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Jeffrey Phillips v. Fulton-El Camino Recreation

June 27, 2011

JEFFREY PHILLIPS
PLAINTIFF,
v.
FULTON-EL CAMINO RECREATION &
PARKS DISTRICT AND DOES 1 TO 50, DEFENDANTS.



ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT‟S MOTION FOR FEES AND COSTS

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant Fulton-El Camino Recreation & Parks District‟s ("Defendant") Motion for Fees and Costs (Doc. #43). Plaintiff Jeffrey Phillips ("Plaintiff") opposes the motion. *fn1

I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleged that he was improperly notified of his separation from Defendant as a volunteer part-time Ranger. Plaintiff filed suit against Defendant in the California Superior Court for Sacramento County alleging two causes of action:

(1) violation of Plaintiff‟s Fifth and Fourteenth Amendment rights; and (2) violation of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights Act, California Government Code Section 3300, et seq. ("POBRA"). Defendant removed the action to this Court and filed a Motion for Summary Judgment/Summary Adjudication. The Court held a 7 hearing on Defendant‟s Summary Judgment Motion on March 23, 2011.

After considering the briefs and oral arguments, the Court granted Summary Judgment in favor of the Defendant on both causes of action. Defendant filed this motion requesting $9,179.61 in costs and $47,608.50 in fees. Since Plaintiff intended to file a Motion to Alter/Amend Judgment per Rule 59(E) FRCP (Doc. #45), the Court delayed deciding the instant motion until it disposed of the Motion to Alter/Amend Judgment. The Court denied Plaintiff‟s Motion to Amend/Alter the Judgment (Doc. #52).

II. OPINION

A. Legal Standard

1. Attorneys‟ Fees and Costs

Defendant seeks fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) and California Government Code § 3309.5(d)(2). A prevailing defendant is entitled to attorney fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 "only when the plaintiff‟s claims are unfounded, frivolous, meritless or vexatious." Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, 434 U.S. 412, 421 (1978) (internal citations omitted). An unfounded, frivolous, meritless, or vexatious lawsuit is one where "the result appears obvious or the arguments are wholly without merit." Galen v. County of Los Angeles, 477 F.3d 652, 666 (9th Cir. 2007).

Similarly, Government Code section 3309.5(d)(2) allows a court 3 to award sanctions by way of reasonable expenses, including 4 attorneys‟ fees, if the court finds that the action was in "bad 5 faith or frivolous."

B. Claims for Relief

Defendant argues that as the prevailing party, it is entitled 8 to reasonable attorneys‟ fees and costs because Plaintiff‟s action 9 was frivolous and conducted in bad faith. Defendant argues there was no basis in law for Plaintiff‟s Fifth Amendment, Fourteenth Amendment, or POBRA claims. Defendant also characterizes Plaintiff‟s decision to file this action and his behavior during the litigation as acting in bad faith. Defendant alleges the lawsuit was brought to harass and annoy Defendant; the Complaint pled violation of the Fifth Amendment, despite the fact no interaction with the federal government was alleged; Plaintiff repeatedly refused to provide documents during discovery; and he rejected settlement offers.

Plaintiff concedes that Defendant is the prevailing party and that its attorney fee rates are reasonable. Plaintiff argues that his action was not frivolous because at the time of his separation of employment, Plaintiff believed he was a tenured employee and he characterizes his Fourteenth Amendment job abandonment claim as a watershed legal issue. Plaintiff asks the ...


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