United States District Court, D. New Mexico
GERALD E. VALLEJOS, Plaintiff,
LOVELACE MEDICAL CENTER, and the 2nd JUDICIAL DISTRICT COURT, NEW MEXICO, Defendant. Attorney Hours Rate
ORDER GRANTING ATTORNEYS' FEES
MATTER comes on for consideration of Defendant Lovelace's
Motion for Attorneys' Fees pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §
1988(b) filed June 7, 2017. ECF No. 26. Upon
consideration thereof, the motion is well-taken and should be
Vallejos filed a state-court action against Lovelace, his
former employer, and various individuals claiming that they
retaliated against him for engaging in protected activities
in violation of Title VII and the New Mexico Human Rights Act
(NMHRA). Vallejos v. Lovelace Med. Ctr., No.
CV-2011-01355 (N.M. D. Ct. Feb. 4, 2011). He further alleged
that he was subject to defamation and mental and emotional
distress because of a hostile work environment, denied due
process, and denied favorable personnel actions prior to his
termination. Id. Defendants removed the action to
federal court. Vallejos v. Lovelace Med. Ctr., No.
1:11-cv-00206-WJ-KBM (D.N.M. Mar. 8, 2011), ECF No. 1. The
federal district court then dismissed the individual
defendants for failure to exhaust administrative remedies as
to the NMHRA claims and because they were not proper
defendants under Title VII. Id.
(1:11-cv-00206-WJ-KBM) ECF No. 18. Sua sponte, the federal
district court dismissed the federal claims against Lovelace
for failure to state a plausible claim, but gave Mr. Vallejos
leave to amend his claims against the employer. Id.
The federal district court later dismissed the amended
federal claims under Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Id.
(1:11-cv-00206-WJ-KBM) ECF No. 21. The state-law claims were
remanded to state district court. Id.
state district court, Lovelace filed a motion to dismiss
which was granted in part, and denied in part. ECF No. 16-1,
at 4 (state district court docket sheet). The case proceeded
and ultimately, the state district court granted
Lovelace's motion for summary judgment and denied Mr.
Vallejos's motion for summary judgment as moot. ECF No.
1-1, at 16-17 (state district court order). The case was
dismissed with prejudice. Id. This is corroborated
by the written transcript of the motion hearing. Id.
at 6-7 (state district court transcript). Undeterred, Mr.
Vallejos filed a motion to reconsider and the case was
reopened. Id. at 18 (motion for relief from order).
The state district judge hearing the motion flatly rejected
Mr. Vallejos's claim that he had been awarded summary
judgment on his defamation claim. Id. at 20-21
(transcript of hearing on motion for relief from order and
order memorializing the ruling).
Vallejos filed this action alleging that Defendants, acting
under color of state law, violated his constitutional rights
when he did not obtain a state-court judgment in his favor.
He alleged concerted fraudulent activity between two
state-court judges and state-court personnel, depriving him
of federally protected rights. This court dismissed the
complaint against the Second Judicial District Court for lack
of subject matter jurisdiction, ECF No. 18, and granted
Lovelace's motion to dismiss the case with prejudice for
failure to state a claim, ECF No. 20.
it is the exception, a prevailing defendant in a civil rights
action may recover reasonable attorneys' fees under 42
U.S.C. § 1988(b) if the suit was “vexatious,
frivolous, or brought to harass or embarrass the
defendant.” Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S.
424, 429 n.2 (1983); see also Mitchell v. City of
Moore, 218 F.3d 1190, 1203 (10th Cir. 2000). A
defendant's victory does not warrant attorneys' fees,
but such fees may be justified when a plaintiff continues to
litigate when it should have been apparent that the suit was
frivolous, unreasonable or groundless. Christiansburg
Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412, 421 (1978).
Subjective bad faith is not required. Id.
court has already determined that Mr. Vallejos's claims
of concerted fraudulent activity between two state-court
judges and court personnel are completely speculative. The
gravamen of Mr. Vallejos's federal civil rights
complaint, that summary judgment actually was granted in his
favor (on his defamation claim) in the state-court
proceeding, is completely contradicted by the record. A
different state-court judge told Mr. Vallejos this in denying
his motion for reconsideration. Thus, it was not reasonable
for Mr. Vallejos to file this action given the lack of a
course, attorneys' fees must be reasonable, starting
first with a reasonable number of hours expended times a
reasonable hourly rate. Hensley, 461 U.S. at 424.
Lovelace has requested the following:
has exercised billing judgment, for example, by reducing the
number of hours claimed by strategies not pursued. ECF No. 26
at 7. The billing rates reflect the amount charged the client
(Lovelace), and even though they may be higher than those
charged by other employment law defense lawyers, the court
finds that they are reasonable. Counsel is familiar with the
variety of claims Mr. Vallejos has pursued against Lovelace
in several forums. Though the issues in this case are
straightforward, the procedural journey is not.
THEREFORE, IT IS ORDERED that Defendant Lovelace's Motion
for Attorneys' Fees filed June 7, 2017 (ECF No. 26) is
granted and a judgment shall enter awarding Lovelace $4,
498.10 in attorneys' fees to be paid by Mr. Vallejos.