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AMERICAN AUTO. MFRS. ASS'N v. CAHILL
May 18, 1999
AMERICAN AUTOMOBILE MANUFACTURERS ASSOCIATION AND ASSOCIATION OF INTERNATIONAL AUTOMOBILE MANUFACTURERS, INC., PLAINTIFFS,
JOHN P. CAHILL, ACTING COMMISSIONER OF THE NEW YORK DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENTAL CONSERVATION AND ELIOT L. SPITZER, ATTORNEY GENERAL OF THE STATE OF NEW YORK,[FN1] DEFENDANTS.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Kahn, District Judge.
MEMORANDUM-DECISION AND ORDER
Presently pending is a motion by Plaintiff Association of
International Automobile Manufacturers, Inc. ("AIAM") for
attorneys fees pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 54(d)(2)(A) and
42 U.S.C. § 1988. Plaintiff asserts that it is the prevailing party in an
action brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and is thus presumptively
entitled to such fees. Defendants assert that Plaintiff's claims
were not properly brought under § 1983 and that, in the
alternative, special circumstances would make an award of such
fees unjust. This Court finds that fees are warranted under §
1988, and therefore grants Plaintiff's motion.
Both this Court and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
have issued published decisions discussing the background of this
case. Familiarity with those decisions is assumed. See American
Auto Mfrs. Ass'n v. Cahill ("AAMA I"), 973 F. Supp. 288
(N.D.N.Y. 1997), rev'd, American Auto. Mfrs. Ass'n v. Cahill
("AAMA II"), 152 F.3d 196 (2d Cir. 1998). The background
relevant to this motion will therefore be reviewed briefly.
Plaintiffs AIAM and the now-defunct American Automobile
Manufacturers Association ("AAMA") brought this action pursuant
to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 42 U.S.C. § 7604 seeking, inter alia,
to enjoin enforcement of New York's zero emission vehicle ("ZEV")
sales mandate. This mandate, codified at 6 N.Y.C.R.R. § 218-4.1,
required that, starting in 1998, a certain percentage of the new
automobiles offered and sold in New York each year be ZEVs.
Section 209(a) expressly prohibits states from "adopt[ing] or
attempt[ing] to enforce any standard relating to the control of
emissions from new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines
subject to this part." CAA § 209, 42 U.S.C. § 7543; see also
American Auto Mfrs. v. Comm'r Environ. Protect., 998 F. Supp. 10,
12-13 (D.Mass. 1997). However, § 209(b) provides that California
is allowed to adopt and enforce its own standards so long as they
meet certain conditions. CAA § 209(b), 42 U.S.C. § 7543(b)(1).
Further, in 1977, Congress added § 177 to the CAA, which allows
States to also adopt standards which are "identical to the
California [vehicle emission] standards." CAA § 177,
42 U.S.C. § 7507. Thus, states are provided with a choice between the federal
standards and the California standards, but may not choose a
third set of standards. CAA § 177, 42 U.S.C. § 7507 (states may
not create a "third vehicle"); see also Comm'r Environ.
Protect., 998 F. Supp. at 13.
Plaintiffs' first and second claims are therefore closely
related: they assert that the ZEV sales mandate is subject to §
209(a) preemption of "standards relating to the control of
emissions" and is not saved by the § 177 exception for standards
identical to those of California.
On August 11, 1998, the Court of Appeals reversed the judgment
of this Court, finding that the ZEV sales mandate was preempted
by section 209(a) of the CAA and was not saved by the § 177
exception. See AAMA II, 152 F.3d at 200-01. Finding the issue
dispositive of the action, the Second Circuit did not address the
other issues presented on appeal. On November 14, 1998, this
Court entered a Final Order ("Order") reflecting the Second
Circuit's decision. In the Order, this Court declared that the
ZEV sales mandate was preempted due to § 209(a) and § 177 of the
CAA and the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution,
and enjoined the Defendants from enforcing the applicable
regulations. In addition, this Court granted judgment to the
Defendants on preemption under § 249 of the CAA and dismissed the
remaining claims, including the Due Process and Commerce Clause
claims, without prejudice. Plaintiff AIAM then timely filed the
pending motion.*fn5 AAMA has not moved for fees.
Section 1988(b) of Title 42 provides in relevant part:
In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of
[section] 1983 . . . of this title, . . . the court,
in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party,
other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's
fee as part of the costs. . . .
Id., § 1988(b). Defendants do not deny that Plaintiff is a
prevailing party in connection with its preemption claims, but
argue that the claims are not properly brought under § 1983. In
the alternative, Defendants argue that a fee award would be
manifestly unjust and that this Court should therefore exercise
its limited discretion to deny Plaintiff's request.
