ILNews

Judge: Parents must pay fees in frivolous suit

Michael W. Hoskins
January 1, 2007
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Two parents challenging a new school-uniform policy in Anderson lost their legal battle in August after a federal judge dismissed the case. This week, parents Laura and Scott Bell have been ordered to pay attorneys' fees and court costs of approximately $40,931 to defendants Anderson Community Schools and the board of trustees.

U.S. District Judge John D. Tinder issued the order Thursday, recounting reasons for ruling in favor of the school district four months ago and issuing a note of caution for future pro se plaintiffs.

The Bells filed suit in Madison Circuit Court in July against the school corporation, claiming that a policy set to start on the first day of school in August would violate the constitutional right of children for a free education. That dress code - similar to those implemented in other Hoosier school districts such as the Indianapolis Public Schools - limits students to black, navy, or khaki pants or skirts, and solid color shirts and sweaters. Students wouldn't be allowed to wear baggy pants or skirts sagging below their midriffs, or shirts with writing on them, the parents claimed.

Anderson Community Schools had asked for summary judgment July 30, noting there is no basis for the federal or state law claims regarding a constitutional right to a "free education" and is no violation of "parental rights" under the Ninth and 14th Amendments.

Judge Tinder dismissed the case after pointing out that the pro se parent plaintiffs "utterly failed" to respond to discovery requests and hadn't shown any likelihood of prevailing in court.

"Plaintiffs offered no timely response to the Defendants' summary judgment motion, even though the court allowed them as pro se parties every latitude to pursue their claims, and encouraged them to obtain the assistance of counsel," Judge Tinder wrote in Thursday's ruling. "The court even gave them guidance on how to focus on the proper issues before the court. Plaintiffs were advised on more than one occasion that the losing party in this case may be required to pay the other side's costs, and even attorneys' fees."

Though the defendants met deadlines in the expedited schedule caused by the parents' request for injunctive relief, those plaintiffs did not attempt to persuade the court not to award any fees. Judge Tinder wrote that because the plaintiffs' civil rights claims lacked any reasonable basis in fact or law, they are considered frivolous and the fees can be awarded. The judge determined the lodestar amount - the reasonable number of hours worked multiplied by the market rate - should be used to determine the fee amount of $40,931.50.
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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