United States District Court, S.D. Florida
DARIEN X. EVANS, Plaintiff,
ST. LUCIE COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.
ORDER DENYING MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES
L. ROSENBERG, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on Defendant St. Lucie
County School District's Motion for Attorney's Fees
As Prevailing Party (the “Motion”). Mot., DE 70;
see also Financial Affidavit, DE 67. Plaintiff has
not filed a response to the Motion, nor has he responded to
the Magistrate's Order to Show Cause to Respond to the
Motion, which required a written response by June 20, 2019.
See DE 89; DE 90.
its Motion, Defendant seeks attorney's fees as the
prevailing party in this Title VII action in which Plaintiff
sought damages for discrimination, a hostile work
environment, and retaliation based on his race and sexual
orientation. See Mot., DE 70; Compl., DE 1. In its
Motion, Defendant argues that “defendant is entitled to
attorneys fees as a prevailing party and/or due to the fact
that the Plaintiff's claims in this case were groundless,
as it was clear at all times…that termination of the
Plaintiff was appropriate for the reasons set forth in the
Defendants' Motion for Final Summary Judgment.”
Id. ¶ 4.
facts of this case were fully set forth in the Court's
Order Granting Summary Judgment. See Order, DE 65,
Standard for Awarding Attorney's Fees
VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 authorizes the award of
attorney's fees in certain circumstances. The statute
provides that “In any action or proceeding under this
subchapter the court, in its discretion, may allow the
prevailing party, … a reasonable attorney's fee
(including expert fees) as part of the costs.” 42
U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). “When a defendant is the
prevailing party on a civil rights claim, the Court has held,
district courts may award attorney's fees if the
plaintiff's ‘claim was frivolous, unreasonable, or
groundless,' or if ‘the plaintiff continued to
litigate after it clearly became so.'” CRST Van
Expedited, Inc. v. E.E.O.C., 136 S.Ct. 1642, 1646 (2016)
(citing Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S.
412, 421-422 (1978)). This is a “stringent”
standard. Bonner v. Mobile Energy Services Co., LLC,
246 F.3d 1303, 1304 (11th Cir. 2001) (citing Hughes v.
Rowe, 449 U.S. 5 (1980)).
[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, for seldom can a prospective
plaintiff be sure of ultimate success. No. matter how honest
one's belief that he has been the victim of
discrimination, no matter how meritorious one's claim may
appear at the outset, the course of litigation is rarely
predictable. Decisive facts may not emerge until discovery or
trial. The law may change or clarify in the midst of
litigation. Even when the law or the facts appear
questionable or unfavorable at the outset, a party may have
an entirely reasonable ground for bringing suit.
Christiansburg Garment Co., 434 U.S. at 421-22.
See also Richardson v. Bay Dist. Sch., 560 Fed.Appx.
928, 929-30 (11th Cir. 2014) (“This ‘standard is
so stringent that the plaintiff's action must be
meritless in the sense that it is groundless or without
foundation in order for an award of fees to be
justified.'”) (quoting Busby v. City of
Orlando, 931 F.2d 764, 787 (11th Cir. 1991)).
Eleventh Circuit, “[i]n deciding whether an action is
so lacking in merit as to justify awarding attorney's
fees to the prevailing defendant, the trial court is to
consider the denominated Sullivan factors, i.e.,
whether (1) the plaintiff established a prima facie case; (2)
the defendant offered to settle; and (3) the trial court
dismissed the case prior to trial.” Bonner,
246 F.3d at 1304. See also Sullivan v. School Bd. of
Pinellas Cty., 773 F.2d 1182, 1189 (11th Cir. 1985).
“These factors, however, are only general guidelines,
and frivolity determinations must be made on a case-by-case
basis.” Lawver v. Hillcrest Hospice, Inc., 300
Fed.Appx. 768, 773-74 (11th Cir. 2008) (citing Quintana
v. Jenne, 414 F.3d 1306, 1310 (11th Cir. 2005)).
determining whether a claim is frivolous, [the Court]
‘view[s] the evidence in the light most favorable to
the non-prevailing plaintiff.” Barnes v.
Zaccari, 592 Fed.Appx. 859, 872 (11th Cir. 2015)
(quoting Cordoba v. Gillard's Inc., 419 F.3d
1169, 1179 (11th Cir. 2005) (emphasis in original).
Plaintiff's Complaint alleged six counts of violations of
Title VII and the Florida Civil Rights Act. See
Compl., DE 1. Summary judgment was granted in Defendant's
favor on all counts. Order, DE 65. In light of the
Court's Order Granting Summary Judgment, the Court agrees
that Defendant was the prevailing party in this action.
See Id. Accordingly, the Court proceeds to analyze
the Sullivan factors. The Court analyzes the factors
out of order, because the first factor requires individual
analysis of the merits of each count of the Complaint.
The Sullivan Factors
second factor - an offer of settlement by Defendant - is
neutral, because there is no explicit offer of settlement
apparent in the record.Cf. Quintana v. Jenne, 414
F.3d 1306, 1310 (11th Cir. 2005) (“In the absence of
evidence of an offer of a substantial amount in settlement,
this factor does not support either party.”). The third
factor - dismissal prior to trial - weighs in Defendant's
favor in that the case was resolved on summary judgment
before trial. See Sullivan, 773 F.2d at 1189 (noting