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Johnson v. Parkwood Behavioral Health System

United States District Court, Fifth Circuit

November 5, 2013



SHARION AYCOCK, District Judge.

The Court granted a Final Judgment on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment on April 30, 2013. Specifically, the Court found that Plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case of disability discrimination because she could not show a causal connection between her termination and her alleged disability. Moreover, the Court granted summary judgment on Plaintiff's Title VII retaliation claim as Plaintiff failed to engage in a protected activity.

Defendant filed its Bill of Costs [86] and a Motion for Attorneys' Fees [81]. Plaintiff has responded and contends attorneys' fees are not warranted and has also filed an Objection to the Bill of Costs. For the following reasons, the request for attorneys' fees is DENIED, while the Objection to the Bill of Costs is GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART:

Motion for Attorneys' Fees

Defendant seeks attorneys' fees in the amount of $101, 959.20 for work done between November 30, 2011, and March 31, 2013. Plaintiff contends that attorneys' fees are not appropriate under ADA and Title VII case law.

The ADA contains an attorney's fee provision:

In any action or administrative proceeding commenced pursuant to this chapter, the court or agency, in its discretion may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs, and the United States shall be liable for the foregoing the same as a private individual.

42 U.S.C. ยง 12205. Indeed, a prevailing defendant is entitled to recover attorney's fees if the court finds that the plaintiff's action was "frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation even though not brought in subjective bad faith." Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC , 434 U.S. 412, 421, 98 S.Ct. 694, 54 L.Ed.2d 648 (1978). In applying these criteria, however, "it is important that a district court resist the understandable temptation to engage in post hoc reasoning by concluding that, because a plaintiff did not ultimately prevail, h[er] action must have been unreasonable or without foundation." Id . at 421-22, 98 S.Ct. 694. The Supreme Court further enunciated:

No matter how honest one's belief that [s]he has been the victim of discrimination, no matter how meritorious one's claim may appear at the outset, the course of litigation is rarely predictable. Decisive facts may not emerge until discovery or trial. The law may change or clarify in the midst of litigation. Even when the law or the facts appear questionable or unfavorable at the outset, a party may have an entirely reasonable ground for bringing suit.

Id. at 422, 98 S.Ct. 694. Claims do not need to be "airtight" to avoid being frivolous, and courts must be careful not to use the benefit of perfect hindsight in assessing frivolous-ness. Id . at 421-22, 98 S.Ct. 694. Factors include "whether the plaintiff established a prima facie case, whether the defendant offered to settle, and whether the court held a full trial." Myers v. City of W. Monroe , 211 F.3d 289, 292 (5th Cir. 2000). These factors are "guideposts, " and frivolousness must be judged on a case-by-case basis. See Doe v. Silsbee Indep. Sch. Dist. , 440 F.Appx. 421, 425 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam). Where a claim is "so lacking in merit" as to render it groundless, it may be classified as frivolous. United States v. Mississippi , 921 F.2d 604, 609 (5th Cir. 1991).

The Court determined based on the proof put forth at the summary judgment stage that Plaintiff could not meet her prima facie burden of disability discrimination or Title VII retaliation. Plaintiff's claim for disability discrimination flowed from her assumption that Dr. Tejinder Saini, as her treating psychiatrist and the medical director at Parkwood, would have informed Defendant of her bipolar condition at the time she was hired. Dr. Saini's deposition could not be arranged until February 5, 2013, at which time he averred that he had not discussed Plaintiff's bipolar diagnosis with Parkwood. Defendant filed its Motion for Summary Judgment in March of 2013. Plaintiff was unable to put forth proof that her alleged disability had any causal connection with her termination, and the Court granted the motion in April.

Based on a review of the record in this case, the Court cannot say that Plaintiff's claims were "so lacking in merit" as to render it groundless, despite the later dismissal of her action. Accordingly, attorneys' fees for the prevailing Defendant in this cause is not appropriate.

Objection to Bill of Costs

Plaintiff objects to Defendant's Bill of Costs submitted on the basis that $300.00 in mediation fees is not recoverable and $3, 075.67 ...

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