United States District Court, D. Maine
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S
FEES AND LITIGATION EXPENSES
TORRESEN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
me is the Plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees and
litigation expenses. (ECF No. 39.) For the reasons that
follow, the Plaintiff's motion is
26, 2018, Plaintiff Zachary Smith filed suit under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1983 and the Americans with Disabilities Act
(“ADA”), alleging that the
Defendants violated his Eighth Amendment rights and
discriminated against him because of his disability when they
refused to allow him to continue his medically-assisted
treatment for opioid use disorder while he was incarcerated.
Compl. (ECF No. 1). That same day, the Plaintiff moved for a
temporary restraining order or a preliminary injunction
requiring the Defendants to provide him with his medication.
(ECF No. 3.) On September 27, 2018, the parties notified the
Court that the Plaintiff had agreed to settle his dispute
with Defendant Fitzpatrick and jointly moved to dismiss the
Plaintiff's Complaint as against Fitzpatrick. (ECF No.
31.) The parties' settlement agreement stated that it
would not be effective unless I retained jurisdiction over
this action and incorporated the settlement's terms into
my order of dismissal. Settlement Agreement 4 (ECF No. 30).
On October 1, 2018, I held a telephonic conference of
counsel, during which I indicated my reluctance to retain
jurisdiction over the action. (ECF No. 33.) Both parties
argued for the retention of jurisdiction, and I reserved
that same day, I dismissed the Plaintiff's action against
Defendant Fitzpatrick without prejudice. Order (ECF No. 36).
The Order of Dismissal (the
“Order”) stated that:
In light of the parties' motion, I hereby ORDER that this
action is dismissed without prejudice as to Defendant
Fitzpatrick in accordance with the parties' settlement
agreement (ECF No. 30), the terms of which are incorporated
herein. In entering this order I make no findings regarding
the subject matter of the Plaintiff's Complaint or motion
for a preliminary injunction.
On October 30, 2018, the Plaintiff and Defendant Gillen filed
a joint stipulation dismissing the Plaintiff's claims
against Gillen and this case was closed. Status Report (ECF
No. 38). On November 1, 2018, the Plaintiff filed the instant
motion seeking attorney's fees from Defendant
Fitzpatrick, arguing that the Order rendered the Plaintiff
the prevailing party in the dismissed action. Pl.'s Mot.
“prevailing party” may collect attorney's
fees or litigation costs in a dispute under the ADA or §
1983. 42 U.S.C. § 12205; 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b).
“Prevailing party” is “a legal term of
art.” Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W.Va.
Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 603
(2001). “To qualify as a prevailing party, a litigant
must show that a material alteration of the parties'
legal relationship has taken place as a result of the
litigation, ” and that “the alteration possesses
a ‘judicial imprimatur.' ”
Hutchinson ex rel. Julien v. Patrick, 636 F.3d 1,
8-9 (1st Cir. 2011) (quoting Buckhannon, 532 U.S. at
605). Because I find that the Plaintiff cannot establish the
second of these factors, I begin and end my analysis there.
Supreme Court has stated that the necessary judicial
imprimatur exists where a party has obtained a
“judgment on the merits, ” or “a
court-ordered consent decree.” Buckhannon, 532
U.S. at 605. The Court has not foreclosed the possibility
that other forms of court-ordered settlements might suffice,
and the First Circuit has held that an order short of a
formal consent decree can reflect judicial
imprimatur. Hutchinson, 636 F.3d at 9
(citing Aronov v. Napolitano, 562 F.3d 84, 90 (1st
Cir. 2009) (en banc)). Thus, “rather than look
exclusively at the label attached to a particular order, an
inquiring court must consider ‘whether the order
contains the sort of judicial involvement and actions
inherent in a ‘court ordered consent decree.'
” Id. at 9-10 (quoting Aronov, 562
F.3d at 90). This requirement is fulfilled if (i) “the
change in the legal relationship between the parties was
‘court-ordered,' ” (ii) “there was
‘judicial approval of the relief vis-à-vis the
merits of the case,' ” and (iii) the court
maintains oversight of the agreement and the “ability
to enforce the obligations imposed on the parties.”
Id. (quoting Aronov, 562 F.3d at 90).
first and the third of these factors are satisfied here. The
parties agreed that their settlement would not come into
effect unless I incorporated the agreement into my order of
dismissal and retained jurisdiction over the action, meaning
the agreement and any change in the parties' relationship
was predicated on my Order. See Hutchinson, 636 F.3d
at 9 (first factor satisfied where court approved an
agreement that stated it would “be null and void and of
no force and effect” absent court's sign-off). And
by incorporating the parties' agreement into the Order, I
granted the parties the ability to seek to enforce that
agreement through a contempt motion. Buckhannon, 532
U.S. at 604 n.7 (federal jurisdiction to enforce private
settlements within the structure of the original case exists
when the terms of the settlement “are incorporated into
the order of dismissal”).
Order does not, however, satisfy the second factor of the
test. As described by the First Circuit, “judicial
approval of the relief vis-à-vis the merits of the
case” requires the district court to have conducted an
“appraisal of the merits.” Hutchinson,
636 F.3d at 10. The First Circuit addressed the meaning of
this requirement in Hutchinson. In that case, the
First Circuit found that sufficient appraisal had occurred
where, in compliance with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
23(e)(2), the district court had (i) conducted multiple
fairness hearings during which it displayed familiarity with
a proposed class action settlement's terms and (ii)
ultimately “express[ed] its satisfaction that the
interests of the plaintiff class had been adequately
considered” in arriving at the settlement. Id.
The First Circuit observed that the Rule 23(e)(2) analysis
was “strikingly similar to a court's role in
entering a consent decree-a role that requires a court to
ensure that the terms of the proposed decree ‘are fair
and not unlawful.' ” Id. (quoting
Smyth ex rel. Smyth v. Rivero, 282 F.3d 268, 280
(4th Cir. 2002)). The First Circuit contrasted the district
court's “extended engagement with the substance of
the” class settlement with the “virtually
nonexistent review” in Aronov v. Napolitano,
562 F.3d 84, “where the district court merely entered
an electronic docket entry granting” a joint motion to
remand. Id.; see also Aronov, 562
F.3d at 92 (finding that court order did not render plaintiff
a prevailing party where the district court had “made
no evaluation at all of the merits of the controversy-indeed
the court was never asked to do so”).
Plaintiff argues that any court order that incorporates a
private settlement agreement may rise to the level of a
consent decree, even if the court never evaluated the
action's merits, because courts must assure that all
orders they issue are “fair and not unlawful.”
Pl.'s Reply 4. In Smyth ex rel. Smyth v. Rivero,
the Fourth Circuit stated that
A court's responsibility to ensure that its orders are
fair and lawful stamps an agreement that is made part of an
order with judicial imprimatur, and the continuing
jurisdiction involved in the court's inherent power to
protect and ...