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Miller v. City of Portland

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit

August 22, 2017

Roberta F. Miller, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
City of Portland; Timothy Manzella, Officer, Personally; John Scruggs, Officer; Personally; Michael Reese, Personally, Defendants-Appellees.

          Argued and Submitted June 5, 2017 Portland, Oregon

         Appeal from the United States District Court DC No. 3:12-CV-01222-AC for the District of Oregon Marco A. Hernandez, District Judge, Presiding

          Leonard Randolph Berman (argued), Law Office of Leonard R. Berman, Portland, Oregon, for Plaintiff-Appellant.

          Denis M. Vannier (argued), Deputy City Attorney, Office of the City Attorney, Portland, Oregon, for Defendants-Appellees.

          Before: A. Wallace Tashima, Ronald M. Gould, and Johnnie B. Rawlinson, Circuit Judges.

         SUMMARY[*]

         Civil Rights/Attorney's Fees

         The panel reversed the district court's order denying an award of attorney's fees to plaintiff in a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 action and remanded for the calculation and award of a reasonable fee award.

         Plaintiff sued the City of Portland and three Portland police officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for asserted Fourth Amendment violations. Portland made a Rule 68 Offer of Judgment for $1, 000, plus reasonable attorney's fees to be determined by the district court, which plaintiff accepted. When plaintiff moved for fees, however, the district court denied the motion on the ground that the $1, 000 award was a de minimis judgment under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

         The panel held that the district court engaged in the wrong analysis when it applied principles governing § 1988 awards, rather than principles governing contract construction, to decide plaintiff's fee motion. The panel held that a prevailing plaintiff under an accepted Rule 68 Offer, which provides for the award of reasonable attorney's fees, is entitled, under the Rule 68 Offer, to an award of fees in some amount. Thus, the magistrate judge and the district court decided the wrong question - whether plaintiff was entitled to fees under § 1988 - rather than the amount of fees to which she was entitled under the Rule 68 Offer. The panel remanded for a determination and award of a reasonable fee.

          OPINION

          TASHIMA, Circuit Judge:

         Roberta Miller appeals the district court's denial of her motion for attorney's fees. Miller sued the City of Portland ("Portland") and three Portland police officers under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for asserted Fourth Amendment violations. Portland made a Rule 68 Offer of Judgment (the "Rule 68 Offer" or "Offer") for $1, 000, plus reasonable attorney's fees to be determined by the district court. Miller timely accepted the Offer. When Miller moved for fees, however, the district court denied the motion on the ground that the $1, 000 award was a de minimis judgment under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

         Portland's Rule 68 Offer - and Miller's acceptance - which we interpret as a contract, provided that Miller would receive her reasonable attorney's fees, without referencing § 1988 or otherwise reserving to the district court the antecedent question of whether Miller was entitled to a fee award. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. We reverse and remand for a determination and award of a reasonable fee.

         Factual and ...


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