Developer Loses Class of One (or Olech) Case

08/26/05 Jeffrey Barstad v. Murray County
U.S. Court of Appeals
Case No. 04-2707
District of Minnesota
[PUBLISHED] [Benton, Author, with Lay and Fagg, Circuit Judges] Civil Case - civil rights. Grant of summary judgment in civil rights action is affirmed. District court did not abuse its discretion in denying motion to amend complaint. Developers did not demonstrate they were intentionally treated differently from similarly situated landowners and developers, and failed to show the existence of a conspiracy against them. The district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to exercise supplemental jurisdiction.

Punitive Damages are Proper Where Officer Intends to Oppress

Dang v. Cross (CA9) deals with two questions. First, in an excessive force case, can oppressive conduct can serve as a predicate for punitive damages under § 1983? Second, should Steve Yagman's 1988(b) hourly rate be more than $400?

In this civil rights action, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, Plaintiff H.N. Dang prevailed in a jury trial on his excessive force claim against Officer Gilbert Cross of the City of Compton Police Department and was awarded compensatory damages, but not punitive damages. We consider Dang’s consolidated appeals. Dang first challenges the district court’s refusal to instruct the jury that oppressive conduct can serve as a predicate for punitive damages under § 1983. Second, Dang contends that the district court erred in its calculation of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

We hold that the district court erred in failing to instruct the jury that it could award punitive damages if it found that Cross acted in an oppressive manner and we conclude that this error was not harmless. Second, we hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining the reasonable hourly rate it applied in calculating the fee award. We vacate the fee award and remand, however, for further consideration of the reasonable hours expended in light of the proper legal standard and for reimbursement of the cost of recording an abstract of judgment.

Land Use, Section 1983, and Civil Procedure

I'm something of a wonk as to land use cases brought under Section 1983. Thus, I thought MANUFACTURED HOME V CITY OF SAN JOSE was very interesting. Here are the issues:

MHC appeals the district court’s dismissal of MHC’s complaint for various jurisdictional and res judicata problems. We affirm the district court’s decision on the basis of res judicata, untimeliness, failure to state a federal question, lack of supplemental jurisdiction, and California’s statute of limitations. Although it does not affect the outcome of this case, we reverse the district court’s holding on the Rooker-Feldman doctrine. We reverse and remand the matter of attorneys’ fees.
Who says tax lawyers get to have all the fun?

Ninth Circuit Reduces Fee Award

Today the Ninth Ciruit reversed the district court's awarding of almost $400,000 in attorneys' fees. Benton v. Oregon Student Assistance Comm'n (CA9). How so? The case is the equivalent of Farrar v. Hobby (lots of smoke, but no fire). What's interesting about the opinion is how the panel sidesteps the abuse of discretion standard of review.

The panel analyzed the law of attorneys fees and held that the district court misapplied the law. Since mistakes of law get de novo review, the panel reversed. Of course, using this method, appellate courts could almost always apply de novo review to attorneys' fee awards. It seems that there are only two decisions that are truly subject to abuse of discretion review: the number of hours worked, and the reasonable hourly rate. Every other issue could be cast as a legal one, since the reviewing court could always pull out the Farrar v. Hobby card, and write: "The district court misapplied Farrar. Under Farrar, the plaintiff really wasn't all that successful, despite what the district court held." Of course, since Farrar still involves weighing and sifting of facts, this would be something of a perversion of the abuse of discretion standard of review.

Two Interesting Cases from CTA8

08/25/05 Jordan Blair v. Bob Wills, et al.,
U.S. Court of Appeals
Case No. 04-2434
and No. 04-2540
and No. 04-2539
Eastern District of Missouri
[PUBLISHED] [Bowman, Author, with Arnold and Riley, Circuit Judges] Civil Case - civil rights. Blair did not show placement by juvenile court to attend church-sponsored boarding school or like facility established school as state actor and thus grant of summary judgment to defendants on civil rights claim was proper. State law claim for false imprisonment failed because minor's parents consented to enrollment and consent was informed. FLSA claims based on school work requirements failed because school was not "employer" and chores were integral part of curriculum. District court abused its discretion in denying new trial, as counsel's misconduct in repeatedly asking irrelevant and prejudicial questions prejudiced the jury.

08/25/05 Charles Russell v. Hennepin County
U.S. Court of Appeals
Case No. 04-3922
District of Minnesota
[PUBLISHED] [Gruender, Author, with Melloy and Heaney, Circuit Judges] Civil Case - civil rights. Six-day detention at adult detention center following entry of guilty plea for making terroristic threats and court's imposition of conditional release did not rise to a constitutional violation; municipal policy was not deliberately indifferent to constitutional rights of convicted felons subject to conditional release; and policy was not the moving force behind the prolonged detention. Plaintiff did not show widespread pattern of failing to follow policy. Summary judgment to defendants was proper. Judge Heaney dissents.

No Liberty Interest in Relationship with Adult Child

Appellant Patricia Robertson appeals the district court’s dismissal of her claims against Appellees Jimmy Hecksel and the City of Gainesville. Corey Rice, Robertson’s son, was killed by Officer Hecksel during a traffic stop. As a result of his death, Robertson argues she suffered a deprivation of her constitutionallyprotected liberty interest in a continued relationship with her adult son. Whether a parent has such a right vis-à-vis her adult child is a question of first impression for this Court. We hold that the Fourteenth Amendment’s substantive due process protections do not extend to the relationship between a mother and her adult son and, therefore, affirm the district court’s dismissal of Robertson’s claims.
Robertson v. Hecksel, No. 04-12357 (11th Cir. Aug. 16, 2005).