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Beattie v. Line Mountain School District

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

December 16, 2014

BRIAN and ANGIE BEATTIE, on behalf of their minor daughter, A.B., Plaintiffs,
v.
LINE MOUNTAIN SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM

MATTHEW W. BRANN, District Judge.

The Plaintiffs' attorneys filed a second request for attorney's fees in this case. Without any forewarning despite numerous opportunities to communicate this imminent ensuing petition to the Court, the attorneys revive this issue that persists "[l]ike some ghoul in a late-night horror movie that repeatedly sits up in its grave and shuffles abroad, after being repeatedly killed and buried." Lamb's Chapel v. Ctr. Moriches Union Free Sch. Dist., 508 U.S. 384, 398 (1993) (Scalia, J., concurring). The attorneys failed to indicate that this fee issue's "most recent burial... was, to be sure, not fully six feet under." Id.

A mere fourteen days after the Court issued a Memorandum resulting from a laborious effort scrutinizing Plaintiffs' attorneys' billing records as the law commands, [1] those attorneys filed this second request for fees (ECF No. 62). Defendant Line Mountain School District ("Defendant" or "District") filed a Brief in Opposition (ECF No. 63) and the Plaintiffs' attorneys filed a Reply Brief (ECF No. 64). For the following reasons, the Plaintiffs' attorneys' motion is granted.

I. BACKGROUND

The underlying facts of the case are eminently familiar to all involved. Consequently, the Court only briefly reiterates and adds new salient facts. On October 28, 2013, Plaintiffs Brian and Angie Beattie filed this action on behalf of their minor daughter, A.B., claiming that Defendant Line Mountain School District's policy prohibiting female students from participating on the all-male junior high and high school wrestling teams was unlawful sex discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, and the Equal Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. See Pls.' Compl., Oct. 28, 2013, ECF No. 1. The Plaintiffs then filed a Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order and a Preliminary Injunction on October 30, 2013 (ECF No. 5).

The Court promptly granted the Motion for a Temporary Restraining Order, temporarily preventing Defendant from taking any action that would interfere with A.B.'s efforts to participate on the Line Mountain junior high wrestling team. See Ct. Order, Nov. 1, 2013, ECF No. 8. The Court then conducted a one-day hearing on the matter in consideration of the Motion for Preliminary Injunction on November 21, 2013. The Parties subsequently briefed the matter. The Court granted the Plaintiffs' Motion for Preliminary Injunction on January 13, 2014. See Ct. Order, Nov. 5, 2013, ECF No. 44. Thereafter, the Parties resolved the lawsuit and filed a Consent Decree on April 2, 2014 (ECF No. 58).

Regarding fees, Plaintiffs' attorneys filed their first request for attorney's fees on January 27, 2014 (ECF No. 47). On March 26, 2014, the Court conducted a telephonic status conference call with counsel for the Parties, pursuant to the Court's Order of February 7, 2014 (ECF No. 49). During the conference, the Court specifically inquired of all counsel participating in the conference, "is there anything else that I should know?"

Plaintiffs' attorneys then requested additional time from the Court to file supplemental declarations to support various fee requests, and to correct their misstatements in a prior filing concerning statistics of cases before the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania. Despite the Court's inquiry, at no point during the conference or afterward did Plaintiffs' attorneys indicate that they continued to incur additional fees in this matter and that they planned to file a petition subsequent to the initial request.

The Court granted Plaintiffs' attorneys' initial request in part on July 10, 2014, and awarded reasonable fees at appropriate rates (ECF Nos. 59, 60).[2] On July 24, 2014, Plaintiffs' attorneys' filed the second Motion for Attorney Fees that the Court now resolves (ECF No. 62).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Attorney's Fees Legal Standard

In Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society, 421 U.S. 240 (1975), the Supreme Court of the United States reaffirmed the "American Rule" that each party in a lawsuit pays its own attorney's fees unless there is statutory authority altering this status quo. Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983). "In response Congress enacted the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, authorizing the district courts to award a reasonable attorney's fee to prevailing parties in civil rights litigation." Id . "The purpose of § 1988 is to ensure effective access to the judicial process' for persons with civil rights grievances." Hensley, 461 U.S. at 429 (quoting H. R. Rep. No. 94-1558, at 1 (1976)).

Accordingly, the Court retains discretion to award reasonable attorneys fees and costs to the prevailing party in civil rights litigation. The statutory authority for this ...


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