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Peack v. Polk County Sheriff's Office

United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division

March 28, 2017




         This cause comes before the Court on Defendant Polk County Sheriff's Office's Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees and Costs against Plaintiff Evangelene Peack (Doc. # 59), filed on February 14, 2017. Peack failed to file a response to the Motion. For the reasons that follow, the Motion is granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         This Title VII action arose from Peack's termination from the Polk County Sheriff's Office on July 19, 2013. (Marcum Decl. Doc. # 49-3 at ¶ 18; Fulse Decl. Doc. #49-2 at ¶ 5). Peack, proceeding pro se, filed her first Complaint on December 12, 2015 (Doc. # 1), and Amended Complaint on February 1, 2016 (Doc. #17). Subsequently, Peack filed her Second Amended Complaint on May 12, 2016 (Doc. # 36), to which the Sheriff's Office filed its Answer on May 26, 2016 (Doc. #37).

         The Sheriff's Office timely filed its Motion for Summary Judgment on November 15, 2016. (Doc. # 48). Peack responded on January 12, 2017. (Doc. # 53). The Sheriff's Office did not file a reply. On February 2, 2017, this Court granted the Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. # 56). The Clerk subsequently entered judgment in favor of the Sheriff's Office on February 3, 2017. (Doc. # 57).

         On February 14, 2017, the Sheriff's Office filed its Motion seeking an award of attorney's fees and costs. (Doc. # 59). At this juncture, the time for filing a response to the pending Motion has expired and Peack has failed to respond. The Court now turns to the Sheriff's Office's Motion.

         II. Legal Standard

         A. 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k)

         District courts are afforded discretion in awarding reasonable attorney's fees to the prevailing party in actions brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. Sayers v. Stewart Sleep Ctr., Inc., 140 F.3d 1351, 1353 (11th Cir. 1998). When determining whether attorney's fees should be awarded, the Court reviews the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-prevailing party. Johnson v. Florida, 348 F.3d 1334, 1354 (11th Cir. 2003). The equitable considerations involved depend, however, upon whether the prevailing party is the defendant or the plaintiff. Sayers, 140 F.3d at 1353. Policy concerns militate against awarding attorney's fees to defendants in civil rights cases because such practice may discourage plaintiffs from bringing civil rights lawsuits. Id.

         In Christiansburg Garment Company v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412 (1978), the Supreme Court announced the relevant criteria governing an award of attorney's fees to a prevailing Title VII defendant. The Supreme Court held that awarding attorney's fees in such cases is appropriate “upon a [district court's] finding that the plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad faith.” Id. at 421. The Court added that, in applying these criteria, it is important the district court resist the temptation to engage in “post hoc reasoning” by concluding that, because a plaintiff did not ultimately prevail, his action must have been unreasonable or without foundation. Sayers, 140 F.3d at 1353 (citing Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 421-422).

         The Eleventh Circuit instructs that frivolity determinations be “made on a case-by-case basis, taking into account various factors, including (1) whether the plaintiff established a prima facie case, (2) whether the defendant offered to settle[, ] and (3) whether the suit was dismissed before trial.” Vavrus v. Russo, 243 Fed.Appx. 561, 563 (11th Cir. 2007). The Eleventh Circuit also provided a fourth factor: a “‘claim is not frivolous when it is “meritorious enough to receive careful attention and review.”'” Barnes v. Zaccari, 592 Fed.Appx. 859, 872 (11th Cir. 2015)(quoting Busby v. City of Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 787 (11th Cir. 1991)). Ultimately, these factors are “general guidelines only, not hard and fast rules.” Barnes, 592 Fed.Appx. at 872.

         B. 28 U.S.C. § 1920

         “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) prescribes an award of costs for a prevailing party unless a federal statute, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or a court order provides otherwise.” Tempay Inc. v. Biltres Staffing of Tampa Bay, LLC, No. 8:11-cv-2732-T-27AEP, 2013 WL 6145533, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Nov. 21, 2013); see Durden v. Citicorp Tr. Bank, FSB, No. 3:07-cv-974-J-34JRK, 2010 WL 2105921, at *1 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 26, 2010)(stating that Rule 54 establishes a strong presumption that costs should be awarded unless the district court decides otherwise)(citing Chapman v. Al Transp., 229 F.3d 1012, 1038 (11th Cir. 2000)). However, “the district court's discretion not to award the full amount of costs ...

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