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Garr Ooley, et al v. Citrus Heights Police Department

September 10, 2012



This matter is before the Court on Defendants Citrus Heights Police Department ("CHPD"), Brian Barron, Janet Schaefer, D. Christensen, Christine Ford, and Chris Boyd's (collectively "Defendants") Motion for Attorneys' Fees (Doc. # 42) from Plaintiff Janis Starkey ("Plaintiff").*fn1 Plaintiff opposes the motion (Doc. # 46) and the CHPD defendants replied (Doc. # 52). For the following reasons, Defendants' motion is granted in part.


Plaintiff sued Defendants alleging numerous violations of her civil rights. The Complaint also contained claims brought by Garr 2 Ooley against Defendants. Defendants brought a motion to dismiss 3 Plaintiff's claim, but they did not seek dismissal of the 42 U.S.C. 4 § 1983 brought by Garr Ooley. The Court issued an order on May 25, 5 2012 (the "May Order") (Doc. # 37) dismissing Plaintiff's claims 6 against Defendants with prejudice. Based on the reasoning in that 7 order, Defendants now seek attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 8 1988 on the grounds that Plaintiff's claims against them were 9 frivolous.*fn2


A. Legal Standard for Award Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 "[A] district court may in its discretion award attorney's fees to a prevailing defendant [pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988] upon a finding that the plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad faith." Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n, 434 U.S. 412, 421 (1978). "[T]he bringing of cases with no foundation in law or facts at the outset" can give rise to an award of fees to a prevailing defendant under § 1988. See Mitchell v. Office of L.A. Cnty. Superintendent of Sch., 805 F.2d 844, 847 (9th Cir. 1986).

Upon determining that § 1988 fees are warranted, a court must engage in a multi-stage analysis to determine the award amount. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433--34 (1983). The starting point is the number of hours worked on the litigation multiplied by 2 the attorneys' reasonable hourly rate. Id. Where a party seeking 3 fees prevails on only some of its claims, a court must determine 4 whether the "results obtained" justify a full award which involves 5 two inquiries. Id. "First, did the plaintiff fail to prevail on 6 claims that were unrelated to the claims on which he succeeded? 7

Second, did the plaintiff achieve a level of success that makes the 8 hours reasonably expended a satisfactory basis for making a fee 9 award?" Id. Finally, a defendant seeking fees has the burden to "establish that fees are attributable solely to the frivolous claims," which "is from a practical standpoint extremely difficult to carry." Braunstein v. Ariz. Dep't of Transp., 683 F.3d 1177, 1189 (9th Cir. 2012) (quoting Harris v. Maricopa Cnty. Superior Court, 631 F.3d 963, 972 (9th Cir. 2011)).

B. Discussion

1. Prevailing Party

Preliminarily, Defendant must establish that they are prevailing parties according to § 1988. Defendants argue that they are prevailing parties because Plaintiff's complaint against them was dismissed with prejudice. Plaintiff does not contest this element. Because Defendants moved for and achieved a dismissal with prejudice, the Court finds that they are prevailing parties within the meaning of 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

2. Frivolous Claims

Plaintiff brought a single claim pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants wherein she alleged that Defendants violated five of her constitutional rights: 1) Equal Protection; 2) First Amendment Right to Freedom of Religion; 3) Right to Substantive Due Process to Quiet Enjoyment of Property; 4) Fifth Amendment Right to 2 Compensation for Takings; and 5) Right to Petition Government. 3 Plaintiff's § 1983 claim was dismissed because she failed to plead 4 a factual basis or legal authority to support her allegations. 5

Plaintiff responds to Defendants' motion by arguing that 1) she 6 always believed that her claims were meritorious and 2) the basis 7 for her belief was explained in her Opposition to Defendant's 8 motion to dismiss her claims (Doc. # 26). The legal standard for a 9 § 1988 award does not consider the subjective good faith of a plaintiff, so Plaintiff's first argument fails on that basis. Each of Plaintiff's original civil rights claims are analyzed in turn.

a. Equal Protection and First Amendment Claims Plaintiff's equal protection and First Amendment claims were entirely based on one off-hand comment that Defendant Barron made to Garr Ooley, also a Plaintiff in this case, "I only answer to two things: the Seventh Day Adventist Church and my two daughters." From this single statement, Plaintiff alleged that Defendant Barron along with the entire CHPD engaged in a campaign against her ...

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