• Court Denies Prevailing Party Fees Due to Client's and Lawyer's Lack of Collegiality
  • July 1, 2009
  • Law Firm: Hinshaw & Culbertson LLP - Chicago Office
  • Sahyers v. Prugh, Holliday & Karatinos, P.L., 560 F.3d 1241 (11th Cir. 2009)

    Brief Summary
    Court denied legal fees and costs of litigation to prevailing plaintiff because plaintiff and plaintiff’s lawyer had demonstrated a lack of collegiality and wasted judicial resources by failing to give notice to, or attempt to settle with, the defendant law firm prior to filing litigation.

    Complete Summary
    Paralegal Christine Sahyers sued her former employer, the law firm of Prugh, Holliday & Karatinos, P.L. (“Prugh”), for failure to pay overtime. Sahyers asked her lawyer simply to file suit under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) and not to inform Prugh of the issue or attempt to settle the issue pre-filing. Defendants tendered an offer of judgment — without admitting wrongdoing — under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68, and Sahyers accepted. Sahyers then moved for litigation expenses. Although reasonable fees and costs are usually available to prevailing plaintiffs under the FLSA, the district court exercised its inherent power and awarded nothing to Sahyers.

    On appeal, the Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion. Both courts found it determinative that Sahyers and her lawyer exhibited a lack of collegiality and wasted judicial time and resources on unnecessary litigation by failing to give the defendants any advance notice of the suit.

    The Eleventh Circuit was careful to note that pre-suit notice is not required, and that this holding created no judicial duties or presumptions. The court also held that Sahyers’ lawyer’s conduct amounted to bad faith, although the court did not clarify whether a showing of bad faith is required for a fee denial. Finally, and in line with the opinion’s reliance on the need for lawyer collegiality, the court limited this holding to cases where lawyers are parties.

    Significance of Opinion
    Although the Eleventh Circuit only upheld the district court’s exercise of discretion, the opinion arguably suggests new limits on a client’s rights to decide how a case may be handled.