United States District Court, E.D. Oklahoma
CANDY N. WEBB, Plaintiff,
DON MURRAY, and SELINA JAYNE-DORNAN. Defendants.
OPINION AND ORDER
P. Shreder, United States Magistrate Judge.
matter comes before the Court on motion by Defendants Don
Murray, and Selina Jayne-Dornan (collectively,
“Defendants”) for an award of attorney's fees
pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2) and Loc. Civ. R. 54.2. For
the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that the
Defendant's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Brief in
Support [Docket No. 50] should be DENIED.
Plaintiff filed this case in state court in McIntosh County,
No. CJ-17-46, on June 26, 2017, as to the above-named
Defendants, as well as the City of Eufaula. The Defendants
then removed the case to this Court on January 3, 2018.
Plaintiff's state court Petition set out three state law
claims - malicious interference with a contractual
relationship, as to Defendants Murray and Jayne-Dornan;
intentional infliction of emotional distress, as to
Defendants Murray and Jayne-Dornan; and breach of contract,
as to the City of Eufaula - as well as a federal claim of
gender discrimination under 42 U.S.C. §1983, as to
Defendant Murray. The Defendants moved to dismiss the
Petition, see Docket No. 4, and this Court granted
the motion and dismissed for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction but granted Plaintiff fourteen days to file an
amended complaint. See Docket No. 17. The Plaintiff
timely filed her First Amended Complaint on August 8, 2018,
raising the same four claims, and Defendants again moved for
dismissal. See Docket Nos. 18-19. This Court then
dismissed two of Plaintiff's state law claims, leaving
Plaintiff with her claim of malicious interference with a
contractual relationship as to both Defendants, as well as
her claim of gender discrimination pursuant to 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983, as to Defendant Murray. See Docket No.
28. Defendants Murray and Jayne-Dornan then moved for summary
judgment, and this Court granted summary judgment as to the
Plaintiff's claim for gender discrimination pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1983, and remanded the state law claim to
Oklahoma state court. See Docket Nos. 30, 40, 44,
Murray has now filed the present motion for attorney's
fees under Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2). See Docket No. 50.
The parties subsequently filed a joint stipulation agreeing
that fees incurred by Defendant Murray as to the §1983
claim total $19, 752.39. See Docket No. 56.
Murray contends that, as a prevailing party, he is entitled
to attorney's fees because the Plaintiff's §
1983 claim was “frivolous, unreasonable, or without
foundation.” He asserts that the Plaintiff failed to
produce evidence supporting her claims of gender
discrimination at the summary judgment stage, particularly
noting her failure to assert any gender-based facts or point
to any other person treated differently than she was, and
contends that this meets the standard of being frivolous,
unreasonable, or without foundation. Plaintiff contends that
the Defendant has not met the high standard for an award of
fees to a prevailing party based on a § 1983 claim.
parties in U.S. courts typically pay their own attorney's
fees, Congress has provided for an award of reasonable
attorney's fees to prevailing parties in civil rights
litigation. See Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424,
429 (1983). See also Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal
Employment Opportunity Commission, 434 U.S. 412, 421,
422 (1978) (“[A] district court may in its discretion
award attorney's fees to a prevailing defendant in a
Title VII case upon a finding that the plaintiff's action
was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even
though not brought in subjective bad faith.”). The
Supreme Court has stated, however, that the Court must find
the Plaintiff's “claim was frivolous, unreasonable,
or groundless, or that the plaintiff continued to litigate
after it clearly became so.” Christiansburg,
434 U.S. at 422. See also Mitchell v. City of Moore,
Oklahoma, 218 F.3d 1190, 1203 (10th Cir. 2000)
(“[A] prevailing defendant in a civil rights action may
recover attorney fees only “if the suit ‘was
vexatious, frivolous, or brought to harass or embarrass the
defendant.'”), quoting Utah Women's Clinic,
Inc. v. Leavitt, 136 F.3d 707, 709 (10th Cir. 1998) (per
curiam), quoting Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429 n. 2.
is a difficult standard to meet, to the point that rarely
will a case be sufficiently frivolous to justify imposing
attorney fees on the plaintiff.” Mitchell, 218
F.3d at 1203. “A complaint is frivolous where it lacks
an arguable basis either in law or in fact.”
Blakely v. USAA Cas. Ins. Co., 633 F.3d 944, 949-950
(10th Cir. 2011) (alterations and internal quotation marks
omitted). However, “[d]ismissal of claims at the motion
to dismiss or summary judgment stage does not automatically
warrant a fee award.” McGregor v. Shane's Bail
Bonds, 2010 WL 4622184, at *2 (D. Kan. Nov. 4, 2010).
Indeed, “[allegations that, upon careful examination,
prove legally insufficient to require a trial are not, for
that reason alone, ‘groundless' or ‘without
foundation' as required by Christiansburg.”
Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 15-16 (1980).
careful consideration of the record and arguments in this
case, the Court finds that fees should not be awarded here.
While the Plaintiff did not ultimately prevail on her §
1983 claim, the Court finds that Plaintiffs initial claims
were not meritless in the sense that they were wholly
groundless. Cf. Thorpe v. Ancell, 367 Fed.Appx. 914,
924 (10th Cir. 2010) (“The district court noted that
throughout the proceedings the Thorpes played fast and loose
with the record in supporting their arguments to the point
some assertions were flatly contradicted by the undisputed
facts. . . . The district court concluded the Thorpes'
claims were not only frivolous but the ‘fantastic'
factual allegations contained in the complaint were
improperly ‘concocted' to be publicized in judicial
IT IS ORDERED that the Defendant's Motion for
Attorney's Fees and Brief in Support ...