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United States v. Harris

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

June 20, 2018

UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, Plaintiff,
v.
JUSTIN R. HARRIS, Defendant.

          MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND COSTS [DE 348]

          WILLIAM MATTHEWMAN UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon the Defendant, Justin R. Harris' ("Defendant") Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs ("Motion") [DE 348]. The Motion was referred to the undersigned by United States District Judge Robin L. Rosenberg. See DE 351. The Government filed a response [DE 358], the City of Boynton Beach filed a response [DE 360], and Defendant filed a reply [DE 365]. The Court held a hearing on the matter on May 31, 2018. This matter is ripe for review.

         BACKGROUND

         On June 8, 2017, Defendant was charged by way of Indictment with one count of deprivation of rights under color of law, 18 U.S.C. § 242, and two counts of falsification of a record, 18 U.S.C. § 1519, for an incident that occurred on August 8, 2014. See DE 1. On June 8, 2017, the Palm Beach County Police Benevolent Association ("PBA") requested in writing that the City of Boynton Beach provide legal representation for Defendant, pursuant to Florida Statute § 111.065. [DE 348, Ex. 1]. The City declined the request on July 5, 2017, stating that it was the City's position that all the requirements of Florida Statute § 111.065 had not been met. [DE 348, Ex. 2]. The PBA then retained Attorney Jonathan Wasserman on behalf of Defendant. [DE 348, p. 2].

         On November 9, 2017, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges in favor of Defendant. See DE 161. On March 6, 2018, the PBA requested compensation for reasonable attorney's fees from the City in writing with the attorney times records attached pursuant to Florida Statute § 111.065. [DE 348, Ex. 3]. On March 15, 2018, the City of Boynton Beach declined the request to pay for attorney's fees. [DE 348, Ex. 4]. In response to the City's letter, Defendant filed his Motion [DE 348] on April 16, 2018. In Defendant's Motion [DE 348], he asserts that, pursuant to Florida Statute § 111.065, the Court retains jurisdiction over the matter and he is entitled to attorney's fees and costs.

         In the Government's response [DE 358], the Government explains that, while it does not take a substantive position in the matter, it believes that the Motion should be denied for lack of jurisdiction. The Government asserts that a state statute does not automatically confer jurisdiction on a federal court. Id. at pp. 1-2. The Government maintains that Defendant does not cite any provision of Article III or any federal statute that could confer jurisdiction over the motion, and, because federal courts only have power that is authorized by Article III or Congressional statutes, there is no basis for jurisdiction. Id. at p. 2. Additionally, the Government notes that a defendant being prosecuted by the Government in federal court may only recover legal fees and expenses under the Hyde Amendment. Id. Finally, the Government contends that Defendant's dispute with the City is contractual in nature, and is therefore governed by state law. Id. at p. 3.

         In the City of Boynton Beach's response [DE 360, pp. 2-6], it argues that the request for attorney's fees and costs is untimely under Florida Statute § 111.065. The City also contends that Defendant is not entitled to attorney's fees under § 111.065(3). Id. at pp. 6-7. At the May 31, 2018 hearing, the City of Boynton Beach also adopted the Government's argument regarding lack of jurisdiction.

         In his reply [DE 365], Defendant argues that the court retains jurisdiction over the matter, and he is entitled to attorney's fees. Defendant contends that, because the City declined to provide legal representation for Defendant, Florida Statute § 111.065(4) applies. Id. at p. 4. Defendant further asserts that the Court retains ancillary jurisdiction over the matter because the both prongs of the test set forth in Kokkonen v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 511 U.S. 375, 379-80 (1994), are satisfied here. Id. at pp. 3-5. Defendant argues that the attorney's fees and costs issue is wholly dependent on the facts of the underlying criminal case. Id. Defendant further asserts that the request for attorney's fees was timely filed. Id. at pp. 5-7. Finally, Defendant argues that his actions do not constitute an omission or commission that would fall under Florida Statute § 111.065(3)(c). Id. at pp. 7-8.

         ANALYSIS

         The first issue the Court must consider is whether it has jurisdiction to grant the relief sought in Defendant's Motion. The Court notes that defense counsel stated during the May 31, 2018 hearing that Defendant is not seeking relief under the Hyde Amendment[1], but solely under Florida Statute § 111.065. Therefore, there is no federal statute or law at issue. The only possible way that this Court could have jurisdiction over Defendant's Motion is if it has ancillary jurisdiction.

         In Kokkonen, supra, which is cited by both Defendant and the Government in their briefs, the parties arrived at a settlement agreement and executed a stipulation and order of dismissal with prejudice, which order did not reference the settlement agreement or reserve district court jurisdiction over the agreement. Id. at 375. A dispute arose regarding the settlement agreement, and the respondent filed a motion in the district court to enforce the agreement. Id. The Supreme Court explained that, "[f]ederal courts are courts of limited jurisdiction. They possess only that power authorized by Constitution and statute (citation omitted), which is not to be expanded by judicial decree (citation omitted)." Id. at 377. The Court reasoned that the doctrine of ancillary jurisdiction has been applied for two purposes: "(1) to permit disposition by a single court of claims that are, in varying respects and degrees, factually interdependent (citation omitted); and (2) to enable a court to function successfully, that is, to manage its proceedings, vindicate its authority, and effectuate its decrees (citation omitted)." Id. at 379-80.

         Defense counsel argued at the May 31, 2018 hearing that Kokkonen is distinguishable from the case at hand because Kokkenen involved a settlement agreement and, thus, was a contract case. However, it is clear to the Court that the black letter law set forth in Kokkenen is applicable in this case. Defense counsel also stated at the May 31st hearing that Defendant believes that the Court has ancillary jurisdiction under the first prong of the Kokkenen test. This prong requires that the underlying criminal case and the attorney's fees and costs issue be factually interdependent. The Court simply cannot find that the underlying criminal case and the attorney's fees and costs issue are factually interdependent. Rather, the attorney's fees and costs issue is a state court contract dispute that cannot be brought in this federal district court.

         The Court notes that Defendant has not cited one case in which a defendant has successfully obtained attorney's fees after filing a motion pursuant to Florida Statute § 111.065 in federal court. The Court's independent research has not found any case which authorizes the relief sought by Defendant in this case. Pursuant to Kokennen, "[i]t is to be presumed that a cause lies outside this limited jurisdiction, Turner v. Bank of North America, 4 U.S. (4 Dall.) 8, 11, 1 L.Ed. 718 (1799), and the burden of establishing the contrary rests upon the party asserting jurisdiction, McNutt v. General Motors Acceptance Corp., 298 U.S. 178, 182-183, 56 S.Ct. 780, 782, 80 L.Ed. 1135 (1936)." 511 U.S. at 377.

         The only case relied on by Defendant at the May 31st hearing was United States v. Weissman, No. S2 94 CR. 760 (CSH), 1997 WL 334966, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. June 16, 1997), supplemented, No. S2 94 CR. 760 CSH, 1997 WL 539774 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 28, 1997). In Weissman, an unreported case out of the Southern District of New York, a jury convicted a defendant of three charges. 1997 WL 334966, at *1. The defendant's former employer later informed him that it would no longer advance funds to meet the expense of his future legal expenses or cover the most recently incurred costs of his defense. Id. The defendant moved the district court to compel his former employer to pay the costs. Id. ...


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