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Koester v. Young Men's Christian Association of Greater St. Louis

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

July 7, 2017

MATINA KOESTER, et at., Plaintiffs,



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs (ECF No. 167) and Defendant's Bill of Costs (ECF No. 170). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition.

         I. Background

         On October 20, 2014, Plaintiffs Matina Koester and her minor child, N.K., filed a Complaint for Injunctive Relief against Defendant Young Men's Christian Association of Greater St. Louis ("YMCA"), alleging discrimination in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq. ("ADA"). (Compl., ECF No. 1) The facts of this case have been thoroughly presented in the Court's Memorandum and Order of February 5, 2016, granting summary judgment in favor of the Defendant. The Court incorporates those facts by reference as if fully set forth herein.

         Subsequent to the Court's Judgment and dismissal of Plaintiff s Complaint, Defendant filed a Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs under 42 U.S.C. § 12205, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), and rules 8.02 and 8.03 of the Local Rules of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri. Defendant has filed a separate Bill of Costs in the amount of $11, 725.95 (ECF No. 170) and Defendant asserts that an award of attorneys' fees and costs is justified in this case because Plaintiffs' lawsuit was frivolous, unreasonable, and groundless. Plaintiffs, on the other hand, contend that the ADA challenge was not frivolous but had a reasonable basis in law and fact.

         II. Legal Standard

         The ADA allows a "prevailing party" to recover its fees under 42 U.S.C. § 12205. The statute provides: "[i]n any action . . . commenced pursuant to this chapter, the court. . ., in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs . . . ." 42 U.S.C. § 12205. While fees are routinely awarded to prevailing plaintiffs in ADA cases, '"policy considerations which support the award of fees to a prevailing plaintiff are not present in the case of a prevailing defendant.'" Kohler v. Bed Bath & Beyond of Cai, LLC, 780 F.3d 1260, 1266 (9th Cir. 2015) (quoting Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 418-19 (1978)).

         Attorney's fees are awarded to a prevailing defendant under the ADA only in narrow circumstances where "the defendant establishes that the plaintiffs suit was totally unfounded, frivolous, or otherwise unreasonable or that the plaintiff continued the litigation after it clearly became so." Steelman v. Delano, No. 4:12-CV-00134 (CEJ), 2012 WL 5616156, at *3 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 15, 2012) (citation omitted); see also Williams v. City of CarlJunction, Mo., 523 F.3d 841, 843 (8th Cir. 2008). The United States Supreme Court has found this exception appropriate "'to protect defendants from burdensome litigation having no legal or factual basis.'" Young v. New Process Steel, LP, 419 F.3d 1201, 1206 (11th Cir. 2005) (quoting Christianburg, 434 U.S. at 420); see also Steelman v. Rib Crib No. 18, 2012 WL 4026686, at *5 (W.D. Mo. Sept. 12, 2012) (awarding attorney's fees to Defendants where plaintiff filed 67 ADA law suits in 18 months where the "groundless complaints forced Defendants to incur unnecessary attorney fees").

         However, "[e]ven '[a]llegtions that, upon careful examination, prove legally insufficient to require a trial are not, for that reason alone, groundless or without foundation ....'" Williams, 523 F.3d at 843 (quoting Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 15 (1980) (internal quotations omitted)). "So long as the plaintiff has 'some basis' for the discrimination claim, a prevailing defendant may not recover attorneys' fees." EEOC v. Kenneth Balk & Assocs., Inc., 813 F.2d 197, 198 (8th Cir. 1987) (quoting Obin v. Dist. No. 9 oflnt'lAss'n of Machinists, 651 F.2d 574, 587 (8th Cir. 1981)). Courts are mindful of the admonition by the Supreme Court "to avoid 'post hoc reasoning by concluding that, because plaintiff did not ultimately prevail, his action must have been unreasonable or without foundation.'" Williams, 523 F.3d at 843 (quoting Christianburg, 434 U.S. at 421-22).

         III. Discussion

         A. Defendant's Bill of Costs

         The Court notes at the outset that Plaintiffs' response in opposition pertains solely to Defendant's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs and does not address the Bill of Costs submitted by the Defendant. In that Bill, Defendant requests that costs in the amount of $11, 725.95 be taxed against Plaintiffs. Rule 54(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides, "[u]nless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs - other than attorney's fees - should be allowed to the prevailing party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(1). The Court allows the taxation of costs for, inter alia, fees for service of summons and subpoena, fees for printed or electronically recorded transcripts necessarily obtained for use in the case, and fees for witnesses. (FormAO-133)

         Defendant has attached itemized documentation for the requested costs, and the Court is satisfied that these amounts are reasonable and are in accordance with the costs permitted by federal law. Therefore, the Court will award Defendant $11, 725.95 in costs. See Hamidi v. City of Kirksville, No. 2:14CV00087 ERW, 2016 WL 6563470, at *l-2 (E.D. Mo. Nov. 4, 2016) (finding prevailing defendant was entitled to costs under Rule 54(d) and in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1920 in discrimination case); Dulaney v. Miami-Dade Cty., No. 09-23259-CIV, 2011 WL 6754074, at *4-5 (S.D. Fla. Dec. 22, 2011) (awarding costs as enumerated in § 1920 to prevailing defendant in ADA case).

         B. Attorneys' Fees and Costs Under 42 ...

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