United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania
SCHMEHL, J. JLS
the Estate of Joseph A. Nagy (“the Nagys”)
pro se moves for fees and costs associated with his
defense against Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant ManorCare. This
petition follows this Court's dismissal of the Nagys'
counterclaims and voluntary dismissal by ManorCare. The Nagys
rely on the “American Rule established in 1868,
specifically, the exception of said rule in that an award may
be made to successful party's attorney fees.” (ECF
Docket No. 132.) The Nagys allege $77, 092.44 in
attorney's fees for two hundred (200) weeks worked and
any further relief in respect to punitive damages.
(Id.) Given the Nagys' status as pro se
litigants, the Nagys are not entitled to attorney's fees.
Even if the Nagys were entitled to attorney's fees
though, the Nagys were not the prevailing party. For the
reasons stated below, this Court will deny the Nagys'
opinion is written for the benefit of the parties, this Court
will briefly discuss only the pertinent facts. ManorCare
commenced this action in the Court of Common Pleas in
Northampton County, PA. ManorCare sued Defendant Joseph A.
Nagy to recover money owed for his late wife's care.
Joseph A. Nagy, joined by his son Joseph Eugene Nagy,
inexpertly attempted to pro se remove the case and
counterclaim. Following a hearing, this Court ordered the
Nagys to file an amended counterclaim that more clearly
explained the claims and intended counter-defendants. Given
the relative incomprehensibility of the Nagys'
counterclaims, ManorCare and other defendants moved for a
more definite statement. This Court denied the motion
concluding: 1) the basic nature of Nagys' complaint was
minimally comprehensible, and included an identifiable,
enumerated list of counts on which court proceedings could
focus; and 2) given the original counterclaim and other
documents, any new filing by the Nagys would doubtfully be
more definite or comprehensible. Rather than ordering a more
definite statement, this Court instructed ManorCare and the
other Counter-Defendants to again move for dismissal setting
forth additional grounds.
Counter-Defendants individually moved to dismiss the
Nagys' amended counterclaim. In a September 29, 2017
Opinion, this Court granted all Counter-Defendants'
motions with prejudice. Following this Court's Opinion,
Plaintiff ManorCare moved to dismiss its complaint against
the Nagys citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(a)(2); on October 3, 2017,
this Court dismissed ManorCare's complaint against Joseph
A. Nagy. On October 19, 2017, the Nagys pro se moved
for attorney's fees.
The Nagys are not entitled to attorney's fees as pro
well-settled that non-lawyer, pro se litigants may
not receive attorney's fees regardless of the outcome of
the case. Pitts v. Vaughn, 679 F.2d 311, 313 (3d
Cir. 1982). Our Circuit has examined the differences between
pro se litigants and litigants represented by
counsel. Id. (citing Cunningham v. F. B.
I., 664 F.2d 383 (3d Cir. 1981) (analyzing and denying
attorney's fees to pro se litigant under a
Freedom of Information Act case)). These differences
illustrate, according to our Circuit, Congress's
unwillingness to provide the equivalent of attorney's
fees to pro se litigants. Id.
our Circuit noted pro se litigants do not suffer
“the same sorts of financial burden and obstacles as
those inherent in retaining a lawyer.” Id.
(citing Cunningham, 664 F.2d at 386). Second,
pro se litigation does not provide the
“objectivity and detachment” an attorney may
provide against unnecessary litigation. Id. And
third, compensation for pro se litigants
“leads to difficult valuation problems not present when
determining the costs of representation by an
attorney.” Id. There being no accepted market
value nor a cost to serve as a baseline makes any value
selected by pro se litigants arbitrary. Id.
Circuit in Cunningham considered these three factors
together and deicded against extending attorney's fees
“beyond its natural domain.” Id. Our
Circuit applied the above factors to FOIA cases and civil
rights cases alike, concluding “Congress did not intend
to permit a pro se litigant to recover
attorney's fees” under other statutes. Although the
Nagys' counterclaims vary from Civil Rights and Elective
Franchise to RICO and Racketeering, this Court does not
intend to extend attorney's fees beyond its
“natural domain.” Therefore, the Nagys, as
non-lawyer pro se litigants, are not entitled to
Even if pro se litigants could recover fees, the Nagys
were not the prevailing party.
taxing of costs and attorney's fees is governed by
Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1), which states: “Unless a federal
statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise,
costs - other than attorney's fees - should be allowed to
the prevailing party.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). Our
Circuit has defined prevailing party as “whether
plaintiff achieved ‘some of the benefit sought' by
the party bringing the suit.” Tyler v.
O'Neill, 112 Fed.Appx. 158, 161 (3d Cir. 2004)
(citing Institutionalized Juveniles v. Secretary of
Public Welfare, 758 F.2d 897, 910 (3d Cir. 1985).
a prevailing party is a party in whose favor judgment is
rendered for purposes of Rule 54(d). Because the focus is on
the relief actually obtained, we look to the substance of the
litigation and “refuse to give conclusive weight to the
form of the judgment.” Id. (citing Ross v.
Horn, 598 F.2d 1312, 1322 (3d Cir. 1979), cert.
denied, 448 U.S. 906, 100 (1980)). “It logically
follows from this approach that a party is prevailing to the
extent extrajudicial relief renders claims moot. Moreover,
significant to the prevailing party inquiry is whether the
resolution of the dispute materially altered the legal
relationship between the parties.” Id. (citing
Institutionalized Juveniles, 758 F.2d at 911;
Truesdell v. Philadelphia Hous. Auth., 290 F.3d 159,
163-64 (3d Cir. 2002)).
the prevailing party analysis is altered when neither party
prevails on its claim. When this occurs, a case-specific
inquiry is required. Some courts have denied awarding costs
when neither party prevails; other courts have taxed costs in
favor of a defendant “who failed to sustain a
counterclaim yet successfully defended against a
plaintiff's substantial claims.” Id. at
162 (citing Magee v. McNany, 11 F.R.D. 592 (W.D. Pa.
1951) (denying costs to either party when neither party
prevailed on its claims); Scientific Holding Co. v.
Plessey, Inc., 510 F.2d 15, ...