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Stilwells v. City of Williams

United States District Court, D. Arizona

April 25, 2014

RONNIE D. STILWELL and COURTNEY STILWELL, Plaintiffs,
v.
CITY OF WILLIAMS, et al., Defendants.

ORDER

RUSSEL HOLLAND, District judge.

Motion for Award of Attorneys' Fees and Related Costs

Defendants move for an award of attorneys' fees and related costs.[1] This motion is opposed.[2] Oral argument has not been requested and is not deemed necessary.

Background

Plaintiffs are Ronnie D. and Courtney Stilwell. Defendants are the City of Williams; Joseph and Lyda Duffy; Raymond Glenn and Elsie Cornwell; Billy and Bessie Pruett; and Kathy and Tracy Fuller.

Mr. Stilwell was employed as the City's Water Superintendent until he was terminated on January 5, 2011. In their amended complaint, [3] plaintiffs asserted the following claims: 1) an ADEA retaliation claim against the City, Duffy, and Cornwell; 2) an equal protection § 1983 claim against all defendants; 3) a First Amendment § 1983 retaliation claim against all defendants; 4) a 14th Amendment due process § 1983 claim against all defendants; 5) a common law wrongful discharge claim against the City, Duffy, and Cornwell; 6) a wrongful discharge claim under A.R.S. § 23-1501(3)(d) against the City, Duffy, and Cornwell; 7) a breach of contract claim against the City; 8) a breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim against the City; 9) an intentional interference with contract claim against Duffy and Cornwell; 10) an intentional infliction of emotional distress claim against all defendants; 11) a negligent infliction of emotional distress claim against all defendants; 12) a slander and/or libel claim against the City and Duffy; 13) a slander and/or libel claim against the City, Duffy, and Cornwell based on alleged statements made to Mr. Stilwell's prospective employers; 14) a slander claim against Fuller; 15) a libel claim against all defendants; and 16) a false light invasion of privacy claim against all defendants.

Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment on their due process § 1983 claim, their A.R.S. § 23-1501(3)(d) wrongful discharge claim, their breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing claim, and their intentional interference with contract claim against Duffy. Defendants cross-moved for summary judgment on all of plaintiffs' claims. During the pendency of the cross-motions for summary judgment, plaintiffs withdrew their second, twelfth, and thirteen claims for relief.[4]

On March 5, 2014, the court granted summary judgment to defendants[5] and the judgment dismissing plaintiffs' amended complaint was entered the same day.[6]

Pursuant to Local Rule 54.2, defendants now move for an award of attorneys' fees and related costs.[7] Defendants seek $147, 263.25 in fees and $9, 318.79 in costs.[8]

Discussion

There is no dispute that defendants are the prevailing parties in this matter. The issue here is whether as the prevailing parties, defendants are entitled to an award of some or all of their attorneys' fees and related costs.

Defendants first argue that they are entitled to attorneys' fees for their defense of plaintiffs' ADEA retaliation claim. "The ADEA does not expressly provide for the award of attorney's fees. Instead, the ADEA incorporates the remedial provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act...." Richardson v. Alaska Airlines, Inc. , 750 F.2d 763, 765 (9th Cir. 1984). "The FLSA's fee-shifting provision refers only to a prevailing plaintiff and says nothing of a prevailing defendant." Mach v. Will County Sheriff , 580 F.3d 495, 501 (7th Cir. 2009) (internal citation omitted). But, "the ADEA's remedial scheme does not preclude application of the common law rule that a prevailing defendant may obtain attorneys' fees if the plaintiff litigated in bad faith." Id . "A finding of bad faith is warranted where an attorney knowingly or recklessly raises a frivolous argument, or argues a meritorious claim for the purpose of harassing an opponent.'" Primus Automotive Financial Services, Inc. v. Batarse , 115 F.3d 644, 649 (9th Cir. 1997) (quoting In re Keegan , 78 F.3d 431, 436 (9th Cir. 1996)). "A party also demonstrates bad faith by delaying or disrupting the litigation or hampering enforcement of a court order.'" Id . (quoting Hutto v. Finney , 437 U.S. 678, 689 n.14 (1978)). "An award of attorneys' fees for bad faith is punitive and the penalty can be imposed only in exceptional cases and for dominating reasons of justice.'" Dogherra v. Safeway Stores, Inc. , 679 F.2d 1293, 1298 (9th Cir. 1982) (quoting United States v. Standard Oil Co. , 603 F.2d 100, 103 (9th Cir. 1979)).

Plaintiffs' ADEA retaliation claim against the City was not frivolous or pursued to harass defendants or delay this litigation. Although the court found that plaintiffs could not establish causation as to this claim, plaintiffs' argument that Mr. Stilwell's termination was the end result of a 15-month campaign of harassment by defendant Duffy was not frivolous. And although plaintiffs' ADEA retaliation claim against Duffy and Cornwell failed as a matter of law, the fact that plaintiffs pursued this claim did not delay the litigation and required little, if any, additional work for defense counsel. Because plaintiffs' did not litigate their ADEA retaliation claim in bad faith, defendants are not entitled to attorneys' fees and related costs for their defense of this claim.

Defendants next argue that they are entitled to attorneys' fees for their defense of plaintiffs' § 1983 claims (claims 2, 3, and 4). Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), "a prevailing defendant" in a § 1983 case "may only recover fees in exceptional circumstances' where the court finds that the plaintiff's claims are frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless.'" Braunstein v. Ariz. Dep't of Transp. , 683 F.3d 1177, ...


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