United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Lynchburg Division
ANASTASIA V. WOOTTEN, Plaintiff,
COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, et al., Defendants.
K. Moon United States District Judge
obtaining a favorable jury verdict, Plaintiff in this case
moved for attorneys' fees (dkt. 242), adjudication of
which Defendants sought to stay pending their appeal of the
underlying merits judgment. (Dkt. 248). The Court
referred both matters to Magistrate Judge Robert S. Ballou,
who suspended briefing on Plaintiff's fee motion pending
disposition of Defendant's stay motion. (Dkts. 245, 250).
Judge Ballou recommends denying the stay motion but also
denying without prejudice the fee motion, thereby permitting
Plaintiff to renew her motion for fees if the Fourth Circuit
upholds her jury award and this Court's denial of
qualified immunity to Defendants. (See dkt. 263
(hereinafter “R&R”)). Plaintiff objects to
these recommendations. The objections are without merit and
will be overruled.
motion-which includes nearly 100 pages of supporting
documentation-seeks almost $400, 000 in fees and expenses for
the work of multiple attorneys over several years.
(See dkts. 242, 243). As Judge Ballou recognized
(R&R at 2-3), judicial efficiency favors deciding the fee
motion after the parties' appeals to the Fourth Circuit
are resolved. If the merits judgment is reversed, the
parties' and Court's resources on the fee motion will
have been wasted, and if the merits judgment is affirmed, the
parties and the Court can consider the entirety of the fee
issue all at once, including fees incident to the appeal and
It is a
long-standing principle that a court has the inherent and
discretionary authority to manage its docket to further
“economy of time and effort for itself, for counsel,
and for litigants.” Landis v. N. Am. Co., 299
U.S. 248, 254 (1936); see Ryan v. Gonzales, 133
S.Ct. 696, 708 (2013) (“We do not presume that district
courts need unsolicited advice from us on how to manage their
dockets.”). Just last year, the Supreme Court
reiterated “that district courts have the inherent
authority to manage their dockets and courtrooms with a view
toward the efficient and expedient resolution of
cases.” Dietz v. Bouldin, 136 S.Ct. 1885, 1892
(2016). This principle of discretion alone would justify
Judge Ballou's recommendation, as well as rebut
Plaintiff's extraordinary contention that the Court
outright “lacks authority” to defer the
fee issue. (Dkt. 255 at 2 (emphasis in original), 5
(asserting court is “preclude[d]” from deferring
fee issue); see dkt. 264 at 3 (claiming
Defendants' motion “is neither deferrable nor
subject to dismissal without
prejudice”)). In any event, the Court will briefly
discuss Plaintiff's specific objections.
reliance on various rules of civil procedure is misplaced.
Rule 58(e) provides a default rule that the Court should not
delay entering a merits judgment simply to adjudicate a fee
motion. The Court followed that practice here. Of course, if
a timely fee motion is made after entry of the merits
judgment, the Court “may act before a
notice of appeal has been filed” to order that the time
to file the merits appeal is tolled. Fed.R.Civ.P. 58(e)
(emphasis added). So the rule allows a district
court to extend the time for appealing a merits judgment
until the fee issue is resolved, thus permitting the merits
and fee judgments to merge into a single appeal. But nothing
in the rule compels the Court to do so, and the
Court in fact did not do so here, as Defendants filed their
notice of appeal only four days after Plaintiff filed her fee
fairs no better under Rule 62.1, which governs the process
for handling a motion over which a pending appeal has
divested the district court of jurisdiction. Fed.R.Civ.P.
62.1(a) (“If a timely motion is made for relief that
the court lacks authority to grant because of an
appeal . . .” (emphasis added)). In that situation, the
district court “may” defer the motion, deny it,
or signal to the appellate court to remand the case because
the motion would be granted or may have merit. By its terms,
though, Rule 62.1 is inapplicable because this Court
retains- rather than lacks-the authority to grant a
fee motion notwithstanding the existence of a merits appeal.
