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Lynam v. Bishop State Community College

United States District Court, S.D. Alabama, Southern Division

April 5, 2017

JOHN LYNAM, Plaintiff,
v.
BISHOP STATE COMMUNITY COLLEGE, and ALABAMA COMMUNITY COLLEGE SYSTEM, Defendants.

          ORDER

          CALLIE V. S. GRANADE SENIOR UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' motion for attorneys' fees (Doc. 66) and their motion to re-tax costs (Doc. 68). Plaintiff did not file any response, and the motions are ripe for resolution. After carefully considering the motions and the attendant evidence, the Court concludes that the motions are due to be GRANTED in part.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff filed a complaint against Defendants Bishop State Community College ("Bishop State") and Alabama Community College System ("ACCS"), asserting a claim for race discrimination under Title VII.[1](Doc. 1). After the conclusion of discovery, Defendants "offered to forego their request for attorneys' fees and costs if Plaintiff would voluntardy dismiss the action with prejudice within seven days." (Doc. 66-1, ¶ 3). Plaintiff did not respond to this offer and opted, instead, to file discovery sanctions against Defendants. Id. The Court denied his motion for sanctions. (Doc. 45).

         Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, which Plaintiff opposed. (See Docs. 46, 54). After due consideration, the Court granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the sole discrimination claim on November 4, 2016 and entered judgment in their favor that day. (See Docs. 63, 64).

         II. Requested Relief

         Defendants seek an award of fees and costs as follows:

Attorneys' Fees through October 31, 2016:

Costs:

$52, 838.50
Original Deposition of Plaintiff $840.45
Copy of Lyons Deposition and Exhibits $256.95
Copy of Thompson Deposition and Exhibits $419.85
Copy of Mitchell Deposition $143.55
Subtotal of Costs $1, 660.80

(See Docs. 66-1, ¶ 4; 68-1, ¶ 2).

         III. Motion for Attorneys' Fees

         A. When an Award of Attorneys' Fees is Appropriate

         "In any action proceeding under [Title VII], the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party ... a reasonably attorney's fee (including expert fees) as part of the costs . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). Defendants seek an award pursuant to this provision. Although "attorney's fees are typically awarded to successful Title VII plaintiffs as a matter of course, prevailing defendants may receive attorney's fees only when the plaintiffs case is 'frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, ' even though not brought in subjective bad faith." Quintana v. Jenne, 414 F.3d 1306, 1309 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 421-22, 98 S.Ct. 694, 54 L.Ed.2d 648 (1978)). To make this determination, the district court must examine "whether (1) the plaintiff established a prima facie case; (2) the defendant offered to settle; and (3) the trial court dismissed the case prior to trial." Bonner v. Mobile Energy Servs. Co., L.L.C., 246 F.3d 1303, 1304 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Sullivan v. Sch. Bd. of Pinellas Cnty., 773 F.2d 1182, 1189 (11th Cir. 1985)). The Eleventh Circuit cautions, "[determinations regarding frivolity are to be made on a case-by-case basis." Sullivan, 773 F.2d at 1189.

         The Court addresses the second and third factors first, noting that Defendants "offered to forego their request for attorney's fees and costs if Plaintiff would voluntarily dismiss the action with prejudice within seven days. (See Doc. 66-l, ¶ 3). Plaintiff failed to respond to the offer and "instead filed a motion for discovery sanctions, " which was denied. Id. Defendants' attempt to settle the case, though ultimately unsuccessful, weighs against Plaintiff. Additionally, the Court awarded summary judgment to Defendants on Plaintiffs single claim prior to a trial on the merits, which constitutes another factor weighing against Plaintiff. See Young v. Int'l Paper Co., No. 10-179-CG-N, 2012 WL 37647, at *3 (S.D. Ala. Jan. 6, 2012).

         Turning to the first Sullivan factor, the Court notes Plaintiff failed to set forth & prima facie case of his racial discrimination claim against both Defendants. Notably, the Court determined Plaintiff abandoned his claim against ACCS completely by failing to oppose Defendants' arguments or even mentioning ACCS. (See Doc. 63, p. 20). As to his claim against Bishop State, Plaintiff established he was a member of a protected class and that he suffered an adverse employment action; he failed, however, to present a "comparator" or a "replacement employee" in his case. See Id. at pp. 22-23. In addition, Plaintiff failed to present any material evidence of racial animus or discriminatory intent. Id. at 25. Thus, the Court concluded Plaintiff failed to establish & prima facie case against Bishop State.

         Accordingly, the three Sullivan factors weigh in favor of Defendants' recovery of reasonable attorney's fees, and no factors indicate a discount is appropriate or otherwise required. Compare with Young, 2012 WL 37647 at *3-4.

         B. Calculating ...


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