Hartman v. Winnebago County, 96-0596

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court of Wisconsin
Citation216 Wis.2d 419,574 N.W.2d 222
Docket NumberNo. 96-0596,96-0596
PartiesJudy HARTMAN and Ronald Delap, individually and on behalf of all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants, v. WINNEBAGO COUNTY, a municipal corporation, Winnebago County Board of Supervisors, Winnebago County Social Services Board, and the Winnebago County Department of Social Services, Defendants-Respondents-Petitioners.
Decision Date26 February 1998

Page 222

574 N.W.2d 222
216 Wis.2d 419
Judy HARTMAN and Ronald Delap, individually and on behalf of
all others similarly situated, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
WINNEBAGO COUNTY, a municipal corporation, Winnebago County
Board of Supervisors, Winnebago County Social Services
Board, and the Winnebago County Department of Social
Services, Defendants-Respondents-Petitioners.
No. 96-0596.
Supreme Court of Wisconsin.
Argued Dec. 2, 1997.
Decided Feb. 26, 1998.

Page 224

[216 Wis.2d 421] For the defendants-respondents-petitioners there were briefs by John E. Thiel, Rebecca L. Kent and Godfrey & Kahn, S.C., Appleton and oral argument by John E. Thiel.

For the plaintiffs-appellants there was a brief and oral argument by Jeff Scott Olson, Madison.

Amicus curiae was filed by Jeffrey A. Kingsley and Abbott & Kingsley, Shorewood for the Wisconsin Employment Lawyers Association.

Amicus curiae was filed by James A. Walrath and Peter M. Koneazny, Milwaukee for the Legal Aid Society of Milwaukee, Inc. and American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin, Inc.

Amicus curiae was filed by Charles H. Bohl, Tamara Hayes O'Brien and Whyte Hirschboeck Dudek, S.C., Milwaukee for the Wisconsin Towns Association and League of Wisconsin Municipalities.

¶1 N. PATRICK CROOKS, Justice.

Petitioners seek review of a published decision of the court of appeals 1 reversing an order of the Winnebago County Circuit Court, the Honorable William E. Crane presiding, denying Plaintiffs' request for attorneys' fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) (1994). 2 Winnebago County, Winnebago County Board of Supervisors, Winnebago County Social Services Board, and Winnebago County Department of Social Services (collectively "County") contend that Judy Hartman and Ronald Delap, individually [216 Wis.2d 422] and on behalf of others similarly situated (collectively "Hartman"), are not entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees because Hartman's request for fees was untimely, and because Hartman is not a prevailing party to whom fees may be awarded.

¶2 We conclude that Wis. Stat. § 806.06(4) 3 sets forth the appropriate time limitation for an attorneys' fees award pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Under Wis. Stat. § 806.06(4), as a party seeking costs, Hartman was required to perfect the judgment (i.e., tax and insert costs) within 30 days of the date of notice of entry of judgment or forfeit the right to recover those costs. Because Hartman did not perfect the circuit court's November 18, 1993, judgment within 30 days of Hartman's receipt of the November 19, 1993, notice of entry, or obtain a stay of the attorneys' fee issue pending appeal, the request was untimely. Accordingly, we reverse the decision of the court of appeals. 4

Page 225

I.

¶3 The underlying claim from which Hartman's request for attorneys' fees arises involves the County's action to reduce the amount of general relief 5 provided [216 Wis.2d 423] to recipients in Winnebago County. On September 10, 1990, the Winnebago County Board of Social Services voted to adopt a policy to reduce the amount of general relief provided to Winnebago County recipients, effective October 1, 1990.

¶4 On October 4, 1990, Hartman, a recipient of general relief in Winnebago County, commenced an action in Winnebago County Circuit Court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief. Hartman asserted that the County had failed to establish written standards of need to determine the amount of relief reasonable and necessary to meet recipients' basic subsistence needs in violation of Wis. Stat. §§ 49.01(5m) and 49.02(1m) (1987-88). Hartman also asserted that the amount of general relief provided pursuant to the new policies was below the statutory minimum required under Wis. Stat. § 49.032 (1987-88). Hartman further alleged that the County did not provide adequate notice to recipients or appropriate administrative appeal procedures in accordance with Wis. Stat. § 49.037 (1987-88). In addition to the state statutory violations, Hartman alleged that the County's failure to provide reasonable and necessary benefits, sufficient notice, and administrative appeal procedures violated recipients' rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, Article I, sections 1 and 9 of the Wisconsin Constitution, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.

