United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Bradford W. Colbert, LEGAL ASSISTANCE TO MINNESOTA PRISONERS,
MITCHELL HAMLINE SCHOOL OF LAW, for plaintiff.
Allen Wolf and Jason M. Hiveley, IVERSON REUVERS CONDON, for
ORDER GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART ATTORNEY
R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE
Erik Christianson brought this action against Martin County
Sheriff Jeffrey Markquart for assessing pay-for-stay costs
against Christianson during his stay at the Martin County
Jail without considering whether Christian qualifies for a
waiver of payment of the costs. Christianson argued that
Markquart violated Minn. Stat. § 641.12, subd. 3(b), and
the Due Process Clauses of the United States and Minnesota
Constitutions. The Court entered summary judgment for
Christianson because Markquart failed to consider whether
Christianson qualified for a waiver pursuant to Minn. Stat.
§ 641.12, subd. 3(b). Christianson v.
Markquart, No. 16-1034, 2018 WL 461134, at *5 (D. Minn.
Jan. 17, 2018). The Court did not reach the constitutional
Christianson moves for attorney fees in the amount of $17,
300. (Mot., January 31, 2018, Docket No. 45.) The Court will
grant in part and deny in part Christianson's motion,
awarding Christianson $6, 075.00 in attorney fees.
prevailing plaintiff who brings an action pursuant to 42
U.S.C. § 1983 may be awarded “a reasonable
attorney's fee as part of the costs.” 42 U.S.C.
§ 1988(b). “Prevailing plaintiffs should
ordinarily recover fees unless special circumstances would
make such an award unjust.” Jenkins ex rel. Jenkins
v. Missouri, 127 F.3d 709, 716 (8thCir.
Court must decide whether Christianson is a “prevailing
plaintiff.” A plaintiff prevails if he or she
“succeed[s] on any significant issue in litigation
which achieves some of the benefit the parties sought in
bringing suit.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S.
424, 433 (1983).
Sections 1983 and 1988, courts are “not limited to
awarding fees only when a constitutional or civil rights
claim is actually decided.” Maher v. Gagne,
448 U.S. 122, 132 (1980). “[W]hen a district court
‘grants relief on a state-law claim in order to avoid a
constitutional issue, it may award attorney's fees if the
constitutional claim was “substantial” and both
the constitutional and the state-law claims arose out of a
“common nucleus of operative fact.”'”
D.C., Inc. v. Missouri, 627 F.3d 698, 700
(8th Cir. 2010) (quoting Skokos v.
Rhoades, 440 F.3d 957, 962 (8th Cir. 2006)).
The “substantiality” element turns on whether the
allegations of the complaint raised a substantial
constitutional claim sufficient to confer jurisdiction.
See Rogers Grp., Inc. v. City of Fayetteville, 683
F.3d 903, 912 (8th Cir. 2012). The “common
nucleus of operative fact” element asks whether the
plaintiff's claims are aimed at achieving the same result
based on the same facts or legal theories. St. Louis
Effort for AIDS v. Lindley-Myers, 877 F.3d 1069, 1073
(8th Cir. 2017).
Court will conclude that Christianson is a prevailing party
entitled to reasonable attorney fees.
Substantial Constitutional Claim
the Court must consider whether the allegations in the
Complaint raised a substantial constitutional claim to confer
pendent jurisdiction. In his Section 1983 claim, Christianson
alleged that Markquart violated the Due Process Clause and
deprived him of a property interest by failing to assess
whether Christianson was entitled to a waiver before
assessing pay-for-stay costs against him. (Compl.
¶¶ 16-20, Apr. 20, 2016, Docket No. 1-1.); see
also 42 U.S.C. § 1983. The Court had original,
federal-question jurisdiction over Christianson's Section
1983 claim because Markquart was acting under the color of
Minnesota law as sheriff of Martin County. 28 U.S.C. §
1343(a)(3). Christianson's due-process claim was not
“frivolous, ” Hagans v. Lavine, 415 U.S.
528, 539 (1974), or “so patently without merit”
to go beyond the Court's jurisdiction, id. at
543 (quoting Bell v. Hood, 327 U.S. 678, 683
(1946)); Davis v. Reagen, 630 F.2d 1299, 1301 n.6
(8th Cir. 1980). The Court had pendent
jurisdiction over Christianson's state-law claim because
the state-law claim was “so related” to the Due
Process Clause claim that it “form[s] part of the same
case or controversy under Article III of the United States
Constitution.” 28 U.S.C. § 1367(a).
argues that the Court was required to assess whether
Christianson actually has a property interest for due-process
purposes to determine whether Christianson has
standing. (Opp'n Mem. at 7, Feb. 14, 2018,
Docket No. 54.) Markquart is mistaken. “The standing
inquiry is not . . . an assessment of the merits of a
plaintiff's claim.” Red River Freethinkers v.
City of Fargo, 679 F.3d 1015, 1023 (8th Cir.
2012). Whether Christianson's alleged property interest
is sufficient to state a due-process claim is a merits
question and not one of jurisdiction. See Hughes v. City
of Cedar Rapids, 840 F.3d 987, 993-94 (8th
Cir. 2016) (reversing district court's standing
determination where court considered adequacy of process).
Rather, the Court finds that Christianson suffered a
concrete, imminent harm by Markquart's inaction.
Spokeo, Inc. v. Robins, 136 S.Ct. 1540, 1547 (2016);
Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 573 n.8
(1992). Minn. Stat. § 641.12 is designed to protect the
monetary interests of individuals who cannot afford
pay-for-stay costs, and Markquart's violation subjected
Christianson to collection attempts and the risk of future
garnishment of his tax return. The Court concludes that
Christianson had standing, the Court had jurisdiction, and,
therefore, Christianson's due-process claim was
Common Nucleus ...