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Oregon Advocacy Center v. Allen

United States District Court, D. Oregon

October 28, 2019

OREGON ADVOCACY CENTER, [1] et al., Plaintiffs,
PATRICK ALLEN, et al., Defendants.


          MICHAEL W. MOSMAN, Chief United States District Judge

         Plaintiffs Disability Rights Oregon (DRO) and Metropolitan Public Defender (MPD) seek a modification of the injunction in this case to allow for monitoring of Defendants, a status hearing in six months on Defendants' continued compliance with the injunction, and a designation of prevailing party status under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. [134 and 140], As discussed below, I DENY Plaintiffs' requests.


         I. The Injunction and Plaintiffs' Motions for Contempt

         In 2002, Judge Panner issued an injunction requiring Defendants to transport criminal defendants designated unfit under ORS 161.370 to the Oregon State Hospital within seven days of the order declaring the defendant unfit. [47]. He did not assign Plaintiffs to monitor Defendants' compliance with the Order. Id. Defendants complied with the injunction for sixteen years but fell out of compliance in October 2018. [140 at 3]. The noncompliance lasted until July 25, 2019, a period of about nine months. [144 at 3]. In May 2019, Plaintiffs filed Motions [85 and 91] for contempt. After the June 11, 2019, hearing on those motions, I declined to make a finding of contempt. [127]. Because Defendants remained out of compliance at the June hearing, I set a compliance hearing for ninety-days out on September 12, 2019. Id.

         II. Plaintiffs' Requests for Modification of the Injunction and to be Declared the Prevailing Party in their Contempt Motions

         On August 23, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a Brief for the Compliance Hearing (compliance hearing brief) [134] that requested I: (1) consider modifying the Order [47] granting injunctive relief in this case to allow for monitoring of Defendants by the Court and by Plaintiffs [134 at 3-4, 5, 7]; (2) set a status hearing in six months to determine whether Senate Bills 24 and 25 undermined Defendants' compliance with the injunction and pretrial detainees' constitutional rights Id; and (3) declare them the "prevailing party under [42] U.S.C. § 1988 so that they may seek an award of attorney fees and costs." [Id. at 7].

         In support of the request to modify and set a hearing in six months, Plaintiffs asserted that Defendants' several months of noncompliance warrants monitoring and that new legislation, Senate Bills (SB) 24 and 25 will likely result in continued violation of the injunctions. Plaintiffs argued that SB 24 requires diversion to community restoration programs that do not yet exist. [134 at 6]. Plaintiffs argued they met section 1988's definition of prevailing party despite no finding of contempt because Defendants only began to reduce the wait list for admission to the state hospital in May 2019, after Plaintiffs filed their contempt Motions. Id. According to Plaintiffs, I could "reasonably attribute the state's response as at least partially prompted by the contempt action" and declare them the prevailing parties under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Id. (emphasis added). Defendants filed a two-page response that addressed only Plaintiffs' request to be declared the prevailing party. [137].

         During the September 12, 2019, compliance hearing, Plaintiffs relied on their argument that their motivation of Defendants' conformity to the injunction warranted prevailing party status. [143 at 5:16-6:13]. They also, for the first time, asserted that their efforts to enforce the injunction-their "monitoring" work-entitled them to fees. To give the parties a chance to brief Plaintiffs new argument for fees, I took the Plaintiffs' monitoring, six-month status hearing, and prevailing party requests under advisement and allowed supplemental briefing on the attorney fees issue.


         I. Plaintiffs' Request for Prevailing Party Status

         To be entitled to prevailing party fees under section 1988, a party must have "succeed[ed] on any significant issue in litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in bringing the suit." Hensley v. Eckerharhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983) (citations omitted). In cases where a party previously prevailed, fees may, under certain circumstances, be allowed for efforts leading to a motion that was denied. Balla v. Idaho, 677 F.3d 910, 916 (2012). Generally, however, for trial court to act within its discretion in awarding a party fees for a lost motion, the motion must have been the catalyst in achieving the benefit the motion sought. Id., Here, the parties agree that Plaintiffs were the original prevailing parties in this action. They disagree about whether Plaintiffs actions-either their "post-judgment monitoring" or filing the contempt Motions-catalyzed Defendants to conform with the injunction in July 2019.

         In their supplemental briefing, Plaintiffs make a conclusory argument that their "post-judgment monitoring" is compensable because it forced Defendants' back into compliance with the injunction. As noted above, Judge Panner did not charge Plaintiffs with monitoring Defendants' compliance with the injunction. Despite this, however, plaintiff DRO asserts that it "performed monitoring for sixteen years with no petition for fees." [140 at 9]. Plaintiff MPD does not assert that it performed any monitoring over the past sixteen years but does assert that it "similarly made extensive efforts to force Defendants into compliance." [140 at 9].

         The cases cited by Plaintiffs in their supplemental briefing generally support the proposition that reasonable monitoring of a court's decrees to insure compliance and that the court's plan is working is compensable. See, e.g. Northcross v. Bd. of Ed. of Memphis City Sch, 611 F.2d 624, 637 (1979) (overruled on other grounds) (providing guidance to the district court on remand that "services devoted to reasonable monitoring of the court's decrees, both to insure full compliance and to ensure that the plan is indeed working ... are compensable services"); Garrity v. Sununu,752 F.2d 727, 738 (1st Cir. 1984) (finding the district court did not ...

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