United States District Court, D. Minnesota
Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge
matter is before the court on Plaintiff First Lutheran
Church's (“First Lutheran”) post-settlement
motion for attorney fees. (ECF No. 78.) The Defendant, the
City of St. Paul (“the City”), opposes First
Lutheran's motion. For the reasons stated below, First
Lutheran's motion is GRANTED in part.
litigation arises out of a dispute between First Lutheran and
the City regarding First Lutheran's use of its property.
Specifically, First Lutheran challenged the City's
Resolution 18-145, which limited how a nonprofit, Listening
House, could operate out of First Lutheran's property,
arguing that it violated the First Amendment and the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act
(RLUIPA). Listening House is a day shelter and
community center that serves the homeless and other
vulnerable populations in the Twin Cities area. (Amend.
Compl. ¶ 27.) First Lutheran began a partnership with
Listening House by offering space in its basement out of
which Listening House could run its programming.
(Id. at ¶ 31-32.) The City informed First
Lutheran and Listening House that they would need to apply
for a Determination of Similar Use in order to operate as
planned in the space. (Id. at ¶ 37.) The City
issued its Determination, which required First Lutheran and
Listening House to meet the standards for “home
occupation” as listed in the zoning code, including
three additional conditions. (Id. at ¶ 43-45.)
After experiencing significant pushback from the community
about Listening House's work at the church, the
City's Planning Commission modified the Determination of
Similar Use and added eleven more conditions limiting
Listening House's use of the space. (Id. at
¶ 73.) This Determination and its fourteen total
conditions, with minor modifications, became Resolution
18-145. (Id. at ¶ 85.)
Listening House filed suit in state court, First Lutheran
sought a preliminary injunction in federal court to prevent
the City from enforcing Resolution 18-145. (ECF No. 5.) The
City opposed the injunction and brought a motion to dismiss
the complaint. (ECF No. 16.) First Lutheran was largely
successful in this first round of litigation. The Court
granted First Lutheran's motion for preliminary
injunction in part in July 2018, prohibiting the City from
enforcing two of the fourteen conditions. (ECF No. 37.) In
August 2018, the Court denied the City's motion to
dismiss nearly in its entirety, dismissing only a substantive
due process claim. (ECF No. 39.)
the injunction, extensive settlement negotiations took place.
In July 2018, several proposals were exchanged for the
resolution of the lawsuit. Listening House and First Lutheran
send a final coordinated settlement proposal. (Hayes Aff. Ex.
3.) The letter specifically represented that they were not
challenging the Determination of Similar Use, but instead
were challenging those conditions that Listening House and
First Lutheran deemed inconsistent with that determination.
(Id.) They also agreed to accept the removal and
modification of several conditions as described in the
City's previous offer. (Id.) Similarly, by
September, the City had almost finalized a settlement with
Listening House in the parallel state court case, allowing
them to continue doing their work with the homeless in the
basement of First Lutheran. (Id., Ex. 4, p.1.) And
the City indicated a willingness to revise or rescind all of
the challenged conditions. (Id. at p. 2.)
the substantial progress made toward a negotiated settlement
of the remaining areas in dispute, talks soon broke down and
a pretrial conference was scheduled. At that conference, both
sides expressed an interest in prioritizing settlement over
the costs of litigation. (September 11, 2018 Minutes, ECF No.
46 (“The Court and counsel are all in agreement that
the best outcome of this litigation would be a prompt
settlement, and would likely be settlement ahead of further
work on discovery.”).) This was particularly important
in light of the not-for-profit status of both parties. The
Court scheduled a settlement conference for early January,
the first available date that worked for all parties. The
City wanted to stay the proceedings until that settlement
conference. (Hayes Aff. Ex. 4.) First Lutheran, however,
quickly took an approach directly at odds with its expressed
interest in settlement.
its stated commitment to prioritizing settlement, First
Lutheran's counsel remained focused on litigation, and in
October 2018 filed a motion to amend its complaint reflecting
a radically changed position on the Home Occupation Status
issue. Specifically, where before First Lutheran had only
challenged the conditions the City had placed on First
Lutheran and Listening House rather than the procedural
vehicle used by the City, now First Lutheran contested the
City's use of the home occupation standard at all in this
case. (ECF No. 51.) First Lutheran, surprisingly, also
noticed ten depositions for the middle of November 2018,
including a deposition of an Assistant City Attorney.
the Court had declined to formally stay the litigation in its
entirety, though it had strongly encouraged parties to focus
primarily on preparing for settlement rather than on
discovery. However, as detailed above, despite agreeing with
this idea in theory, counsel for First Lutheran instead dove
headfirst into costly discovery and motion practice.
Concerned that such extensive discovery undertaken so close
to a settlement conference would undermine those efforts,
this Court formally stayed discovery until after the
conference took place in early January 2019. (ECF No. 68.)
hoped for, a successful settlement was negotiated at the
January settlement conference. Ultimately, that settlement
agreement did not embrace First Lutheran's newer
opposition to the Determination of Similar Use, which remains
in effect. The parties also did not agree on attorneys'
fees during the settlement, and instead opted to bring a
motion before this Court.
City does not dispute First Lutheran's motion for fees in
its entirety. Rather, the City argues that First Lutheran is
not entitled to its full request of nearly $400, 000. First,
the City believes that settlement was possible in July 2018,
and therefore most work done after this point was
unnecessary. Second, the City argues that First Lutheran
should not be permitted to collect any fees for its time
spent drafting an Interim Fee Petition that it ultimately did
not file. The Court agrees with the City in substantial part.
parties in RLUIPA claims may bring a motion to recover
attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b).
Plaintiffs are considered prevailing parties for the purposes
of § 1988(b) “if they succeed 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) (quoting Nadeau
v. Helgemoe, 581 F.2d 275, 278-79 (1st Cir. 1978))
(internal quotation marks omitted). Because the purpose of
§ 1988(b) is to promote access the courts for
individuals with civil rights claims, prevailing plaintiffs
should ordinarily be permitted to recover attorneys'
fees. Id. at 429. However, “[t]his is ...