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DeRaffele v. City of Williamsport

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

March 16, 2018

JOHN DERAFFELE, Plaintiff
v.
CITY OF WILLIAMSPORT, et al., Defendants

          BRANN, D.J.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          William I. Arbuckle, U.S. Magistrate Judge

         I. Introduction

         Pending before the Court is Plaintiff's “Motion to Seek Court Cost Fees, Secretarial Costs, and Printing Costs in the Above Action.” Before the Court is this legal question: Can Plaintiff be entitled to additional fees as a pro se, non-attorney litigant after the acceptance of the Offer of Judgment? I believe the answer is no.

         II. Procedural History and Statement of Facts

         John DeRaffele (“Plaintiff”) is a pro se, non-attorney litigant (Doc. No. 95; Doc. No. 96) in a civil case against the City of Williamsport, et al. (“Defendants”). On July 28, 2016, Plaintiff accepted Defendants' Offer of Judgment in the amount of ten thousand dollars ($10, 000.000) (Doc. No. 86). The Offer of Judgment stated that the judgment “includes all costs recoverable by Plaintiff pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 68.” (Doc. No. 86).

         On December 1, 2016, Plaintiff filed a “Motion to Seek Court Cost Fees, Secretarial Costs, and Printing Costs” along with a brief (Doc. No. 95; Doc. No. 96). Plaintiff seeks $29, 700 in fees for research, preparation of legal documents, copies made, and for secretarial services he hired (Doc. No. 95 at ¶ 7; Doc. No. 96 at p. 25). Plaintiff asks the court to review whether he is entitled to the time and efforts of defending himself as well as “all the landlords and tenants in the City of Williamsport.” (Doc. No. 96 at p. 7).

         Plaintiff argues that under Fed.R.Civ.P. 68, he is entitled to collect “attorney” fees as the prevailing party and that there is not a difference between an attorney and pro se litigant (Doc. No. 96 at pp. 6, 11). Plaintiff states that the Offer of Judgment did not mention legal fees or the additional costs Plaintiff feels he is entitled to (Doc. No. 96 at p. 6). Additionally, Plaintiff argues that he should recover the costs under the bad faith exception to the American Rule (Doc. No. 96 at p. 7; Doc. No. 98 at p. 3). Plaintiff claims Defendants have acted in bad faith, knowingly they were violating the law, but refused to resolve the case for two years (Doc. No. 96 at p. 7).

         On December 5, 2016, Defendants filed a brief in opposition to Plaintiff's motion to seek the additional costs (Doc. No. 98). Defendants argue that Plaintiff's motion should be denied because the accepted Offer of Judgment included all recoverable costs (Doc. No. 98 at p. 2). Defendants state that Plaintiff is prohibited from recovering legal fees as a pro se, non-attorney litigant, and additionally cannot recover research and legal filing fees (Doc. No. 98 at pp. 2-3). Furthermore, Defendants state that they have not acted in bad faith and therefore the exception does not apply (Doc. No. 98 at p. 3).

         On December 20, 2016, Plaintiff filed a “Reply Affidavit to Defendants' Motion in Opposition to Plaintiff's Request for Fees” (Doc. No. 99). Plaintiff seeks a final amount of $28, 500.00 and any other relief the court seems fair (Doc. No. 99 at pg. 5). On December 2, 2016, an order was issued referring the “Motion to Seek Court Cost Fees, Secretarial Costs, and Printing Costs” to Magistrate Judge Arbuckle for disposition (Doc. No. 97).

         III. Discussion

         Can Plaintiff be entitled to additional fees as a pro se, non-attorney litigant after the acceptance of the Offer of Judgment? In this Circuit, the answer is no.

         Generally, courts have held that pro se litigants are not entitled to attorney's fees. In Kay v. Ehrler, the Supreme Court held that pro se litigants are not entitled to attorney's fees under Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act, 42 U.S.C.A. § 1988, whether or not the litigant is a lawyer. Kay v. Ehrler, 499 U.S. 432, 111 S.Ct. 1435, 113 L.Ed.2d 486 (1991).

A rule that authorizes awards of counsel fees to pro se litigants-even if limited to those who are members of the bar-would create a disincentive to employ counsel whenever such a plaintiff considered himself competent to litigate on his own behalf. The statutory policy of furthering the successful prosecution of meritorious claims is better served by a rule that creates an incentive to retain counsel in every such case. Id. at 437. The Court refers to the Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary definition of “attorney” in the footnotes to emphasize the agency relationship between an attorney and client: “[O]ne ...

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