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Held v. Northshore School District

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

March 31, 2015

JONATHAN HELD, et. al., Plaintiffs,
v.
NORTHSHORE SCHOOL DISTRICT, Defendant.

ORDER DENYING MOTIONS

MARSHA J. PECHMAN, District Judge.

THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Defendant Northshore School District's Motion for Attorney's Fees and Expenses, (Dkt. No. 74), and FRCP 11 Motion for Attorney's Fees and Expenses, (Dkt. No. 95). Having reviewed the motions, Plaintiffs' response briefs, (Dkt. Nos. 80, 98), and the related record, the Court hereby DENIES the motions.

Background

On November 17, 2014, the Court entered an Order granting Defendant's motion for summary judgment as to Plaintiffs' federal claims, brought under the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA") and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act ("Section 504"), and dismissing Plaintiffs' remaining state law claims without prejudice. (Dkt. No. 67 at 22.) Defendant moves for an award of attorney's fees and expenses under the ADA and Section 504 and requests that the Court levy sanctions against Plaintiffs and their counsel pursuant to FRCP 11 and 28 U.S.C. § 1927. (Dkt. Nos. 74, 95.) Plaintiffs oppose Defendant's motions, (Dkt. Nos. 80, 98).

Discussion

A. Legal Standard

"[A]ttorney's fees should be granted to a defendant in a civil rights action only upon a finding that the plaintiff's action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation" or that plaintiff continued litigation after it became clearly so. Summers v. Teichert & Son, Inc., 127 F.3d 1150, 1154 (9th Cir. 1997) (citing Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Comm'n, 434 U.S. 412, 421-22 (1978)). This standard applies in both ADA and Section 504 cases. See id.; see also Bercovitch v. Baldwin Sch., Inc., 191 F.3d 8, 11 (1st Cir. 1999).

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11 allows courts to levy sanctions against a party whose attorney of record signs a "pleading, written motion, or other paper" that is presented for an improper purpose, contains legal contentions that are not warranted by existing law, or contains factual contentions that have no evidentiary support, among other things. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b). Sanctions may be levied against both the attorney and the party the attorney represents, with the exception that the represented party may not be sanctioned for presenting frivolous contentions of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(5).

When they unreasonably and vexatiously multiply proceedings, 28 U.S.C. § 1927 allows courts to require attorneys to satisfy excess costs, expenses and attorney's fees incurred. Section 1927 sanctions require a bad faith finding. Soules v. Kauaians for Nukolii Campaign Committee, 849 F.2d 1176, 1185 (9th Cir. 1988). "Bad faith is present when an attorney knowingly or recklessly raises a frivolous argument, or argues a meritorious claim for the purpose of harassing an opponent." Id., quoting Estate of Blas v. Winkler, 972 F.2d 858, 860 (9th Cir. 1986).

B. Plaintiffs' ADA and Section 504 Claims

The Court declines to award Defendant attorney's fees and expenses. The fact that Plaintiffs did not ultimately prevail on their federal claims does not mean their claims were frivolous. See Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 421-22. ("[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.").

Further, in its Order on Defendant's motion for summary judgment, the Court found Plaintiffs had presented evidence that showed Defendant may have been negligent in supervising J.H.'s Section 504 plan and that Defendant may not have responded to each of Mr. and Mrs. Held's concerns regarding the way in which J.H. was treated by Defendant's staff. (Dkt. No. 67 at 18-19.) Although it found this evidence was insufficient to show genuine issues of material fact existed as to whether Defendant acted with "deliberate indifference, " as is required to prevail on a claim under both the ADA and Section 504, the Court did not find Plaintiffs' ADA and Section 504 claims were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation or that Plaintiffs continued to litigate after they clearly became so.

The Court also cannot conclude that Plaintiffs' ADA and Section 504 claims were frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation or that Plaintiffs continued to litigate after they clearly became so, because the Court did not consider some of the exhibits and declarations filed by Plaintiffs in support of their motion for summary judgment because they were filed belatedly and/or were not ...


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