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World Wide Street Preachers' Fellowship v. Reed

August 25, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: William W. Caldwell United States District Judge


I. Introduction.

We are considering Plaintiffs' motion for attorney's fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Plaintiffs are the World Wide Street Preachers' Fellowship, a ministerial fellowship of Christian street preachers, and James Grove, a street preacher and member of the fellowship. Plaintiffs filed this civil-rights action alleging their First Amendment rights were violated in July 2003 during PrideFest, an annual event held in Riverfront Park, a public park in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

They named as defendants Stephen R. Reed, the Mayor of Harrisburg, in his official capacity; Tina Manoogian-King, Harrisburg's Director of Parks and Recreation, in her official and individual capacities; Thomas Carter, a corporal with the Harrisburg Police Department, in his official and individual capacities; and Stephanie Barrelet, an officer with the police department, in her official and individual capacities.

A jury awarded Grove $1.00 in nominal damages on his claim, and we granted Plaintiffs declaratory relief on two other claims. Plaintiffs seek $146,832.85 in fees and costs, including the time spent on their attorney's-fees motion. In opposing the amount of the fees, Defendants essentially assert that in having obtained only nominal damages and declaratory relief, rather than the compensatory damages and injunctive relief they sought, Plaintiffs' success on the merits was only de minimis. Hence, we should exercise our discretion to award no fees at all or substantially reduce them.

II. Background.

In pertinent part, the complaint alleged the following. Members of the World Wide Street Preachers' Fellowship preach at events around the country, including Harrisburg's PrideFest. Plaintiff, James Grove, is a street preacher and member of the fellowship. Grove preached at the 2003 PrideFest and was arrested for disorderly conduct and defiant trespass, allegedly for being within a fifty-foot buffer zone surrounding the festival. He was found not guilty of both charges on appeal to the court of common pleas.

Plaintiffs set forth six causes of action, all based on violations of certain guarantees of the First Amendment: freedom of assembly, of speech, and of the free exercise of religion. The first cause of action was a facial challenge to the buffer zone, the second an as-applied challenge to Pennsylvania's defiant trespass statute, the third an as-applied challenge to the disorderly conduct statute. The last three causes of action challenged the defendants' conduct at PrideFest as direct violations of the First Amendment; the fourth was based on the right to the free exercise of religion, the fifth on the right of assembly, and the sixth on the right of free speech. The prayer for relief sought preliminary and permanent injunctive relief and nominal, compensatory and punitive damages.

As things turned out, the case was litigated in the following way. Grove tried his claim for damages to a jury on the theory that defendants Manoogian-King, Carter and Barrelet had arrested him for defiant trespass and disorderly conduct to punish him for his First Amendment activities or to deter him from engaging in them. The jury found Carter and Barrelet had violated Grove's First Amendment rights but imposed no liability on Manoogian-King. They also awarded Grove only $1.00 in nominal damages, declining to impose either compensatory or punitive damages on Carter or Barrelet.

Plaintiffs' claims for permanent injunctive relief were tried to the court. Plaintiffs sought an injunction that would bar the city from enforcing: (1) a fifty-foot buffer zone around the area for the festival; and (2) the decision of the PrideFest organizers to exclude street preachers from an area that, while it was within the area permitted for the festival, was not being used by the festival.*fn1

We declined to grant injunctive relief but did issue the following declaratory relief:

(a) the actions of the city's agents in preventing plaintiff James Grove and Michael Marcavage from street-preaching in the areas of Riverfront Park that had been permitted for an event under the city's permit ordinance but which were not being used for the event violated their First Amendment right to free speech.

(b) the enforcement of a fifty-foot buffer zone by a city police officer [defendant Carter] at the south end of the permitted area for PrideFest violated the ...

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