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CRAWFORD v. AFGE

August 15, 1983

Beverly J. Crawford, Plaintiff
v.
American Federation Of Government Employees et al., Defendants



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HOGAN

HOGAN, D.J.:

 The Court has before it defendants' motion for an award of attorney's fees based upon the June 17, 1983 judgment against plaintiff who alleged race and sex employment discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. 2000e et seq. and the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution. The defendants request an award of $125 an hour for 25.7 hours in this litigation, plus an enhancement factor of 1.5 to compensate defendants for the quick resolution of this complaint, and to deter certain undesirable litigation practices from reoccurring in this Court.

 Background

 On April 7, 1982, plaintiff filed this action stating allegations of race and sex discrimination under 42 U.S.C. 2000e and the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution against defendants Donald M. MacIntyre, Kenneth T. Blaylock, and the American Federation of Government Employees, AFL-CIO (AFGE). Defendants AFGE and Kenneth T. Blaylock filed an Answer on April 28, 1982, raising as an affirmative defense, inter alia, that they are not "employers" of the plaintiff, as defined by law, and asking this Court to award "costs and attorney fees as plaintiff's claim is frivolous and known to her to be such." Defendant MacIntyre filed a separate Answer of April 28, 1982, conceded a proper employment relationship but raised numerous other affirmative defenses and also requested this Court grant defendant "costs and attorney fees as plaintiff's claim is frivolous and known to her to be such."

 Thereafter, defendants proceeded to dispose of this complaint in the most efficient and expeditious manner possible. Defendants filed requested admissions and interrogatories on February 11, 1983, within the assigned discovery period. The plaintiff failed to seek any discovery or move for additional discovery periods. The plaintiff also failed to respond to defendants' discovery requests. On March 22, 1983, the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. On April 15, 1983, the Court ordered plaintiff to respond to the outstanding discovery obligations and to respond to the pending motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff failed to comply with the Court's instructions. By order of April 29, 1983, the Court set a May 9, 1983 hearing to show cause why this case should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute. Based on its concern that plaintiff's counsel may not have received the earlier orders, the Court had this order sent by certified mail. Still the plaintiff failed to complete outstanding obligations and failed to appear altogether at the May 9, 1983 show cause hearing, which was attended by defendants' counsel. Thus, on May 18, 1983, the Court entered an order dismissing this action without prejudice. The plaintiff failed to move for reconsideration of this judgment, and failed to timely note an appeal. On May 31, 1983, defendants timely requested that the judgment be altered to reflect dismissal with prejudice. Again, the plaintiff failed to respond to the motion. On June 17, 1983, the Court entered an order dismissing this action with prejudice under Local Rule 1-14 as well as under the discovery sanctions of Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendants subsequently filed their request for attorney's fees.

 The Court issued a show cause order for a hearing on August 10, 1983 concerning the granting and amount of attorney's fees. A copy of this order was sent by certified mail to plaintiff and to plaintiff's counsel. At the hearing, both counsel were present. The plaintiff did not appear; her counsel represented that she knew about the hearing, would be at work during the hearing and would take the position that there had been no hearing on the merits of her case since it had been dismissed not by dispositive motion or by trial, but for failure to prosecute and for discovery abuses.

 At the hearing, the Court denied as untimely plaintiff's oral request for reconsideration of its June 17, 1983 order dismissing the case. The Court found that, absent a sufficient showing by plaintiff that the case merited relief from the judgment in accordance with Rule 60 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the procedural history of the case dictated that its earlier decision be maintained.

 The defendants seek an award of attorney's fees under Title VII, Rule 37(b) and (d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and pursuant to the inherent powers of the Court. Defendants' burden under each basis will be discussed.

 Title VII

 Title VII has its own attorney's fee provision, codified at 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). That section provides,

 
In any action or proceeding under this title the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the Commission or the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs, and the Commission and the United States shall be liable for costs the same as a private person.

 In Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 54 L. Ed. 2d 648, 98 S. Ct. 694 (1978), the Supreme Court set forth considerations in awarding attorney's fees to a prevailing defendant. The Court found that, "In enacting § 706(k), Congress did not intend to permit the award of attorney's fees to a prevailing party only in a situation where the plaintiff was motivated by bad faith in bringing the action." Id. at 419. The Supreme Court held that a court may only award attorney's fees to a prevailing defendant when a plaintiff's action is found to be frivolous, unreasonable or groundless or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so." Id. at 422. The Court recognized, however, that if the defendant could demonstrate that the plaintiff had brought the suit in bad faith that would provide a stronger basis for awarding attorney's fees. Id. at 423. Thus, it is a factor that would be considered in determining the propriety and the amount of attorneys fees to be awarded. Id. at 422.

 Courts considering the question of awarding attorneys fees to prevailing defendants frequently conclude that a plaintiff's claim was groundless if no evidence was produced at trial to substantiate plaintiff's claim of discrimination. Harris v. Plastics Manufacturing Co., 617 F.2d 438 (5th ...


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