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Bristol v. Peters

United States District Court, D. Oregon

March 8, 2019

COLETTE S. PETERS, BRAD CAIN, MELISSA NOFZIGER, DAWN MEYER, SAM M. HAGY, JOHN DOES, each sued in their individual and official capacities, Defendants.



         Plaintiff John Thomas Bristol (“Bristol”) brought this action against five Oregon Department of Corrections (“ODOC”) employees (“Defendants”). (ECF No. 1.) Pending before the Court is Bristol's Motion for Attorney's Fees (ECF No. 37), and Bill of Costs (ECF No. 46). Bristol requests an award of attorney's fees in the amount of $71, 700, as well as $1, 285.37 in costs. Defendants oppose the motion. (ECF No. 43.) For the following reasons, the Court grants Bristol's motion in part, and awards Bristol attorney's fees in the amount of $71, 340 and costs in the amount of $400, for a total award of $71, 740.


         This Court's November 27, 2018, Opinion and Order contains a detailed account of the background facts. (ECF No. 34.) Briefly, Bristol filed a complaint against Defendants under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging violations of his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights arising from the revocation of Bristol's transitional leave status without first providing the protections set forth in Morrissey v. Brewer, 408 U.S. 471 (1972). (ECF No. 1.) Bristol sought declaratory relief, injunctive relief, and damages. (Compl. at 15-16.)

         The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment. (ECF Nos. 19, 22.) On November 27, 2018, the Court ordered Defendants to vacate the Disciplinary Order Bristol received on September 9, 2016 because it violated Bristol's right to due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. (ECF No. 34.) The Court also found that qualified immunity protected Defendants from Bristol's claim for civil damages. (ECF No. 34.) This motion followed. (ECF No. 37.)



         A. Legal Standard

         Bristol seeks attorney's fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Section 1988 “allows the award of a reasonable attorney's fee to the prevailing party in various kinds of civil rights cases, including suits brought under § 1983.” Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 832-33 (2011). Under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, courts must “compensate the plaintiff for the time his attorney reasonably spent in achieving the favorable outcome, even if the plaintiff failed to prevail on every contention.” Id. at 834 (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         The calculation of a reasonable fee award begins with calculating the lodestar figure, by multiplying the number of hours reasonably expended on the litigation by a reasonable hourly rate. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). “The fee applicant bears the burden of documenting the appropriate hours expended in the litigation and must submit evidence in support of those hours worked.” Gates v. Deukmejian, 987 F.2d 1392, 1397 (9th Cir. 1993). To determine the lodestar figure, courts consider the factors set forth in Kerr v. Screen Extras Guild, Inc., 526 F.2d 67, 70 (9th Cir. 1975). These factors include the novelty or difficulty of the case, the preclusion of other employment, time limitations, the amount at stake, the results obtained, and the undesirability of the case. Id.

         The Court must review the requested fee award for reasonableness, even if no objection has been raised to the number of hours billed or the hourly rate applied. Gates, 987 F.2d at 1401 (finding that the “district court [is] required to independently review plaintiffs' fee request even absent defense objections”). The Court has “considerable discretion” in determining the reasonableness of a fee award. Webb v. Ada Cty., Idaho, 195 F.3d 524, 526 (9th Cir. 1999).

         B. Analysis

         1. Qualified Immunity

         Defendants ask the Court to deny Bristol's motion for attorney's fees because a plaintiff may not recover attorney's fees from defendants protected by qualified immunity. (Defs.' Opp'n at 2.) The Court disagrees.

         It is well settled that qualified immunity or good faith does not bar an award of attorney's fees when the plaintiff sues government officials in their official capacities. See Ky. v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 166-67 (1985) (noting that “an official in a personal-capacity action may . . . be able to assert personal immunity defenses” but that “these defenses are unavailable” in an official-capacity action); see also Seattle Sch. Dist. No. 1 v. State of Wash., 633 F.2d 1338, 1349 (9th Cir. 1980) (“While the absence of bad motives precludes an award against named defendants in their individual capacities, . . . it does not bar an award against the state or named individuals in their official capacities.”); Williams v. Alioto, 625 F.2d 845, 848 (9th Cir. 1980) (“Because appellants were sued in their official capacities, their good faith does not bar an award of attorney's fees, as it would were the award to be paid by the officials.”); cf. D'Aguanno v. Gallagher, 50 F.3d 877, 882 (11th Cir. 1995) (“Congress did not foresee or require the award of fees against government officers, sued in their individual capacity, when the officers avoided acting in bad faith.”) (emphasis added).

         2. Official Capacity

         Defendants argue that the fee award will fall to the Defendants in their individual capacities because Bristol failed to name a governmental entity as a defendant or to establish that Defendants' unconstitutional acts were guided by an official policy or custom, and therefore this case does not ...

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