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COFFEY v. COX

December 6, 2002

CHARLES G. COFFEY, PLAINTIFF,
V.
JAMES C. COX, JOSEPH GALASSI, JAMES SIMMONS, AND MICHAEL STANG, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Richard Mills, U.S. District Judge

  OPINION
A weak evidentiary case; A reliance upon the wrong legal test; and A pattern of bringing questionable Rutan claims against the State.

However, the Court does not believe that an award of attorney's fees is appropriate under either 42 U.S.C. § 1988 or 28 U.S.C. § 1927.

Defendants' motion for attorneys' fees is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

On March 2, 2001, Plaintiff Charles G. Coffey filed the above-captioned case, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, alleging that Defendants Warden James C. Cox, Joseph Galassi, and James Simmons violated his First Amendment rights by failing to award him one of the two vacant stationary engineer positions at the Logan Correctional Center in Lincoln, Illinois. Specifically, Plaintiff alleged that Defendants filled the vacant stationary engineer positions on the basis of political considerations in violation of his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights and the United States Supreme Court's holding in Rutan v. Republican Party of Illinois, 497 U.S. 62 (1990). On September 7, 2002, Plaintiff amended his Complaint to add identical allegations against Defendant Michael Stang.

After discovery, Defendants filed a motion for summary judgment pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(c) on June 3, 2002. On August 20, 2002, the Court allowed Defendants' motion for summary judgment in toto. Coffey v. Cox, 218 F. Supp.2d 997 (C.D.Ill. 2002).

Defendants have now filed the instant motion, pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and 28 U.S.C. § 1927, asking the Court to exercise its authority to award them their reasonable attorneys' fees incurred in litigating this case. Defendants claim that, based upon the Court's findings in its Opinion allowing their motion for summary judgment, the Court should also allow their request for attorneys' fees.

First, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's failure to tender any evidence that his political affiliations, activities, and/or associations (or lack thereof) was a substantial or motivating factor in Defendants' decision not to offer him one of the stationary engineer positions which he sought justifies an award of attorneys' fees.

Second, Defendants argue that Plaintiff's improper reliance upon and invocation of the McDonnell Douglas test as the one applicable to his Rutan claim (instead of the applicable Mt. Healthy standard) justifies an award of attorneys' fees.

Third, Defendants contend that Plaintiff's claim is part of a pattern by his counsel of bringing baseless and meritless Rutan claims against the State without any evidentiary support and, therefore, justifies an award of attorney fees.

Defendants argue that these three factors, as found by the Court, warrant an award of attorneys' fees under either 42 U.S.C. § 1988's frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless litigation provision or 28 U.S.C. § 1927's multiplying the proceedings in any case unreasonably and vexatiously provision. Accordingly, Defendants ask the Court to allow the instant motion requesting reasonable attorneys' fees and to allow them seven days thereafter within which to file a detailed accounting of the attorneys' fees which they incurred in litigating this case.

Plaintiff argues that Defendants' request for attorneys' fees should be denied. Plaintiff asserts that, in the instant suit, he raised two issues of first impression: (1) whether a plaintiff may pursue a claim of political discrimination when the politically favored person is selected without consideration of the other applicants? and (2) whether circumstantial evidence may be used to create a question for the jury as to whether the defendants' articulated reason for not awarding a plaintiff a position was pretextual or unworthy of belief?

As for the first issue, Plaintiff contends that the discrimination which occurred in this case was a "preselection system" based upon political affiliation rather than a "rejection system" based upon political affiliation like that found in Rutan. Plaintiff asserts that, under this scenario, the McDonnell Douglas test rather than the Mt. Healthy test is the more reasonable and appropriate framework within which to resolve his claim and that he should have been given the opportunity to demonstrate that he was not awarded one of the stationary engineer positions because the jobs were preordained for someone with political connections.

Accordingly, Plaintiff contends that he should be allowed to proceed on this claim without facing the penalty of paying Defendants' attorneys' fees.

Regarding the second issue, Plaintiff argues that he presented circumstantial evidence with which a reasonable jury could have concluded that he was not awarded one of the stationary engineer positions due to political considerations.

Plaintiff claims that this circumstantial evidence demonstrates that his suit was not frivolous, unreasonable, groundless, or vexatious.

In short, Plaintiff argues that he should not be penalized for exercising his right to bring suit in order to seek redress for Defendants' violating his First Amendment rights. Accordingly, Plaintiff asks the ...


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