See Langham-Hill Petroleum Inc. v. S. Fuels Co., 813
F.2d 1327, 1330-31 (4th Cir. 1987) (citing White v. N.H.
Dep't of Empl. Sec., 455 U.S. 445 (1982)); Doe
v. Pub. Citizen, 749 F.3d 246, 258 (4th Cir. 2014)
(citing Langham for proposition that district court
retains authority to rule on matters collateral to appeal));
Carr v. Super 8 Motel Developers, Inc., 964 F.Supp.
1046, 1047 n.2 (E.D. Va. 1997); Dahl v. Aerospace
Employees' Ret. Plan of the Aerospace Corp., No.
1:15CV611 (JCC/IDD), 2015 WL 7777989, at *2 (E.D. Va. Dec. 1,
objects to the R&R's statement that her fee motion is
“premature.” By that term, Judge Ballou did not
mean that the fee motion was defective by rule, but rather
only that-as explained both above and in the R&R-the
conservation of resources and judicial efficiency counseled
in favor of deciding the matter later. See Am. Heartland
Port, Inc. v. Am. Port Holdings, Inc., 53 F.Supp.3d 871,
882 (N.D. W.Va. 2014) (describing bill of costs as
“premature” and withholding decision until
resolution of merits appeal).
her last objection, Plaintiff contends that considerations of
resource conservation and judicial economy actually cut
against the R&R and in favor of the deciding the fee
motion now; otherwise, according to Plaintiff, the Fourth
Circuit will be burdened with successive appeals. (Dkt. 264
the Court disagrees with Plaintiff regarding which result is
the most economical.
Plaintiff's logic assumes she prevails (rather than
Defendants) in the Fourth Circuit, which as discussed above
is uncertain. Indeed, the possibility that Defendants may
prevail on appeal (thus mooting the fee issue) itself favors
Judge Ballou's recommendation.
a second appeal from a fee judgment (assuming Plaintiff
prevails on appeal) is by now a practical reality, so ruling
on fees now as Plaintiff desires provides no value added.
That is, an appeal on the fee issue would not reach the
Fourth Circuit until well after its consideration of the
merits appeal begins. Briefing on the merits in the Fourth
Circuit is set to commence in less than a month, on April
27th. But briefing in this Court on the fee motion is not yet
completed. Even if the Court took the abnormal step of
expediting briefing in a case the parties have already
litigated in a “contentious and hard-fought”
manner (and consumed substantial judicial resources as a
result), see Wootten v. Virginia, No. 6:14-CV-00013,
2016 WL 7496145, at *2-3 (W.D. Va. Dec. 30, 2016), it would
take days and perhaps weeks for Judge Ballou to sift through
the parties factual submissions and legal arguments.
even if, prioritizing this fee motion at the expensive of all
other litigants, Judge Ballou issued a substantive
recommendation on the fee motion by April 27th, objections to
that recommendation would not be briefed until between two
and four weeks later. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2).
And even if the objections were filed early, it would take
this Court some time to resolve them. And even if this Court
issued a ruling in a highly expeditious manner, the aggrieved
party could still wait thirty days to file an appeal.
See Fed. R. App. P. 4(a). Of course, by that time
briefing in the Fourth Circuit on the merits judgment will
have long since began, and possibly ended.
if the Court were inclined to grant Plaintiffs objections in
hopes of avoiding successive appeals-a successive appeal on
fees is nonetheless highly likely (assuming Plaintiff
prevails on the merits on appeal), so the rationale of
Plaintiffs objection is moot. Given the circumstances, there
is little to be gained from deciding the fee motion before
the Fourth Circuit decides the merits, and much to be lost.
Plaintiffs objections will be overruled, the R&R will be
adopted, Plaintiffs motion for fees will be denied without
prejudice (with leave to renew the motion within 21 days of
the Fourth Circuit's mandate), and Defendants' motion
to stay consideration of the fee motion will be denied. An
accompanying order will issue. The Clerk ...