A. Action Brought To Enforce § 1983
This Court first considers whether Plaintiffs' action is one
brought to "enforce" § 1983 as required for an award pursuant to
42 U.S.C. § 1988. Section 1983 provides a cause of action to a
party who is deprived of "any rights, privileges, or immunities
secured by the Constitution and laws" of the United States by one
who is acting under color of state law. 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
Plaintiff offers two arguments in support of its assertion that
it has prevailed in an action to remedy a deprivation of rights
under the "Constitution and laws" of the United States. First, it
argues that its constitutional (i.e. due process and commerce
clause) claims were clearly valid § 1983 claims, and that the
presence of these claims supports an award of fees even though
the claims were not the basis of the Plaintiff's ultimate
success. Second, Plaintiff argues that its preemption claims, on
which it actually prevailed, are themselves valid § 1983 claims
and thus directly support an award of attorney's fees pursuant to
1. Fees Based on Constitutional Claims
Plaintiff argues that its constitutional claims support an
award of fees because the claims on which Plaintiff prevailed
arose out of the same nucleus of operative facts. When a
plaintiff prevails upon a non- § 1983 claim which is accompanied
by an undecided § 1983 claim, a fee
award pursuant to § 1988 is appropriate where (1) the § 1983
claim is sufficiently "substantial" to support the invocation of
federal jurisdiction; (2) it arises from the same nucleus of
operative facts as the claim on which the plaintiff prevailed;
and (3) it is "reasonably related to the plaintiff's ultimate
success." See Smith v. Robinson, 468 U.S. 992, 1002, 1007, 104
S.Ct. 3457, 82 L.Ed.2d 746 (1984); Maher v. Gagne,
448 U.S. 122, 133 n. 15, 100 S.Ct. 2570, 65 L.Ed.2d 653 (1980); Scurlock
v. City of Lynn Haven, Fla., 858 F.2d 1521, 1527 (11th Cir.
1988); Seaway Drive-In, Inc. v. Township of Clay, 791 F.2d 447,
454 (6th Cir. 1986); McDonald v. Doe, 748 F.2d 1055, 1056 (5th
Cir. 1984). However, it is also "settled" that where a § 1983
claim is decided and the plaintiff does not prevail as to
liability, the § 1983 claim may not support an award of
attorney's fees. See Raley v. Fraser, 747 F.2d 287, 292 (5th
Cir. 1984) (finding an award proper only where "the court either
reached and upheld, or did not reach, substantial constitutional
claims" and holding that "[b]ecause the [trial] court in the
instant case did reach the constitutional issue and found against
the plaintiff on that claim, we cannot now say that award of such
fees would have been proper."). The question before this Court is
whether the constitutional claims which were dismissed by this
Court and not addressed by the Second Circuit should be
considered "decided" for purposes § of 1988.
The case law does not provide a clear answer to this question.
It establishes that where § 1983 claims are adjudicated by a
trier-of-fact in the defendant's favor, the claims may not
support an award of attorney's fees. See, e.g., Russo v. State
of New York, 672 F.2d 1014, 1022 (2d Cir. 1982) (finding that
nothing justifies or requires an award of fees to a party "who
lost on the constitutional claim after a plenary trial");
McDonald v. Doe, 748 F.2d 1055, 1056 (5th Cir. 1984) (citing
cases). It is also clear that a claim is "decided" where the
claim was dismissed by the district judge as a matter of law and
this dismissal was subsequently affirmed on appeal. See
Lightfoot v. Union Carbide Corp., 110 F.3d 898, 913-14 (2d Cir.
1997) (denying fees where federal claim was properly dismissed on
summary judgment and plaintiff prevailed on analogous state law
claim); W.G. v. Senatore, 18 F.3d 60, 63-64 (2d Cir. 1994)
(affirming dismissal of fee claim for lack of subject matter
jurisdiction and affirming denial of § fees); Mateyko v. Felix,
924 F.2d 824, 826, 828-29 (9th Cir. 1990) (finding § 1988 fees
were not available where district judge properly granted direct
verdict on constitutional claim).
These cases do not clearly resolve whether a claim which is
dismissed by the district judge and not reviewed on appeal is
considered to be "decided." However, although the question is a
close one, holding such claims to be "decided" appears most
consistent with existing precedent and policy.
In declining to award fees where the only fee-claim was
dismissed by the district judge, the Second Circuit found "no
reason to reward those plaintiffs who supplement their valid
claims under the [New York Human Rights Law or "NYHRL"] with
meritless claims under the [Age Discrimination Employment Act] by
allowing them to circumvent the state-law rule that attorney's
fees are not available under the NYHRL." Lightfoot, 110 F.3d at
914. Although in Lightfoot, the Second Circuit confirmed that
the claim was properly dismissed, the policy is also applicable
in cases where the claim has not been reviewed. Until the
district judge's determination is reviewed and reversed, it
remains the law of the case that the fee-claim is dismissed, and
to assume otherwise based on plaintiff's success in another claim
is to turn a blind eye to the actual status of the case.
Finally, denying fees where the fee-claim was dismissed and the
appellate court declined to review the dismissal does not
conflict with the underlying policy for
granting fees based on undecided constitutional claims, "the
policy concern of avoiding unnecessary constitutional decisions."
Lightfoot, 110 F.3d at 914. Given that a dismissal of the
fee-claim if affirmed by the Second Circuit would clearly bar
attorney's fees, it cannot be said that the Second Circuit's
review is "unnecessary," at least where the district judge has
actually decided the claim. It is clear that if this Court were
to award fees on the basis of the constitutional claims, the
defendants could appeal and seek to have the award overturned by
demonstrating that the constitutional claims were properly
dismissed. Such a posture would place the case in a position
analogous to W.G. and Mateyko, supra. Conversely, if fees
were denied on the basis of the dismissal of the constitutional
claims, Plaintiff could seek relief arguing that the dismissal of
the claims was erroneous. Thus, the true issue is not whether
such issues may be avoided by the appellate court but whether the
burden of appealing the issue lies with the Plaintiff ...