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Rhj Medical Center, Inc. v. City of Dubois

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 8, 2014

RHJ MEDICAL CENTER, INC., on its own behalf and on behalf of its patients, Plaintiff,
CITY OF DUBOIS, Defendant.


KIM R. GIBSON, District Judge.

I. Synopsis

Presently before the Court is a motion for attorney's fees (ECF No. 111) filed by Plaintiff RHJ Medical Center, Inc. ("RHJ"). RHJ seeks an award of attorney's fees in the total amount of $454, 993.66. Defendant, the City of Dubois ("City"), opposes the motion, asserting that the appropriate award amount is no more than $110, 113.50. (ECF No. 116 at 26). For the reasons stated below, RHJ's motion will be granted with modification, and the Court will award attorney's fees to RHJ in the amount of $270, 663.90 and costs in the amount of $3, 887.16.

II. Jurisdiction and Venue

Jurisdiction is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1331 and 1343(a). Venue is proper pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1391(b)(2) because a substantial part of the events giving rise to the suit occurred in this district.

III. Background

This case stems from a dispute between RHJ and the City regarding the opening of a methadone treatment facility within the boundaries of the City of Dubois, Pennsylvania. RHJ initiated this action by filing a six-count complaint[1]on May 14, 2009, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the City and challenging the validity of the City's enactment of Ordinance 1720 and enforcement of 53 P.S. § 10621 ("Section 621"). The Court previously made exhaustive findings of fact and conclusions of law (see ECF No. 107) and will only briefly summarize the background of the case here.

In early 2006, RHJ decided to open a methadone treatment facility in the City of DuBois. In March 2006, after investigating various locations, RHJ executed a ten-year lease for a building at 994 Beaver Drive within the City. On May 1, 2006, RHJ took occupancy of the building. RHJ then executed numerous referral agreements with local hospitals and social service agencies and began the process of acquiring proper licensing and certifications from various state agencies.

At some point during this time, RHJ's contentious relationship with the City began. In particular, a conflict arose regarding the applicability of Section 621 of the Pennsylvania Municipalities Planning Code, which prohibited methadone facilities within 500 feet of certain locations-including public parks-without approval from the local government. At issue was whether the Beaver Meadow Walkway, a walking trail located less than fifty feet away from 994 Beaver Drive, constituted a public park within the meaning of the statute, thus requiring RHJ to receive approval from the City.

RHJ began treating its first patients at the Dubois facility on October 16, 2006. Around this same time, the City sent a letter to RHJ invoking Section 621 and explaining that RHJ's facility was within 50 feet of the Beaver Meadow Walkway, which the City asserted was a public park. The City then filed suit in the Clearfield County Court of Common Pleas, pursuant to Section 621, and the Court entered a preliminary injunction against RHJ on October 27, 2006. Thereafter, RHJ stipulated that the Beaver Meadow Walkway was a public park pursuant to Section 621 and that RHJ was thus required to secure a Certificate of Use from the City to operate the methadone facility on the property. RHJ then began the process of applying for a Certificate of Use from the City, but met significant public opposition. On May 14, 2007, after RHJ filed an application and after the City held a public hearing on the matter, the City denied RHJ's application for a Certificate of Use. However, soon thereafter, the Third Circuit ruled that Section 621 was facially discriminatory under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and the Rehabilitation Act ("RA") in New Directions Treatment Services v. City of Reading, 490 F.3d 293 (3d Cir. 2007).

In light of the Third Circuit's decision in New Directions, RHJ approached the City in October 2007, again seeking a Certificate of Use for its 994 Beaver Drive facility. RHJ also asked the state court to dissolve the injunction that it had entered in December 2006. However, during the final months of 2007, the City adopted Ordinance 1720, which modified the City's zoning code and included a provision specifically excluding methadone clinics and other drug treatment facilities from large areas of the City. Nevertheless, RHJ continued to contest the previously imposed injunction, and, on March 6, 2008, Judge Ammerman lifted the December 2006 injunction.

Despite the injunction being lifted, RHJ was unable to operate its facility at 994 Beaver Drive due to the newly passed Ordinance 1720. RHJ then began to explore alternate sites for its methadone clinic, though, as this Court previously concluded, these attempts were deficient. With Ordinance 1720 in place and with RHJ having failed to find a suitable site to relocate the methadone facility, RHJ abandoned its efforts to open the facility in the City of DuBois, terminated its lease at 994 Beaver Drive, and initiated the instant action in this Court.

RHJ filed its complaint on May 14, 2009 (ECF No. 1), and the City filed an answer on June 18, 2009 (ECF No..5). The City then filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings and a motion for a more definite statement. (ECF Nos. 22, 25). After thorough briefing by the parties, the Court denied both motions in a lengthy opinion. (See ECF No. 39). The parties then conducted extensive discovery and filed cross-motions for partial summary judgment (ECF Nos. 56, 62), which the Court denied (ECF No. 83).

This Court then held a six-day bench trial, which began on February 21, 2012, and concluded on March 9, 2012. Following the trial, the parties submitted extensive briefing and lengthy proposed findings of fact and conclusions of law. Thereafter, on August 17, 2012, the Court issued an order-along with findings of fact and conclusions of law-providing, in pertinent part:

1. Pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, judgment shall be entered in favor of Plaintiff and against Defendant in the amount of $132, 801.64 for damages to Plaintiff as a result of Defendant's violation of its equal protection rights.
2. The Court declares Ordinance 1720 unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause, same ordinance being null and void and having no effect.
3. Plaintiff is entitled to reasonable attorney's fees as to its equal protection claim related to Ordinance 1720....
4. Judgment shall be entered in favor of Defendant as to all of Plaintiff's remaining claims.

(ECF No. 107). Pursuant to the Court's order, RHJ then filed a motion for attorney's fees (ECF No. 1"11), along with a brief (ECF No. ·1·12) and supporting exhibits on September 12, 2012. The City filed a response in opposition to RHJ's motion (ECF No. 116) along with supporting exhibits.[2]The attorney's fees motion was then stayed pending RHJ's appeal. On April 24, 2014, the Third Circuit affirmed this Court's judgment (ECF No. 122) and issued a non-published opinion (ECF No. 123). The matter is now ripe for disposition.

IV. Legal Standard

Congress has statutorily authorized courts to award reasonable attorney's fees in various kinds of civil rights cases. See Fox v. Vice, 131 S.Ct. 2205, 2213 (2011). Applicable here, "in any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of [42 U.S.C. § 1983], 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. "A reasonable fee is that which is sufficient to induce a capable attorney to undertake the representation of a meritorious civil ...

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