Attorney fees awards in favor of a defendant are not an abuse of discretion where the plaintiff does not make a prima facie case of his claims.
Special contributing author Laura Mueller, City Attorney for Dripping Springs
Carl Frederick Rickert, III v. Kayla S. Meade and City of Bonham, 06-02-00002-CV (Tex. App.—Texarkana, July 30) (mem. op.).
In this § 1983 case on an attorney fees award, the Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s grant of attorney fees in favor of the defendant City because the plaintiff did not establish even a prima facie case.
The plaintiff was terminated from his City employment after a co-worker filed a sexual harassment claim against him based on an allegedly consensual relationship. The Texas Workforce Commission determined that the sexual harassment claim against the plaintiff was baseless. The plaintiff sued the City under § 1983 asserting entitlement to a name clearing hearing. The trial court dismissed the claim for lack of evidence and awarded attorney’s fees to the City. The plaintiff appealed the attorney fee award.
In order for an attorney fee award to be upheld against a plaintiff in favor of a defendant, it has to be shown that “the plaintiff’s action was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation even though not brought in subjective bad faith.” Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5, 14 (1980) (per curiam) (quoting Christiansburg, 434 U.S. at 421). The plaintiff’s action was based on the lack of a name clearing hearing after his termination. A terminated individual has the right to a name clearing hearing where the employee’s “good name, reputation, honor, or integrity” is questioned during a termination. Bledsoe v. City of Horn Lake, Miss., 449 F.3d 650, 653 (5th Cir. 2006) In this case, the plaintiff provided no evidence that he was denied a name clearing hearing, or that he even requested one. Evidence was presented that he was provided a chance to be heard at a hearing prior to termination. The Court of Appeals held this lack of evidence was sufficient to show that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.
If you would like to read this opinion click here. Panel consists of Chief Justice Morriss and Justices Burgess and Stevens. Opinion by Ralph K. Burgess.