United States District Court, D. Minnesota
A. Magnuson United States District Court Judge
matter is before the Court on Defendant Heartwood
Enterprises, LLC's renewed Motion for Attorney's Fees
and Nontaxable Costs. In addition, the Eighth Circuit Court
of Appeals directed this Court to rule on a similar Motion
Heartwood raised in that court. Defendant seeks
attorney's fees from Plaintiffs generally under federal
and state civil-rights laws, and from Plaintiffs' former
counsel individually under 28 U.S.C. § 1927.
Motion is a renewal of a Motion that the Court denied without
prejudice pending appeal. (Docket No. 67.) While the initial
Motion was fully briefed, Plaintiffs did not respond to the
renewed Motion. However, an attorney for Plaintiffs'
former counsel Paul Hansmeier, who has been suspended from
the practice of law, filed a response to the Motion as it
relates to the fees sought directly from Mr. Hansmeier
(Docket No. 76), as well as a notice of supplemental
authority in support of Mr. Hansmeier's position. (Docket
No. 77.) The response specifically disclaims any intent to
represent Plaintiffs' interests in this matter (Docket
No. 76 at 1 n.1), and thus the Motion is unopposed as to
Plaintiffs. Finally, despite the Court's Order that any
reply be filed by June 11, 2018 (Docket No. 74), Heartwood
did not file a reply until June 15, 2018.
moves for an award of attorney's fees and costs under the
Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), 42
U.S.C. § 12205 and 28 C.F.R. § 36.505, the
Minnesota Human Rights Act (“MHRA”), Minn. Stat.
§ 363A.33, subd. 7, and Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d). In addition,
Heartwood seeks its fees and costs from Plaintiffs'
former attorney under 28 U.S.C. § 1927. The award of
fees and costs under the ADA, the MHRA, the Federal Rules,
and § 1927 is discretionary, not mandatory.
Prevailing Party Award
award of attorney's fees against a plaintiff bringing a
civil-rights claim, including claims under the ADA and MHRA,
is appropriate if the claim “was frivolous,
unreasonable, or groundless” or if “the plaintiff
continued to litigate after it clearly became so.”
Christiansburg Garment Co. v. E.E.O.C., 434 U.S.
412, 422 (1978). Heartwood argues that Plaintiffs knew as
early as the Rule 26(f) conference in March 2015 that the
removal of the architectural barriers they challenged was not
“readily achievable” under the ADA, and thus that
their claims were groundless.
“readily achievable” issue was the subject of
Heartwood's Motion for Summary Judgment, as well as its
Motion to Strike, the full background of which is found in
the Court's Order granting the Motions. (Docket No. 47.)
Although the Court cannot condone Plaintiffs' lack of
diligence in discovery, and indeed has sanctioned Plaintiffs
for their untimely, insufficient disclosures, the Court is
reluctant to impose additional sanctions for what is
essentially a factual dispute. Heartwood's representation
to Plaintiffs in March 2015 that it did not believe that
barrier removal was readily achievable does not mean that
Plaintiffs had no basis for continuing the lawsuit. Rather,
it was Plaintiffs' duty to determine whether
Heartwood's representation was correct. And while
Plaintiffs' counsel did not undertake the investigative
process that is to be expected of litigants challenging
architectural barriers, the Court will not in this situation
hold his clients accountable for that failure. In this case,
the award of attorney's fees and costs under the ADA,
MHRA, and Rule 54(d) is not appropriate.
asks in the alternative that the Court hold Mr. Hansmeier
personally liable for the fees and costs it incurred in this
matter. An attorney “who so multiplies the proceedings
in any case unreasonably and vexatiously may be required by
the court to satisfy personally the excess costs, expenses,
and attorneys' fees reasonably incurred because of such
conduct.” 28 U.S.C. § 1927. The question under
§ 1927 is whether “the attorney's conduct,
viewed objectively, manifests either intentional or reckless
disregard of her duties to the Court.” Quasius v.
Schwan Food Co., No. 08cv575, 2010 WL 3218591, at * 2
(D. Minn. Aug. 13, 2010) (Ericksen, J.).
noted in the Order granting Heartwood's Motion for
Summary Judgment, Mr. Hansmeier utterly failed in his duties
to the Court with regard to the untimely and insufficient
declaration of his brother, submitted in a last-ditch effort
to avoid summary judgment on the readily-achievable issue.
(Docket No. 47 at 6.) Mr. Hansmeier's decision to ignore
his client's discovery burdens and his attempt to
circumvent the Federal Rules certainly manifests
“intentional or reckless disregard” of his duties
to the Court. The Court finds that Mr. Hansmeier's
conduct is precisely the type of unreasonable and vexatious
litigation tactics that § 1927 is meant to address.
asks the Court to determine that Mr. Hansmeier is responsible
for the full amount of its attorney's fees and costs,
which in its initial memorandum amounted to nearly $80, 000,
and have no doubt increased during Plaintiffs' appeal.
Imposing the entire amount of Heartwood's fees and costs,
however, is not appropriate in this instance. Again, although
the Court does not condone Mr. Hansmeier's conduct,
neither is the conduct so egregious to warrant imposition of
the full amount of Heartwood's fees. Rather, the Court
finds that Mr. Hansmeier should personally pay $5, 000 toward
Heartwood's attorney's fees and nontaxable costs
under § 1927, as a sanction for the dereliction of his
duties to the Court.
IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant's
Renewed Motion for Attorney's Fees and Nontaxable Costs
(Docket No. 72) is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part, and Plaintiffs' former
attorney Paul Hansmeier is personally liable for payment of