Yule v. Jones

Citation766 F.Supp.2d 1333
Decision Date21 October 2010
Docket NumberNo. 1:04–CV–2462–WSD.,1:04–CV–2462–WSD.
PartiesKristy Bryant YULE, as Temporary Administrator of the Estate of Michael Bryant, John Drake, Becky Kelley and Herbert Lowe, Plaintiffs,v.Vernon JONES, Marilyn Boyd Drew, Morris Williams, Richard Stogner, in their individual capacities, and DeKalb County, Georgia, Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Northern District of Georgia

OPINION TEXT STARTS HERE

James L. Hollis, John Thomas Morgan, III, Michael J. Bowers, Christopher Scott Anulewicz, K. Alex Khoury, Balch & Bingham, Joshua Barrett Belinfante, Robbins Law, LLC, Atlanta, GA, for Plaintiffs.Brent L. Wilson, Sharon P. Morgan, Elarbee Thompson Sapp & Wilson, LLP, Dwight Lowell Thomas, Office of Dwight L. Thomas, Robert B. Remar, Kerri Anne Gildow, Rogers & Hardin, Atlanta, GA, Scott R. Sausser, Law Office of Scott R. Sausser, Sharpsburg, GA, for Defendants.

OPINION AND ORDER

WILLIAM S. DUFFEY, JR., District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Expenses [474] and Plaintiffs' Motion for Sanctions [451].

I. INTRODUCTION

This case was filed on August 24, 2004. The case, after a long and acrimonious history, finally was tried before a jury, which announced its verdict on April 1, 2010. The delay of the processing of the case in this Court was substantially attributable to the Defendants' “circle the wagon” approach to the claims asserted by the Plaintiffs. Employing a formidable arsenal of litigating tactics, these public-sector Defendants calculatingly and unnecessarily complicated the litigation of these claims, the very nature of which were hard to prove because the claims alleged involved discrimination policies conceived and designed behind closed doors. Ultimately, the prosecution of the claims asserted in this action disclosed that DeKalb County and its most senior officials engaged in an intentional and successful scheme to enact a policy of purposeful discrimination in the county, as manifested in the county's Parks and Recreation department. That a purposeful policy of discrimination was put into place was disclosed by the evidence introduced at trial and was supported by the verdict of the jury, which held unequivocally that DeKalb County, its Chief Executive Officer, Vernon Jones, his Chief of Staff, Richard Stogner, and the head of the Parks and Recreation Department, Marilyn Boyd Drew, engaged in discrimination and did so intentionally. The verdict was punctuated by the jury's award of punitive damages—an award uncommon in this district—against Defendants Jones, Stogner and Drew. The award of punitive damages made it clear that the denial of Mr. Bryant's and Mr. Drake's rights was enacted by the county's most senior executive and implemented by his right-hand administrators. They were responsible for a policy that became embedded in the political subdivision that employed Mr. Bryant and Mr. Drake and where they were entitled to be treated fairly and without discrimination.

II. BACKGROUND

This case was litigated over a prolonged period. The litigation has been difficult to manage and has been delayed by the litigation strategy implemented by the Defendants. When the case commenced, each Defendant was separately represented by litigation counsel. None of the Defendants was represented by the county attorney, who routinely appears in cases in this court to represent the county and its employees in discrimination cases. Four law firms appeared on behalf of Mr. Jones and DeKalb County. Individual Defendants Drew and Morris were represented by three law firms. The remaining two individual Defendants were represented by two law firms.

The number of lawyers involved in the case enabled the Defendants to engage in aggressive discovery and motion practice. The written discovery filed by Defendants exceeded fifty (50) pleadings.1 Each Defendant litigated the action as an independent action against him or her, resulting in defenses that were uncoordinated and disjointed. As time moved on and it became evident the cases would go forward to trial, the Defendants coordinated their litigating positions and, by the time of the trial, DeKalb County and Defendants Drew, Stogner, and Williams were represented by lawyers from Rogers & Hardin, a high-end law firm headquartered in Atlanta. Defendant Jones was represented separately by two law firms: Elarbee, Thompson, Sapp & Wilson, a high-end Atlanta labor law firm, and the Law Office of Dwight L. Thomas, known for its representation of high-profile clients.

