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Adams v. Monterey Lake, LLC

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

November 20, 2017

AMBRE ADAMS, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTEREY LAKE, LLC and GPR MCKINLEY MANAGER, LLC, Defendants.

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          DANIEL C. IRICK UNITES STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This cause comes before the Court for consideration without oral argument on the following motion:

MOTION: MOTION FOR AN AWARD OF COSTS AND ATTORNEY FEES (Doc. 48)
FILED: July 27, 2017
THEREON it is RECOMMENDED that the motion be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         On September 19, 2016, Plaintiff filed this action seeking recovery against Defendants, Monterey Lake, LLC and GPR McKinley Manager, LLC, for their alleged violation of the United States Fair Housing Act (the FHA). Doc. 1. Plaintiff alleged in the Complaint that Defendants violated 42 U.S.C. §§ 3604(f)(2) and 3604(f)(3)(B) by failing to make a reasonable accommodation for Plaintiff's alleged disabilities.

         The operative facts are set forth in detail in a previous Order. See Doc. 40 at 2-5. In sum, Plaintiff alleged that she was disabled under the FHA because she suffered from panic attacks and PTSD and that, as a result of her disability, she needed her dog, a six-month-old pit bull, which she asserted was an “assistance animal, ” to live with her in her apartment. Defendants, the apartment complex and its property management company, had a policy prohibiting pit bulls and, thus, requested additional information from Plaintiff prior to allowing Plaintiff's dog to live in the apartment with Plaintiff. Plaintiff submitted to Defendants a letter from her physician that stated that, “I will confirm that [Plaintiff] is in need of her assistant animal for her disabilities.” Doc. 37-8. Defendants sought additional information from the physician, but he declined to provide further information without payment. Thus, on the basis of the information provided by Plaintiff, Defendants refused to allow the dog to live in the apartment. This lawsuit followed.

         Discovery began in November 2016. Doc. 16. On March 20, 2017, depositions were taken of Plaintiff, her physician, and the property manager of the apartment complex at issue. See Docs. 26-1; 26-2; and 26-3.

         On March 22, 2017, Defendants' counsel sent an email to Plaintiff's counsel stating, in part, that Defendants would file a motion for summary judgment and seek attorney fees and costs because there was no evidence or testimony, other than Plaintiff's own testimony, that established that Plaintiff had a disability or the need for a service animal. Doc. 48-1.

         On April 26, 2017, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment. Doc. 26. Plaintiff also filed a motion for summary judgment. Doc. 30. On July 5, 2017, the Court entered an Order granting Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Doc. 40), and judgment was entered in favor of Defendants (Doc. 41).

         On July 27, 2017, Defendants filed the motion for an award of costs and attorney fees that is now before the Court. Doc. 48. In that motion, Defendants assert that, as prevailing parties, they are entitled to costs pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) and are entitled to an award of attorney fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(2). Doc. 48 at 3-4. Specifically as to the attorney fee request, Defendants argue that they are entitled to attorney fees because Plaintiff continued to litigate this case after the March 20, 2017 depositions - i.e., “after it became apparent that [Plaintiff] claims against Defendants were not supported by any evidence.” Id. at 3. As such, Defendants request attorney fees in the amount of $17, 475.00.[1]

         The parties agree that the standard for awarding a prevailing defendant attorney fees pursuant to the FHA (i.e., § 3613(c)(2)) is the same as the standard for awarding attorney fees in civil rights cases. See Docs. 48 at 3; 52 at 3. The Eleventh Circuit very recently and concisely articulated the standard for awarding attorney fees to a prevailing defendant in a case such as this:

In civil rights cases, a district court may award attorney's fees to the prevailing defendant-even in the absence of bad faith-if the court “finds that [the plaintiff's] claim was frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless, or that the plaintiff continued to litigate after it clearly became so.” Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 422, 98 S.Ct. 694. This is “a more stringent standard” than that which applies when fees are sought by the prevailing plaintiff. Head v. Medford, 62 F.3d 351, 355 (11th Cir. 1995). As the Supreme Court has cautioned:
[I]t is important that a district court resist the understandable 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. This kind of hindsight logic could discourage all but the most airtight claims.... Even when the law or the facts appear questionable or ...

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