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Smith v. Beauclair

November 4, 2010

RAMON L. SMITH, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THOMAS BEAUCLAIR, PHIL FOSTER, DEAN ALLEN, ERIC MACEACHERN, CARL DAVIS, DWAYNE SHEDD, DAVID SARGENT, JOHN HARDISON, DONNA RILEY, JEFF HENRY, ROD SCHLIENZ, MICHAEL JOHNSON, JAY CHRISTENSEN, AND DOES 1-5, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Edward J. Lodge U. S. District Judge

MEMORANDUM ORDER

Pending before the Court in this case are Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Expenses, Docket No. 126, and Defendants' Bill of Costs, Docket No. 125. The Court has previously ruled that Plaintiff's counsel has standing to file the motion for attorney's fees on behalf of the Personal Representative for Plaintiff and that the claim for attorney's fees did not abate upon the death of Plaintiff. Docket No. 144.

Having fully reviewed the record, the Court finds that the facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. Accordingly, in the interest of avoiding further delay, and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter shall be decided on the record before this Court without oral argument.

Background

Plaintiff was an inmate in the custody of the Idaho Department of Correction ("IDOC"),starting in December 1997 and continuing until his death on September 19, 2006. He sued IDOC officials and correctional officers for their refusal to accommodate his religious worship which included an individualized practice of Cherokee religious beliefs and practices. The Court appointed the law firm of Givens Pursley as pro bono counsel to represent Plaintiff in his civil rights claim.*fn1 In the Fourth Amended Complaint, Plaintiff asserted claims under the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act ("RLUIPA") and 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Docket No. 69. The Complaint requested a judgment for Plaintiff on his religious accommodation request, a declaration that his religious beliefs constitute a religion, and a declaration that the deprivation of his religious worship constituted a violation of the First Amendment and RLUIPA. Docket No. 69, p. 9. The Complaint also requested injunctive relief and an attorneys' fees award. Id., p. 10.

Specifically, the Fourth Amended Complaint set forth the following claims: Count I: denial of free exercise of religion in violation of § 1983 for sacred fire, tobacco burning and smudging, permission to grow and maintain a beard, dietary accommodations, and religious literature; Count II: equal protection for sacred fire, tobacco burning and smudging, permission to grow and maintain a beard, dietary accommodations, and religious literature; Count III: (no count 3 in complaint); Count IV: violation of RLUIPA for sacred fire, tobacco burning and smudging, permission to grow and maintain a beard, dietary accommodations, and religious literature; a request for punitive damages and attorneys fees.

The Court entered an interlocutory declaratory ruling, stating that the complete failure to accommodate Plaintiff's request to participate in a Sacred Fire ceremony was a violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA). Docket No. 98, p. 16. The Court also issued a declaratory ruling that the failure to provide a religious exemption for Plaintiff's beard and the refusal to allow Plaintiff to purchase medicinal herbs, violated his rights under RLUIPA. Docket No. 98. In the same Order, the Court granted Defendants' summary judgment motion on Plaintiff's requests to burn tobacco and to perform daily smudging in his cell since smudging also requires the burning of tobacco, sage, cedar, juniper and sweet grass in a small bowl. Plaintiff later clarified that he could only participate in the sacred fire ceremony through the burning of tobacco in his cell, and the Court issued an amended ruling, granting Defendants' request for summary judgment on Plaintiff's request for a sacred fire ceremony. Docket No. 117. The August 11, 2006 Order also granted Defendants' motion for summary judgment on the Plaintiff's claims for compensatory damages. Docket No. 98.

In a separate Order on August 23, 2006, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants on the issue of Plaintiff's generalized request for religious literature for Plaintiff. Docket No. 117, pp. 4-5.

After the Court's ruling on Plaintiff's religious worship requests, the parties entered into a Settlement Agreement. A Judgment was entered on September 18, 2006, and the following day, September 19, 2006, Plaintiff died at the prison. Plaintiff's counsel informed the Court on September 13, 2007 that Givens Pursley had been appointed as Plaintiff's personal representative. Docket No. 138 (attaching the Letters of Administration, appointing the law firm as the Personal Representative of Ramon Smith's estate). Defendants requested additional time within which to file a response to the Motion for Substitution of Party, and the response was filed shortly thereafter. In Docket No. 144, the Court ordered that Plaintiff's motion for Substitution of Party (Docket No. 138) be granted and Defendants' Motion for Extension of Time to File Response (Docket No. 140) be granted and also it was ordered that both parties were to attend a judicially supervised settlement conference to settle the matter of attorneys fees. The parties were unable to agree upon settlement. The Court will not address Defendants renewed legal arguments that Plaintiff's estate cannot bring this action for attorneys fees that were dealt with by the Court in its Order dated September 27, 2007, Docket No. 139.

Plaintiff claims he was a prevailing party and is therefore entitled to attorneys's fees under 42 U. S. C. § 1988 in the amount of $115,829, but acknowledges that the fees should be reduced based on the cap for hourly rates under the Prison Litigation Reform Act to $39,687. Defendants argue that Plaintiff was not a prevailing party since both sides were successful on certain claims and that fees are discretionary and should not be granted in this case. Defendants seek reimbursement of their costs related to the action in the amount of $3,293.63.

Standard of Review for Attorneys Fees

1. Attorneys Fees Pursuant to § 1988

Title 42 U.S.C. § 1988 authorizes an award of attorney's fees as part of costs in civil rights actions brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. "The purpose of § 1988 is to ensure 'effective access to the judicial process' for persons with civil rights grievances." Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983) (citing H.R.Rep. No. 94-1558, p. 1 (1976)).

Courts have "considerable discretion" over fee awards under § 1988. Corder v. Gates, 947 F.2d 374, 380 (9th Cir. 1991). However, courts "must clearly articulate sound reasons in support of their fee awards." Id. In its written decision, a court should provide "a concise but clear ...


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