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Maqablh v. Heinz

United States District Court, W.D. Kentucky, Louisville Division

August 14, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Defendants James Phelps and Lindsey Alley's Bill of Costs [DN 125], Motion for Attorney Fees [DN 126], and Plaintiff's Motion to Withdraw Document [DN 133]. Fully briefed, these matters are ripe for decision. For the following reasons, the Plaintiff's Objections to the Bill of Costs are OVERRULED in part and SUSTAINED in part, Defendants' Motion for Attorney Fees is DENIED, and Plaintiff's Motion to Withdraw Document is GRANTED.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff Ali Al Maqablh filed this lawsuit alleging multiple claims against Jefferson County, Trimble County, and various Kentucky state employees regarding the criminal proceedings commenced against him and related to the contact that he had with the mother of his child, Defendant Lindsay Jo Alley. The majority of the claims in Plaintiff's Original Complaint and his Amended Complaint were dismissed after initial screening and motions to dismiss. The two remaining claims-a federal claim of malicious prosecution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant Trooper James Phelps and a state claim of malicious prosecution against Alley-were dismissed after the parties filed cross motions for summary judgment and the Court entered a Judgment [DN 124] in favor of Defendants and against Plaintiff.

         Within fifteen days from the entry of Judgment, Defendants filed a Bill of Costs [DN 125] and a Motion for Attorney Fees [DN 126]. Plaintiff offered a Response to Defendants' Motion for Attorney Fees [DN 128] that also included Objections to the Bill of Costs. Then, one week later, Plaintiff filed a Motion to Withdraw his Response [DN 133], stating that an incorrect draft of the Memorandum of Support was filed and offering the corrected Memorandum of Support [DN 133-2] as an attachment. Defendants do not object to Plaintiff's Motion to Withdraw and therefore, the Court will use the corrected Memorandum of Support to make its determination on attorney fees and costs.

         II. Trooper Phelps

         Trooper James Phelps asks the Court to award him attorney fees. Plaintiff brought a claim against Phelps under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Congress enacted § 1983 to encourage the private enforcement of civil rights. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). For this reason, Congress also provided for attorney fees for § 1983 actions, providing that, “the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs.” 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). Typically, this statute is used to award attorney fees to successful plaintiffs.

         However, there are circumstances in which attorney fees may be awarded to a defendant as the prevailing party.

[A] plaintiff should not be assessed his opponent's attorney's fees unless a court finds that his claim was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless, or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so. And, needless to say, if a plaintiff is found to have brought or continued such a claim in bad faith, there will be an even stronger basis for charging him with the attorney's fees incurred by the defense.

Christianburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 422 (1978). The Sixth Circuit has observed, “An award of attorney's fees against a losing plaintiff in a civil rights action is an extreme sanction, and must be limited to truly egregious cases of misconduct.” Jones v. Continental Corp., 789 F.2d 1225, 1232 (6th Cir. 1986).

         In this case, Defendants have not claimed that Plaintiff brought or continued this lawsuit in bad faith. Furthermore, although some of Plaintiff's claim were dismissed early in the lawsuit, the Court cannot say that his lawsuit was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless. Ultimately, the Defendants' success came down to an issue with a single element of Plaintiff's malicious prosecution claims. For this reason, the Court will not resort to the extreme sanction of attorney fees.

         .III. Lindsey Alley

         Defendant Lindsey Alley also asks for attorney fees. Because the claims against her were under Kentucky common law, Kentucky rules of attorney fees apply. In Kentucky, attorney fees are not awarded to a prevailing party unless allowed by statute or provided for by contract. However, Alley cites to Smith v. Bear, Inc., 419 S.W.3d 49, 59 (Ky. App. 2013) for the proposition that Kentucky courts may use equity to allow attorney fee awards despite Kentucky's adherence to the American Rule regarding attorney's fees. The Kentucky Supreme Court, in Bell v. Commonwealth, 423 S.W.3d 742 (Ky. 2014), has made clear that “[i]f courts truly had equitable or inherent powers as broad as those assumed by the trial court, the American Rule regarding attorney's fees as costs would be obliterated.” Id. at 750. The Court went on to state, “trial courts may not award attorney's fees just because they think it is the right thing to do in a given case. That is not what the law of Kentucky allows.” Id.

         The Kentucky Supreme Court stated that, in the absence of a contractual or statutory basis on which to award attorney fees, “the only appropriate award of attorney's fees” may be as a sanction under the rules. Id. at 749. Awarding attorney's fees as a sanction is appropriate only in those instances where the very integrity of the court is ...

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