United States District Court, E.D. Kentucky, Central Division, Frankfort
MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER
Gregory F. Van Tatenhove United States District Judge
matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' request for an
interim award of attorneys' fees. When a party succeeds
on a civil rights claim, the Court has discretion to award
the prevailing party attorneys' fees and litigation
costs. Aside from a calculation error acknowledged by the
Plaintiffs, the Court finds their request to be reasonable
and appropriate under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. For the reasons
that follow, Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees
in this matter are a certified class of current and former
inmates in the care and custody of Defendants Commonwealth of
Kentucky, Kentucky Department of Corrections (KDOC), and
Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet (the Cabinet). In
addition, Plaintiffs have named, individually, Defendant J.
Michael Brown, former Secretary of the Cabinet; Defendant
John Tilley, current Secretary of the Cabinet; Defendant
LaDonna Thompson, former Commissioner of the KDOC; Defendant
Rodney Ballard, current Commissioner of the KDOC; Defendant
James Erwin, Deputy Commissioner of Adult Institutions; and
Defendant Chris E. Cropp is employed in KDOC's Education
Branch. [R. 6 at 3-4.]
matter was initially filed on September 11, 2012, in Franklin
Circuit Court in Franklin County, Kentucky. [R. 14-1 at 1.]
After years of discovery and failed mediation attempts, Judge
Phillip J. Shepherd of Franklin Circuit Court certified
Plaintiffs' class action on June 3, 2015. Id. at
2. Judge Shepherd concluded that the inmates were entitled to
Educational Good Time (EGT) credit earned since July 15,
2011, and denial of such credit was a deprivation of their
due process rights under the Kentucky Constitution and the
United States Constitution. Id. Additionally, Judge
Shepherd found Defendants' administration of the EGT
program was arbitrary and capricious, and granted declaratory
and injunctive relief to the Plaintiff class. Id. at
3. Upon removal, Defendants attempted to have Judge
Shepherd's order vacated, but this Court found no reason
to modify or dissolve that order. [R. 28.] This Court then
ordered parties comply with Judge Shepherd's order,
including requiring Defendants to hire an independent auditor
to review KDOC's EGT records. Id.
this issue was decided in favor of the Plaintiffs, Plaintiffs
moved for an interim award of attorneys' fees pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). [R. 30.] The Court heard argument
on the motion, at which time Plaintiffs emphasized the
six-year duration of this litigation. [R. 50.] The Court took
the motion under advisement and now grants the
first disagree on whether Plaintiffs are entitled to
attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs amended their complaint to
add a claim for a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 in
December of 2017, giving this Court federal question
jurisdiction over the matter. [R. 1; R. 6.] Pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1988(b), a Court has discretion in certain
civil rights cases, including those brought under §
1983, to allow the prevailing party reasonable attorneys'
recover attorneys' fees, the party must be a
“prevailing party.” § 1988(b). A
“prevailing party” is one who succeeds on a
significant issue “which achieves some of the benefit
the parties sought in bringing suit.” Farrar v.
Hobby¸ 506 U.S. 103, 109 (1992) (quoting
Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983)).
Here, Plaintiffs have already succeeded on the merits of the
case: Judge Shepherd determined the Defendants had acted in
an arbitrary and capricious manner and granted the Plaintiffs
declaratory and injunctive relief. [R. 14-1 at 3.] That Order
remains in force, even after removal to Federal Court. [R.
28.] Plaintiffs have, therefore, achieved a benefit they
sought by brining the suit, and they qualify as a
“prevailing party” for purposes of § 1988.
do not argue that Plaintiffs are the prevailing party. They
contest, however, that because the Plaintiffs did not bring a
§ 1983 claim in their initial complaint, and instead
added it in their Sixth Amended Complaint, Plaintiffs should
only be allowed to recover attorneys' fees beginning in
November 2017, the date of filing the Sixth Amended
Complaint. [R. 42 at 3.] However, when a pleading is amended,
and that amendment asserts a claim arising out of the same
conduct, transaction, or occurrence from the original
pleading, the amended pleading relates back to the date of
the original pleading. Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 15(c). The Sixth
Amended Complaint arises from the same conduct alleged in the
initial complaint, and therefore, the Sixth Amended Complaint
relates back to the date of the original pleading.
[Compare R. 6 with R. 1-2.] The Court has not found,
and Defendants have not provided, any authority to deny costs
and fees when a plaintiff asserts a civil rights violation in
an amended complaint rather than in the initial complaint.
parties also disagree to the extent the Prison Litigation
Reform Act (PLRA) caps the amount of fees. Here, however, the
PLRA provides no such cap. The PLRA permits an award of
attorneys' fees to prisoners only if the fee was incurred
proving actual violation of the prisoner's rights and
authorized by 42 U.S.C. § 1988. 42 U.S.C. §
1997e(d)(1)(A). Furthermore, the amount awarded for
attorneys' fees must be proportionally related to the
relief ordered by the Court or the fee must have been
directly and reasonably incurred enforcing the ordered
relief. § 1997e(d)(1)(B). When a monetary judgment is
awarded by the Court to a prisoner, up to twenty-five percent
of this judgment must be applied to attorneys' fees, with
the remaining fees paid by the defendant if the award is no
greater than 150% of the total judgment. § 1997e(d)(2).
However, “if non-monetary relief is obtained, either
with or without money damages, § 1997e(d)(2) would not
apply.” Walker v. Bain, 257 F.3d 660, 667 n. 2
(6th Cir. 2001) (citing Boivin v. Black, 225 F.3d
36, 41 n. 4 (1st Cir. 2000)).
requested damages as well as declaratory and injunctive
relief. [R. 6.] The Court has also granted Plaintiffs'
declaratory and injunctive relief, finding Defendants'
process to be arbitrary and capricious and ordering the
completion of an independent audit. [R. 14-1; R. 28.] This
non-monetary relief removes this matter from the confines of
§ 1997e(d)(2), and thus, no 150% cap exists here.
arguments presented by the Defendants concerning the Eleventh
Amendment also fail. The Supreme Court has previously
rejected States' claims of immunity when a plaintiff
seeks money under § 1988. See Maher v. Gagne,
448 U.S. 122, 131-133 (1980). “The Court has never
viewed the Eleventh Amendment as barring such awards, even in
suits between States and individual litigants.”
Hutto v. ...