¶5 On the same date the action was commenced, Hartman filed a Notice of Motion and Motion for Temporary Relief to prevent the County from reducing the amount of general relief. In an Order for Temporary Injunction and Relief dated November 20, [216 Wis.2d 424] 1990, Nunc Pro Tunc October 25, 1990, the circuit court enjoined the County from implementing the new general relief administrative policies during the pendency of the action and ordered the County to restore general relief benefits as they existed prior to October 1, 1990. The circuit court further enjoined the County from reducing benefits without first establishing written standards of need to determine the amount of benefits reasonable and necessary for recipients of relief.

¶6 On June 24, 1991, the County filed a Motion for Summary Judgment arguing that the action should be dismissed as moot. The County contended that on May 6, 1991, it had taken legislative action to fully restore the level of general relief benefits to the status quo prior to October 1, 1990. On June 25, 1991, Hartman also filed a Motion for Summary Judgment.

¶7 A hearing on the cross-motions for summary judgment was held on July 18, 1991. On August 26, 1991, the circuit court granted the County's motion for summary judgment and dismissed the action, concluding Hartman's claims were moot. The Notice of Entry of Order was filed August 28, 1991, and Hartman appealed.

¶8 In an unpublished opinion, the court of appeals determined that there were issues ripe for review, notwithstanding the County's rescission of its policy to reduce benefits. The court of appeals concluded that there was still a question of whether the County adopted standards of need as required by Wis. Stat. § 49.02(1m) and if so, whether those standards conformed with the applicable common law. Accordingly, the court of appeals remanded the case. See Hartman v. Winnebago County, No. 91-2414, unpublished slip op., 1992 WL 142253 (Wis. Ct.App. April 22, 1992).

¶9 [216 Wis.2d 425] On remand, the circuit court concluded that the County had enacted proper standards of need in compliance with the applicable law. In an order dated November 18, 1993, the circuit court dismissed Hartman's complaint. A Notice of Entry of Order was

Page 226

filed November 22, 1993. Hartman appealed.

¶10 While Hartman's second appeal was pending, this court rendered its decision in Clark v. Milwaukee County, 188 Wis.2d 171, 524 N.W.2d 382 (1994), which set forth the appropriate method of establishing proper standards of need for benefits recipients. The County filed a motion requesting that the court of appeals reopen the record or remand the case to the circuit court for a determination of whether the County's written standards of need were in compliance with Clark. Thereafter, the County filed an amended motion advising the court of appeals that the County's written standards of need had been revised to comply with the directives of Clark, thereby making Hartman's appeal moot. The County requested that the court of appeals either remand the case to the circuit court for a determination on the standards of need or dismiss the appeal as moot.

¶11 Hartman filed a motion requesting that the court of appeals address the adequacy of the County's written standards of need pursuant to the holding of Clark. The court of appeals denied Hartman's request, concluding that the appeal involved the application of new law and facts which had not been addressed by the circuit court. In a decision dated April 19, 1995, the court of appeals dismissed Hartman's second appeal as moot. See Hartman v. Winnebago County, No. 94-0022, unpublished slip op. (Wis. Ct.App. April 19, 1995).

¶12 On November 16, 1995, Hartman filed a Notice of Motion and Motion for an Award of Attorneys' [216 Wis.2d 426] Fees, Costs and Expenses pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), the Civil Rights Attorneys' Fees Awards Act. 6 In its brief in opposition to Hartman's motion for attorneys' fees, the County argued, in part, that Hartman's request for fees was untimely and that Hartman was not a "prevailing party" entitled to attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b).

¶13 In an order dated January 26, 1996, the circuit court denied Hartman's motion. The circuit court first concluded that Hartman's request for fees was untimely because it was not filed within 30 days of the date of the judgment as required under Wis. Stat. § 806.06(4). Alternatively, the court determined that if the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure were applicable, Hartman had failed to file a motion for fees within 14 days of entry of judgment in accordance with Rule 54(d). Finally, the court determined that even if the common law rule set forth by the United States Supreme Court in White v. New Hampshire Dep't of Employment, 455 U.S. 445, 102 S.Ct. 1162, 71 L.Ed.2d 325 (1982), governs the time requirement, Hartman did not request attorneys' fees within a reasonable time period because the motion was filed more than six months after the court of appeals' entry of judgment on April 19, 1995.

¶14 The circuit court also concluded that Hartman was not a prevailing party in the litigation entitled to an award of attorneys' fees. The court determined [216 Wis.2d 427] there was no proof that the County's action of revising its written standards of need was a result of any determination on the merits of Hartman's claims. The circuit court found that Hartman did not prevail on any claims, and that Hartman's "Motion for an Award of Attorneys' Fees, Costs and Expenses did not rise to a constitutional violation." Hartman appealed.

¶15 The court of appeals concluded that there were...

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