other unmeritorious claims.
on Farrar v. Hobby, supra, Defendants argue
Plaintiff is not entitled to any attorneys' fees,
however, because she was awarded only nominal damages on her
Fourth Amendment claim. In Farrar, the Supreme Court
reversed an award of attorneys' fees to a plaintiff who
had filed suit demanding $17 million from six defendants, and
after 10 years of litigation, received only one dollar from
one defendant. The Court held that, even though the plaintiff
was a prevailing party, he did not deserve an award of
In some circumstances, even a plaintiff who formally
‘prevails' under § 1988 should receive no
attorney's fees at all. A plaintiff who seeks
compensatory damages but receives no more than nominal
damages is often such a prevailing party. As we have held, a
nominal damages award does render a plaintiff a prevailing
party by allowing him to vindicate his “absolute”
right to procedural due process through enforcement of a
judgment against the defendant. Carey, 435 U.S., at
266, 98 S.Ct., at 1053. In a civil rights suit for damages,
however, the awarding of nominal damages also highlights the
plaintiff's failure to prove actual, compensable injury.
Id., at 254-264, 98 S.Ct., at 1047-1052. Whatever
the constitutional basis for substantive liability, damages
awarded in a § 1983 action ‘must always be
designed “to compensate injuries caused by the
[constitutional] deprivation.'” Memphis
Community School Dist. v. Stachura, 477 U.S., at 309,
106 S.Ct., at 2544 (quoting Carey, supra, 435 U.S.,
at 265, 98 S.Ct., at 1053) (emphasis and brackets in
original). When a plaintiff recovers only nominal damages
because of his failure to prove an essential element of his
claim for monetary relief, see Carey, supra, at
256-257, 264, 98 S.Ct., at 1048-1049, 1052, the only
reasonable fee is usually no fee at all. In an apparent
failure to heed our admonition that fee awards under §
1988 were never intended to ‘produce windfalls to
attorneys,' Riverside v. Rivera, ...