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Prescod v. Bucks County

November 3, 2009

PRESCOD, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
BUCKS COUNTY, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Tucker, J.

MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

Presently before the Court are Plaintiff's Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (Doc. 31), Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 35), Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Complaint (Doc. 37) and all responses thereto.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs initiated this action to redress alleged violations by Defendants of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, as amended (42 U.S.C. §1973). Plaintiffs are registered voters of the Creekside apartment complex ("Creekside") in Bensalem, Bucks County and they are of a minority race and minority national origin. Creekside is located in Bensalem's Lower Middle 5 (LM-5) election district, and the Creekside residents constitute roughly 75% of the registered voters in LM-5. Creekside residents are also largely of minority race or national origin.

For approximately thirty (30) years prior to April 2007, the LM-5 polling location was in the Creekside community room. Creekside residents could walk to vote, right within their complex. In April 2007, Defendants moved the polling place out of Creekside to a location more than a mile away on the other side of Bensalem's major east-west traffic artery.

Plaintiffs claim that Defendants' decision resulted in the denial or abridgement of the right to vote on account of race, color or national origin. It is further alleged that Defendants' intended to disenfranchise the Creekside voters. After a year and a half of unsuccessfully petitioning Defendants to return the LM-5 polling place back to Creekside, Plaintiffs now seek judicial intervention.

The complaint seeks (1) declaratory judgment and (2) permanent injunctive relief. Defendants request the preliminary injunction be denied insofar as Plaintiffs are unlikely to prevail on the merits at the final hearing. They counter that there is no proof of any discriminatory intent in relocating the polling place. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have not been, nor are they being irreparably harmed by the move of the polling place. They state that they will incur irreparable harm if the preliminary injunction is issued by having to move the polling place back to Creekside.

On September 29th and 30th, 2008, the parties appeared before the Court for an evidentiary hearing. On October 15th, the Court approved a joint stipulation relocating the polling place to St. Mary's Wellness Center. Because the location was suitable for the Creekside residents, the parties also stipulated that the preliminary injunction request was moot. The parties then filed the motions presently before this Court.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiffs' Petition for Attorneys' Fees and Costs

Plaintiffs' request for attorneys' fees and costs pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §§1973(e) and 1988(b) is granted. In order to obtain attorney's fees, the moving party must demonstrate an "enforceable judgment against the defendant from whom fees are sought, or comparable relief through a consent decree or settlement." Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111 (1992).

Demonstrating such a "material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties" allows the Court to treat the plaintiff as a prevailing party. Id. at 111. While the stipulation entered into by the parties on October 14th, 2008 represents the fruits of the parties compromise, it was still subject to Court approval and thus "bears the sanction of, judicial action in the lawsuit." Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of America, 511 U.S. 375, 618 (1994). This is further underscored by the language with which the Court approved the joint stipulation submission. ("So ordered by the Court this 15th day of October, 2008.") Although all counsel signed off on the stipulation, the agreement would have no effect without the Court's approval that served to bind the parties the terms of the agreement. Further, it was not necessary for the Court to include any language reserving jurisdiction because the case remained open despite the compromise over the poling place location. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' request is granted for attorneys' fees in the total amount of $29,162.50 and $2,612.85 is granted.

B. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment

Summary judgment is appropriate "if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). An issue is "genuine" if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 ...


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