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State v. Heydinger

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

December 15, 2014

State of North Dakota, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
Beverly Heydinger, Commissioner and Chair of Minnesota Public Utilities Commission, et al., Defendants.

John A. Knapp, Thomas H. Boyd, and Brent A. Lorentz, Winthrop & Weinstein, P.A., Casey Jacobson, and Claire M. Olson, Basin Electric Power Cooperative, John Neumann, The North American Coal Corporation, Sandi Tabor, Lignite Energy Council, David Sogard, Minnkota Power Cooperative, Inc., Wayne K. Stenehjem, Office of the Attorney General, State of North Dakota, William Taylor, Woods Fuller Schultz & Smith, and Wyatt Hogan, Great Northern Properties L.P., for Plaintiffs.

Alethea M. Huyser, Lisa A. Crum, John S. Garry, and Michael T. Everson, Office of the Attorney General, State of Minnesota, for Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

SUSAN RICHARD NELSON, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Nontaxable Costs [Doc. No. 212] and Defendants' Motion for Review of Costs Judgment [Doc. No. 239]. For the reasons set forth below, the Court finds that Plaintiffs are entitled to attorneys' fees and nontaxable costs in this matter, and that the Cost Judgment was proper. Accordingly, Plaintiffs' Motion will remain pending for further briefing, and Defendants' Motion is denied.

II. BACKGROUND

In their Amended Complaint in this lawsuit, Plaintiffs asserted several claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the U.S. Constitution. (Am. Compl. [Doc. No. 9] ¶ 23.) Briefly stated, they alleged that certain provisions of Minnesota's Next Generation Energy Act (Minn. Stat. § 216H.03, subd. 3(2)-(3)) violate the Commerce Clause (Count I), the Supremacy Clause (Counts II and III), the Privileges and Immunities Clause (Count IV), and the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (Count VI). (See id. ¶¶ 85-127, 134-43.) Plaintiffs also sought a declaratory judgment that the Federal Power Act preempts Minn. Stat. § 216H.03, subd. 3 (Count V). (See id. ¶¶ 128-33.) Plaintiffs requested an order declaring Minn. Stat. § 216H.03, subd. 3(2)-(3), unconstitutional and unenforceable; an order enjoining enforcement of Minn. Stat. § 216H.03, subd. 3; and an award of costs and expenses incurred in the litigation, including reasonable attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). (See id. at 39-40.)

Defendants filed a Motion for Partial Judgment on the Pleadings on Counts II through VI of Plaintiffs' Amended Complaint, which the Court granted in part, as to Counts IV and VI. (Mem. Op. and Order dated Sept. 30, 2012 [Doc. No. 32] at 40.) The parties subsequently brought cross-motions for summary judgment on all of the remaining claims. On April 18, 2014, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs on Count I, finding that Minn. Stat. § 216H.03, subd. 3(2)-(3), violates the dormant Commerce Clause (the "Summary Judgment Order"). (Mem. Op. and Order dated Apr. 18, 2014 [Doc. No. 210] ("SJ Order") at 27, 48.) As a result, the Court enjoined Defendants and their successors in office from enforcing Minn. Stat. § 216H.03, subd. 3(2)-(3). (Id. at 48.) In light of the Court's holding as to Count I, it declined to consider the parties' federal preemption arguments and denied as moot the parties' motions as they related to Counts II, III, and V. (Id. at 27.)

On May 2, 2014, Plaintiffs filed their Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Nontaxable Costs [Doc. No. 212] pursuant to Rule 54(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiffs requested a briefing schedule bifurcating the issues of (1) whether Plaintiffs may recover their attorneys' fees and nontaxable costs and (2) whether the amounts requested are reasonable and appropriate. (Letter dated May 2, 2014 [Doc. No. 213] at 2.) The Court agreed that bifurcation was proper and has received full briefing [Doc. Nos. 221, 235, 236], and heard oral argument [Doc. No. 237], on the first issue.

On May 16, Plaintiffs filed their Bill of Costs [Doc. No. 217], along with supporting documentation [Doc. No. 218], seeking $7, 366.85 in taxable costs incurred in this matter. Defendants objected on several grounds. (See Defs.' Objs. to Bill of Costs [Doc. No. 226] ("Defs.' Objs. to Costs").) Plaintiffs thereafter withdrew their claim to a $40 witness fee, (see Pls.' Reply Mem. of Law in Support of Pls.' Bill of Costs [Doc. No. 233] ("Pls.' Costs Reply") at 4 n.3), and the Clerk of Court entered a Cost Judgment in the amount of $7, 326.85 [Doc. No. 238]. Defendants filed their Motion for Review of Costs Judgment [Doc. No. 239] on July 31, and Plaintiffs have responded [Doc. No. 241].

III. MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES AND NONTAXABLE COSTS

Under Rule 54(d), a party may make a claim for attorneys' fees and nontaxable expenses by motion within fourteen days after the entry of judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2)(A)-(B). The motion must specify the statute or rule entitling the movant to the award and a fair estimate of the amount sought. Id. Plaintiffs timely filed such a motion, asserting that they are entitled to their attorneys' fees and nontaxable costs and expenses pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.[1] (Pls.' Mot. for Attorneys' Fees and Nontaxable Costs [Doc. No. 212] at 3.)

Under § 1988, "[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of [42 U.S.C. § 1983, ] the court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs." 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b). "[T]he courts have wide discretion in determining whether or not an award of attorney's fees is warranted, giving due consideration to the principle that the prevailing party should recover attorney's fees unless special circumstances would render such an award unjust.'" Planned Parenthood of Minn., Inc. v. Citizens for Cmty. Action, 558 F.2d 861, 870 (8th Cir. 1977) (quoting Newman v. Piggie Park Enters., Inc., 390 U.S. 400, 402 (1968)). Here, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs were not prevailing parties, and that even ...


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