United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division
KEVIN D. MILLER, Plaintiff,
VOHNE LICHE KENNELS, INC., and AMERICAN WORKING DOGS UNITED, INC., Defendants.
ENTRY ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR FEES
Tanya Walton Pratt, Judge United States District Court
This matter is before the Court on Defendants’, Vohne Liche Kennels, Inc. (“Vohne Liche”) and American Working Dogs United, Inc. (“AWD”) (collectively, “Defendants”), Motion to Award Attorney’s Fees and Expenses (Dkt. 271) under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. For the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.
The following background was presented on summary judgment:
On May 14, 2008, Plaintiff, Kevin D. Miller (“Mr. Miller”) was pulled over by a City of Plymouth police officer for speeding while driving from Munster, Indiana to Fort Wayne, Indiana. During the traffic stop, a drug-detection dog-a K-9-was led around Mr. Miller’s vehicle. The dog alerted for the presence of drugs and a search of Mr. Miller’s vehicle took place. No drugs were found in Mr. Miller’s vehicle.
On July 22, 2009, Mr. Miller filed suit in the Northern District of Indiana against the Plymouth Police Department, the Marshall County Sheriff’s Department, Officer John Weir, and two Marshall County Sheriff’s Deputies (“the Northern District litigation”). In the course of litigating the suit, Mr. Miller sought information regarding the training of Plymouth police officers and police dogs. He specifically asked in discovery for documents concerning the training of the police dog that alerted on his vehicle. Mr. Miller learned of Vohne Liche and AWD from the defendants’ responses to his discovery requests, which included training logs and certificates from Vohne Liche. On September 7, 2010, Mr. Miller served a subpoena upon Vohne Liche asking for documents concerning all training the police dog received. Vohne Liche produced certifications, class schedules, and receipts. In June 2011, the district court in the Northern District litigation conducted an in camera review of defendants’ attorney’s correspondence with Vohne Liche and discovered that Vohne Liche failed to produce responsive material to Mr. Miller’s September 7, 2010 request. The court held Vohne Liche in contempt of court and Vohne Liche produced the responsive material-a training manual-on October 7, 2011.
Mr. Miller filed this lawsuit on January 13, 2012 against fifty-three defendants, including numerous municipalities and political subdivisions. He alleged that Vohne Liche inadequately trains drug-detection dogs, therefore the dogs are improperly certified by AWD. In light of this information, Mr. Miller requested that AWD be enjoined from certifying police dogs, and that the municipality and political subdivision defendants be enjoined from conducting K-9 sniffs of vehicles during routine traffic stops until the Defendants submit proof that officers and dogs are trained by entities other than Vohne Liche and AWD. He also alleged a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 claim. On June 8, 2012, this Court found that Mr. Miller lacked subject matter jurisdiction or failed to state a claim, and terminated the action against all municipalities and political subdivisions. See Dkt. 179. Additionally, the claim against Paul Whitesell, the ex-officio chairman of the Indiana Law Enforcement Training Board was terminated on August 29, 2012. Dkt. 226.
Ultimately, the Court granted summary judgment in favor of Defendants, Vohne Liche and AWD, found that Mr. Miller did not have standing to obtain an injunction against AWD and that the statute of limitations had run on Mr. Miller’s damages claim under 42 U.S.C. § 1983. See Dkt. 268. Accordingly, final judgment was entered in favor of Defendants on June 24, 2013. Dkt. 269.
Local Rule 54-1 provides “A party cannot recover attorney’s fees and costs unless the party files and serves a bill of costs and a motion for fees within 14 days after final judgment is entered”. In their timely motion, Defendants Vohne Liche and AWD seek an award of attorney fees in the amount of $26, 088.50 and out-of-pocket expenses in the amount of $5, 847.57.
A. Attorney’s Fees
A prevailing party in a civil rights action may be awarded reasonable attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Specifically, § 1988(b) reads that “[i]n any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of section[ ] . . . 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.” A defendant may be reimbursed for costs under § 1988 “upon a finding that the plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.” Fox v. Vice, 131 S.Ct. 2205, 2213 (2011) (quoting Christianburg Garment Co. v. Equal Emp’t Opportunity Comm’n, 434 U.S. 412, 419 (1978)). The Supreme Court has explained that “§ 1988 serves to relieve a defendant of expenses attributable to frivolous charges. The plaintiff acted wrongly in leveling such allegations, and the court may shift to him the reasonable costs that those claims imposed on his adversary.” Id. at 2214. However, a defendant is not entitled to fees arising from non-frivolous charges. Id. Additionally, a “fee applicant (whether a plaintiff or a defendant) must, of course, submit appropriate documentation to meet the burden of establishing entitlement to an award.” Id. at 2216 (internal quotation marks omitted).
The Court has expressed concern over the apparent frivolity of Mr. Miller’s litigation in this Court. See Dkt. 258 at 5 (“The Court continues to be troubled by Mr. Miller’s frivolous suit against Plymouth and the Sheriff, as well as the numerous other municipal and political subdivision defendants.” (emphasis added)). Yet it has never made a finding that Mr. Miller’s claims against Defendants Vohne Liche and AWD were frivolous. Defendants contend that Mr. Miller’s claims are frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation because Mr. Miller possesses a law degree yet still filed a claim after the statute of limitations had “clearly” run and sought an injunction for which he did not have standing to seek. See Dkt. 272 at 4, 5. Defendants also argue that Mr. Miller has attempted to punish “any entity remotely associated with this traffic stop.” Dkt. 272 at 5.
First, the Court does not find that the frivolity of Mr. Miller’s claims against municipalities and political subdivision defendants translates to Vohne Liche and AWD. Mr. Miller’s theory was that an improperly or under-trained drug detection dog alerted on his vehicle. As the entities that trained and certified the dog who alerted on Mr. Miller’s vehicle, ...