United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle
Honorable Richard A. Jones United States District Judge
matter comes before the Court on Defendant Trans Ocean
Seafoods, Inc.'s (“Trans Ocean”) Motion for
Attorney's Fees. Dkt. # 180. For the reasons that follow,
the Court DENIES Trans Ocean's motion.
September 30, 2015, Plaintiff Equal Employment Opportunity
Commission (“EEOC”) filed this action against
Trans Ocean alleging federal claims for sexual harassment,
constructive discharge, and retaliation. Dkt. # 1
(Complaint). EEOC brought the action to seek relief for
current and former employees of Trans Ocean, Serapia
Matamoros, Elena Perea Olea, Celia Sanchez Perea, and
Maricela Dominguez.Three of those employees, Serapia
Matamoros, Elena Perea Olea, Celia Sanchez Perea, joined the
lawsuit as Plaintiffs-Intervenors alleging federal and state
claims against Trans Ocean for sexual harassment and
retaliation. Dkt. # 12 (Intervenor Complaint).
Court held a jury trial from March 27 to April 24, 2017. The
jury reached a partial verdict. They deadlocked on the
EEOC's federal sexual harassment claim seeking relief for
Serapia Matamoros and Plaintiff-Intervenor Serapia
Matamoros' federal and state sexual harassment claims.
The Court declared a mistrial on those claims. The jury found
against EEOC and Plaintiffs-Intervenors on all other claims.
Now, Trans Ocean moves for attorneys' fees. Dkt. # 180.
EEOC and Plaintiffs-Intervenors oppose the motion. Dkt. ##
VII permits a prevailing party to recover attorneys' fees
under certain circumstances:
In any action or proceeding under this subchapter the court,
in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than
the Commission or the United States, a reasonable
attorney's fee (including expert fees) as part of the
costs, and the Commission and the United States shall be
liable for costs the same as a private person.
42 U.S.C. § 2000e-5(k). The threshold inquiry for the
Court is whether the party seeking fees qualifies as the
“prevailing party.” CRST Van Expedited, Inc.
v. E.E.O.C., 136 S.Ct. 1642, 1646 (2016). EEOC and
Plaintiffs-Intervenors do not dispute that Trans Ocean
qualifies as a “prevailing party” for the
purposes of requesting attorneys' fees.
a defendant is the prevailing party on a civil rights claim .
. . 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.'” Id.
(quoting Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Employment
Opportunity Comm'n, 434 U.S. 412, 422 (1978)).
“An action becomes frivolous when the result appears
obvious or the arguments are wholly without merit.”
Galen v. Cty. of Los Angeles, 477 F.3d 652, 666 (9th
determining whether this standard has been met, a district
court must assess the claim at the time the complaint was
filed, and must avoid post hoc reasoning by concluding that,
because a plaintiff did not ultimately prevail, his action
must have been unreasonable or without foundation.”
Harris v. Maricopa Cty. Superior Court, 631 F.3d
963, 976 (9th Cir. 2011) (quoting Tutor-Saliba Corp. v.
City of Hailey, 452 F.3d 1055, 1060 (9th Cir. 2006)).
“This kind of hindsight logic could discourage all but
the most airtight claims, for seldom can a prospective
plaintiff be sure of ultimate success.”
Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 422.
this standard, the Court finds that neither EEOC nor
Plaintiffs-Intervenors' claims were frivolous,
unreasonable, or groundless. Much of Trans Ocean's
argument to the contrary is foreclosed by the principle that
the Court may not engage in post hoc reasoning. For example,
Trans Ocean contends that the charging parties'
allegations escalated after this lawsuit commenced and seeks
to substantiate this contention through a chart comparing
their initial allegations versus their testimony at trial.
Trans Ocean also scrutinizes EEOC's trial strategy as
disingenuous, maintains that it presented inconsistent and
unreliable witness testimony, and purports that this case is
part of an emerging trend by the EEOC to bring frivolous
lawsuits. Lastly, Trans Ocean relies on the jury's
verdict against many of EEOC's and
Plaintiffs-Intervenors' claims as support for the
deficiency of those claims. Trans Ocean's reliance on
after-the-fact, post-complaint occurrences is immaterial to
the Christianburg inquiry, which requires the Court
to examine the feasibility of the complaint at the time it
was filed. See 434 U.S. at 422; Harris, 631
F.3d at 976.
Ocean fares no better in its other efforts to show that the
EEOC's complaint was frivolous. Trans Ocean frames its
primary argument under a non-exclusive three- factor
framework used by the Eleventh Circuit to determine whether
an action is frivolous. Dkt. # 180 (citing Quintana v.
Jenne, 414 F.3d 1306, 1309 (11th Cir. 2005) (identifying
three “general guidelines” for gauging the
frivolousness of a claim: “(1) whether the plaintiff
established a prima facie case; (2) whether the defendant
offered to settle; and (3) whether the trial court dismissed
the case prior to trial or held a full-blown trial on the
merits”)). The Ninth Circuit has not adopted the
Eleventh Circuit's three-factor test for frivolousness.
Moreover, in reciting ...