United States District Court, S.D. California
MARK MANN; MELISSA MANN; N.G.P.M., a Minor; M, N.A.M., a Minor; M.C.G.M, a Minor; and N.E.H.M., a minor - by and through their Guardian ad litem, Bruce Paul, Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO; SAN DIEGO COUNTY HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES AGENCY; POLINSKY CHILDREN'S CENTER; ADREA E. CISNEROS; LISA J. QUADROS; ANGELA REDMOND; GILBERT FERRO; DEBBIE BAYLISS; LEELA JOSEPH; NANCY GRAFF, M.D.; NONI MATIONG; KELLY MONGE; SOPHIA SANCHEZ; SUSAN SOLIS; and Does 1 through 50, inclusive, Defendants.
ORDER DENYING WITHOUT PREJUDICE PLAINTIFFS'
MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES [ECF, 320]
GONZALO P. CURIEL UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees.
ECF No. 320. Defendant County of San Diego filed a response
in opposition on March 3, 2017, and Plaintiffs filed a reply
on March 20, 2017. ECF Nos. 334 & 339. For the following
reasons, and based upon the moving papers and applicable law,
the Court will DENY the Plaintiffs' motion without
1988 of Title 43 of the United States Code provides that:
In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of
sections 1981, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 of this title . . .
the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party,
other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee
as part of the costs . . . .
42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). “Plaintiffs may be considered
‘prevailing parties' for attorney's fees
purposes if they succeed on any significant issue in
litigation which achieves some of the benefit the parties
sought in bringing suit.” Farrar v. Hobby, 506
U.S. 103, 108 (1992). A civil rights plaintiff, as is the
case here, who receives a nominal damage award under §
1983 is considered a prevailing party. See Id. at
112; see also Mahach-Watkins v. Depee, 593 F.3d
1054, 1059 (9th Cir. 2010). However, because “a nominal
damages award often accomplishes little beyond giving
petitioners the moral satisfaction of knowing that a federal
court concluded that their rights had been violated, ”
district courts awarding fees after a judgment for only
nominal damages “must point to some way in which the
litigation succeeded, in addition to obtaining a
judgment for nominal damage.” Mahach-Watkins,
595 F.3d at 1059 (emphasis in original).
the ‘technical' nature of a nominal damages award .
. . does not affect the prevailing party inquiry, it does
bear on the propriety of fees awarded under §
1988.” Farrar, 506 U.S. at 103. “[T]he
degree of the plaintiffs overall success goes to the
reasonableness of the award . . . not to the availability of
a fee award . . . . ” Texas State Teachers Ass
'n v. Garland Indep. Sch. Dist., 489 U.S. 782, 792
(1989). The “most critical factor” to be assessed
when determining whether an attorneys' fee award is
reasonable is the “degree of success obtained.”
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 436 (1983). The
Supreme Court has observed that if “a plaintiff has
achieved only partial or limited success, the product of
hours reasonably expended on the litigation as a whole times
a reasonable hourly rate may be an excessive amount.”
Farrar, 506 U.S. at 575. In the case of plaintiffs
who only recover nominal damages, the Supreme Court has
further cautioned that “[w]hen a plaintiff recovers
only nominal damages because of his failure to prove an
essential element of his claim for monetary relief, the only
reasonable fee is usually no fee at all.” Id.
was entered in this action on January 9, 2017 in accordance
with the parties' Stipulation as to Damages (ECF No.
313). ECF No. 332. The joint Stipulation as to Damages stated
that the parties agreed to award $1.00 in damages to
Plaintiffs Mark Mann, Melissa Mann, N.G.P.M., M.N.A.N.,
M.C.G.M., and N.E.H.M on Plaintiffs' fifth cause of
action brought under Monell v. New York Dep 't of
Soc. Servs., 436 U.S. 658 (1978) against the County of
San Diego. ECF No. 313. Accordingly, the Court must
assess Plaintiffs' request for attorneys' fees in
light of the fact that Plaintiffs achieved only nominal
damages on the Monell claim.
the Court granted the parties' Stipulation as to Damages
and entered judgment on the fifth cause of action in favor of
Plaintiffs (ECF No. 315), Plaintiffs moved for an award of
attorneys' fees. ECF No. 320. In it, Plaintiffs'
counsel request that the Court award $2, 710, 171.00 in
attorneys' fees for the time they expended on this
litigation. Defendants have opposed Plaintiffs request,
arguing that the fees should be reduced because Plaintiffs
only achieved “partial success” on the fifth
cause of action. ECF No. 334 at 16. For one, Defendants
emphasize, Plaintiffs succeeded only in part on their summary
judgment motion, thus limiting the scope of their victory.
Id. And two, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs'
success should be further discounted because it did not even
effectuate “a change of County policies or
practices” as any changes made to Defendant's
policies were actually attributable to a separate civil
action in Swartwood v. County of San Diego, Case No.
12cv1665-W(BGS). Id. at 17; David Brodie Decl.
¶¶ 2-6, Dkt. No. 334-1 at 2-4. Plaintiffs, in turn,
argue that they have achieved all, not some, of their
objectives because they (1) obtained a monetary settlement
from the individual social workers who were sued along with
the County of San Diego; (2) successfully removed Mark
Mann's name from the Child Abuse Central Index; and (3)
obtained a judgment on the Monell claim whereby the
Court held that the County of San Diego violated the
constitutional rights of Plaintiffs. ECF No. 339, Dkt. No.
parties' positions on the “degree of success”
obtained by this lawsuit differ substantially. In fact, soon
after this Court approved the parties' Stipulation as to
Damages on November 3, 2016, both parties appealed this
Court's summary judgment order on the Monell
claim, along with a number of other orders. See Dkt.
Nos. 315 & 322. Given that both parties have appealed
this Court's decision to the Ninth Circuit, the Court
finds it premature, at this juncture, to address the
reasonableness of the fees requested by Plaintiffs. The
“most critical factor” to be assessed when
determining whether an attorneys' fee award is reasonable
is the “degree of success obtained.” Hensley
v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. at 436. Here, however, the degree
of success obtained by Plaintiffs' lawsuit is uncertain
as the Court's judgment in favor of Plaintiffs is
currently on appeal in the Ninth Circuit. Accordingly, the
Court concludes that it would be premature to make findings
of fact concerning the degree of success obtained by
Plaintiffs' lawsuit before the Ninth Circuit has ruled on
appeal. Once the Ninth Circuit issues a decision, the Court
will be in a better position to make conclusions concerning
the success obtained by Plaintiffs, which in turn, will
directly inform the Court's assessment of the
reasonableness of the attorneys' fees requested.
Court, therefore, DENIES Plaintiffs' motion for
attorneys' fees without prejudice subject to being
refiled after the resolution of the parties' appeal.
See Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(2)(B) advisory
committee's notes (“If an appeal on the merits of
the case is taken, the court may rule on the claim for fees,
may defer its ruling on the motion or may deny the motion
without prejudice, directing under subdivision (d)(2)(B) a
new period for filing after the appeal has been
resolved.”). Once the appeal is resolved, Plaintiffs
will have fourteen (14) days after the entry of judgment to
file a renewed request for attorneys' fees. At that time,
the Court will set a new hearing date for Plaintiffs'