United States District Court, D. Maryland
DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, United States District Judge.
pending and ready for resolution in this disability
discrimination case is Plaintiff Yasmin Reyazuddin’s
motion for a finding that she is entitled to an award of
reasonable attorneys’ fees, costs, and expenses. (ECF
No. 403). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court
now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule
105.6. For the following reasons, the motion will be denied.
April of 2011, Ms. Reyazuddin sued Defendant Montgomery
County (“Defendant” or the “County”)
for violation of § 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, 29
U.S.C. § 794. (ECF No. 1). Ms. Reyazuddin’s claim
stemmed from the County’s failure to accommodate her
disability: Ms. Reyazuddin is blind. As alleged in the
complaint, as of 2009, the County employed Ms. Reyazuddin as
a customer service representative at a County call center.
When the County moved to a new call center
(“MC311”), Ms. Reyazuddin was denied the
opportunity to make the move. The County’s new call
center came with new software, which was not then accessible
to the blind. (Id.) Instead, Ms. Reyazuddin was
placed in a series of alternate positions.
Reyazuddin sought declaratory and injunctive relief from the
County, as well as compensatory damages, based on the
Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
In 2014, this court granted summary judgment in favor of
Montgomery County. (ECF No. 108). Ms. Reyazuddin successfully
appealed with regard to the Rehabilitation Act claim, (ECF
No. 113), and, in 2016, the remaining issues went to trial.
The jury found that the County had failed to provide a
reasonable accommodation but awarded $0 in damages. (ECF No.
221). Several months later, the County finally transferred
Ms. Reyazuddin to MC311. (ECF No. 403, at 4). In August 2017,
this court denied Ms. Reyazuddin’s request for
injunctive relief on the ground that she was no longer
employed in inadequate alternate positions and was now
employed at ¶ 311. (ECF No. 353). The court also
declined to issue a declaratory judgment because “[t]he
jury made clear that Defendant’s earlier accommodation
was insufficient” and “[f]urther expounding on
the jury’s verdict would be superfluous[.]”
(Id. at 41-42). Ms. Reyazuddin again
appealed and the Fourth Circuit affirmed this court’s
judgment. (ECF No. 398-1).
January 18, 2019, Ms. Reyazuddin filed a motion for
attorneys’ fees claiming she is a “prevailing
party” under the Rehabilitation Act. (ECF No. 403).
the Rehabilitation Act, “[i]n any action or proceeding
to enforce or charge a violation of a provision of this
subchapter, the court, in its discretion, may allow the
prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable
attorneys’ fee as part of the costs.” 29 U.S.C.
§ 794a. “The term ‘prevailing party’.
. . is a ‘legal term of art, ’ . . . and is
‘interpreted. . . consistently’ – that is,
without distinctions based on the particular statutory
context in which it appears.” Smyth ex rel. Smyth
v. Rivero, 282 F.3d 268, 274 (4th Cir. 2002)
(quoting Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W.Va.
Dep’t of Health and Human Resources, 532 U.S. 598,
603 n. 4 (2001))(internal citations omitted).
considered a “prevailing party, ” a plaintiff
must obtain “an enforceable judgment . . . or
comparable relief through a consent decree or
settlement.” Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103,
111 (1992) (internal citations omitted). There is no consent
decree or settlement in this case. Thus, the only avenue open
to Ms. Reyazuddin is the first of the Farrar
options: an enforceable judgment. As will be discussed, while
Ms. Reyazuddin has won a judgment, it cannot be characterized
as an enforceable one sufficient to make her a prevailing
relies on a case from the United States Court of Appeals for
the District of Columbia, Select Milk Producers, Inc. v.
Johanns, 400 F.3d 939, 947 (D.C. Cir. 2005), as well as
a Fourth Circuit case, Dennis v. Columbia Colleton Med.
Ctr. Inc., 290 F.3d 639, 652-53 (4th Cir.
2002), for the proposition the amount of damages is
irrelevant. (ECF No. 406, at 3). Justice
O’Connor’s much-cited concurrence in
Farrar, which plaintiff relies on – and which
forms the basis of both Select Milk Producers and
Dennis -makes clear that there is a difference
between nominal damages and no damages: there, the
plaintiff “obtained an enforceable judgment for one
dollar in nominal damages. One dollar is not exactly a
bonanza, but it constitutes relief on the merits. And it
affects the defendant’s behavior toward the plaintiff,
if only by forcing him to pay one dollar - something he would
not otherwise have done.” Farrar, 506 U.S.
103, 116–17 (O’Connor, J., concurring). In sum,
to claim “prevailing party” status, the judgment
must “materially alter the legal relationship between
the parties by modifying the defendant’s behavior in a
way that directly benefits the plaintiff.” Id.
at 111-12 (majority opinion). One dollar technically
accomplishes that (even if it does not ultimately warrant an
award of attorneys’ fees), but zero dollars does not.
another way, “a judicial pronouncement that the
defendant has violated the [law], ” standing alone,
“does not render the plaintiff a prevailing
party.” Id. at 112; see also Hewitt v.
Helms, 482 U.S. 755, 762 (1987) (“the moral
satisfaction of knowing that a federal court concluded that
[a plaintiff’s] rights ha[ve] been violated” is
insufficient to render plaintiff a prevailing party”).
There has been no material alteration of the legal
relationship between the parties by virtue of a judgment in
argues that her claim “is even stronger than that of
many other plaintiffs who have recovered fees. For example,
plaintiffs are routinely found to be prevailing parties when
a defendant settles[.]” (ECF No. 403, at 5). Ms.
Reyazuddin, however, can point to no case in this circuit or
out where a settlement alone was found to have the
necessary “judicial imprimatur” to render a
plaintiff the “prevailing party.” All of Ms.
Reyazuddin’s cited cases involve a judicial grant of
court has found, of course, that the County has now
reasonably accommodated Ms. Reyazuddin and thus that Ms.
Reyazuddin has achieved a measure of success. That success,
however, lacks the requisite “judicial
imprimatur.” Ms. Reyazuddin ultimately did
“prevail on the most significant issue in this
litigation (her request to be transferred to the MC311 Call
Center with accommodations[.)]” (ECF No. 403, at 11).
Plaintiff may even be correct that “[t]he jury’s
verdict was the predicate for the relief that Ms.
Reyazuddin obtained.” (ECF No. 406, at 2) (emphasis
added). This, however, is just another way of saying that
“the jury’s verdict was the catalyst for
the relief that Ms. Reyazuddin obtained.”
other words, Plaintiff is simply advancing the
“catalyst theory, ” which “posits that a
plaintiff is a ‘prevailing party’ if it achieves
the desired result because the lawsuit brought about a
voluntary change in the defendant’s conduct.”
Buckhannon, 532 U.S. at 601. The Supreme Court has
expressly held that “the ‘catalyst ...