Friday, August 01, 2014

County awarded attorney fees and costs as the prevailing party in a civil rights action


County awarded attorney fees and costs as the prevailing party in a civil rights action
Carter v Village of Ocean Beach, USCA, 2nd Circuit, #13,815

Plaintiffs, former seasonal and part-time police officers of the Village of Ocean Beach, sued the Village and County and various officers and employees of those entities alleging multiple wrongful termination and defamation. They subsequently withdrew all claims except for their allegation contending that their First Amendment rights had been violated by the Village and the other named defendants.

As to Plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims, the District Court granted summary judgment in favor of all of the defendants, explaining that Plaintiffs’ First Amendment claims were barred as they were made only pursuant to the defendants’ performing official duties and thus Plaintiffs’ allegations were “constitutionally unprotected,” citing Weintraub v Board of Education, 593 F3d at 196.

As to the dismissal of Plaintiffs’ procedural due process claims, the Court of Appeals explained that their [1] breaks in employment defeated any claim to property rights under New York Civil Service Law and [2] the availability of a meaningful post deprivation state law remedy defeated any liberty based “stigma plus” claims with respect to their allegations of defamation.

Rejecting Plaintiffs’ argument that (1) their claims were not frivolous; (2) they should not be liable for fees and costs associated with their voluntarily withdrawal of their State law claims and claims not set out in 42 USC §1988, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sustained the District Court’s order granting attorney's fee and costs to the only County defendants* in the amount of $63,990.00 as the prevailing party.  

In the words of the court, “Plaintiffs’ claims were frivolous from the outset and required the County Defendants to litigate continuously (at taxpayer expense) since March 2007,” explaining that the County Defendants did not employ, or supervise, the Plaintiffs and had no meaningful role in any alleged wrongs advanced by the Plaintiffs.

* Plaintiffs brought their state law claims in state court, which dismissed all claims against the county at the pleading stage of the action.
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