That the Defendants' litigation activity was unusually inefficient and delay-causing was evidenced by the Defendants' summary judgment strategy. The Defendants chose to file fourteen (14) separate motions for summary judgment. Defendants claimed they each were entitled to file a separate summary judgment motion with respect to the claims asserted by each of the Plaintiffs. The Court, once these motions were filed and recognizing the overlapping arguments that were made and the delay and burden this pleading approach would have on a case based on a core set of facts and an alleged county-wide policy of discrimination, directed the parties to file consolidated summary judgment motions, expanding the page limit on the pleadings allowed by the Court's local rules. This produced a manageable set of submissions. While the pleadings, which ultimately were filed, were manageable, this does not diminish the complexity of the summary judgment motions and the enormous work and effort required to litigate them.2 The Court's Order on the summary judgment motions exceeded 120 pages and stands as the longest order the Court has issued. The result of the Defendants' pleading strategy was to unnecessarily make the case less efficient to manage, which ultimately made the case exceptionally expensive to litigate.

There are other examples of how the defense strategy made the litigation of this case more expensive and less efficient. After the Eleventh Circuit affirmed the Court's summary judgment order in its own 60–page published opinion, Defendants elected to file a petition for writ of certiorari with the United States Supreme Court. An unusual litigation decision in a case such as this one was made more unusual by the weak grounds upon which the writ was requested—an observation the Court made to the parties in its February 18, 2010, telephone conference. The Supreme Court, as expected, denied the Defendants' petition. That Defendants elected to pursue a questionable writ of certiorari illustrated the extraneous litigation activity that was recurrent in this action.

Finally, at the trial itself, the Defendants' litigation decisions made the trial more complicated and inefficient.3 During the trial, the Court had to address matters about the completeness of Defendants' discovery, specifically Defendants' failure to produce certain reprimand letters given to Defendants Morris and DeKalb County's Human Resources director, Joe Stone, who had been dismissed from the case but who was a key trial witness.4

The verdict in this case was returned on April 1, 2010. While there was an actual damage award to only two of the four Plaintiffs, and that award was in the modest amount of $74,000, what is significant and noteworthy is that DeKalb County, Defendant Jones, Defendant Richard Stogner and Defendant Drew, who headed the department in which Plaintiffs Drake and Bryant worked, all were found to have discriminated against Plaintiffs Drake and Bryant. More significant is that an award of punitive damages was awarded against Defendants Jones, Stogner, and Drew for their willful and intentional discrimination against the county employee Plaintiffs who suffered from the Defendants' discrimination. This case was tried on a theory, which the evidence supported, that Defendants Jones, Stogner, and Drew had participated in a covert effort to enact a county-wide policy of discrimination. The policy was employed in the Parks and Recreation Department and Plaintiffs Drake and Bryant were victims of it. The evidence clearly supported that this policy of discrimination had been enacted in DeKalb County by Defendants Jones, Stogner, and Drew. This Court's evaluation of an award of attorneys' fees necessarily is considered against the evidentiary backdrop which showed that DeKalb County's most senior elected official, his principal lieutenants, and a senior county manager designed and put into effect a policy that violated the constitutional rights of Plaintiffs Drake and Bryant, a policy which convinced the jury that Defendants Jones, Stogner, Drew, and DeKalb County were liable for violating Plaintiffs Bryant's and Drake's constitutional rights.

Defendants open their opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion for Attorneys' fees and Expenses with the following characterization:

Plaintiffs' motion for attorneys' fees and expenses asks the Court to do what the jury refused to do: award them over $2 million in damages in the guise of attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs' brief is a grab bag of overblown rhetoric, baseless accusations, distortions of the record and patently meritless assertions.

(Def. Initial Brief in Opp. to Pls.' Mot. for Att'y Fees and Exp. 1.) This opening, characteristic of Defendants' practiced misdirection in this case, 5 distracts from Defendants' later and reluctant acknowledgement that Plaintiffs Drake and Bryant are entitled to an award of reasonable attorneys' fees in this case pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. (Def. Initial Brief in Opp. to Pls.' Mot. for Att'y Fees and Exp. 3.) Defendants' Opposition submission seeks to belittle the quality of the verdict rendered against the Defendants and otherwise seeks to deconstruct the verdict and its importance, in arguing that the requested award should be “adjusted substantially downward.” ( Id. at 25.) Defendants self-servingly, and without foundation, assert that Plaintiffs really are seeking fees as an alternative to damages. For this reason, Defe...

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