Edward Blackorby v. BNSF Railway Company, No. 21-3330 (8th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
After Plaintiff prevailed at trial and was awarded $58,240 in damages, plus post-judgment interest, Plaintiff sought attorneys’ fees in the amount of $701,706, litigation costs in the amount of $43,089.48, and additional filing and transcript-preparation fees in the amount of $1,620.45. The district court ultimately awarded attorneys’ fees in the amount of $570,771 and filing and transcript-preparation fees in the amount of $1,620.45 but denied the request for litigation costs. Defendant BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) appealed, asserting that the district court abused its discretion with respect to the award of attorneys’ fees.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and reduced the award of fees by $103,642.50. BNSF first argued that the award of fees is unreasonable because Plaintiff only achieved limited success. The court reasoned that Plaintiff undisputedly prevailed at trial on his FRSA claim. As this claim was at the heart of Plaintiff’s case, his degree of success is significant, regardless of the fate of his FELA claim or another theory of liability underlying his FRSA claim.
However, the court found that BNSF’s request for the reduction of fees related to the first trial, however, has merit. The court wrote that Plaintiff undisputedly offered the jury instruction that contained a legal error based on Eighth Circuit precedent, which required vacatur of the judgment. The court agreed with BNSF that Plaintiff is not entitled to fees that were unreasonably caused by his own legal error.
Court Description: [Shepherd, Author, with Colloton and Grasz, Circuit Judges] Civil case - Attorneys' Fees. For the court's prior opinions in this Federal Railroad Safety Act case, see Blackorby v. BNSF Ry. Co, 936 F.3d 733 (8th Cir. 2019) and Blackorby v. BNSF Ry. Co, 849 F.3d 716 (8th Cir. 2017). Plaintiff prevailed at trial and was awarded $58,240 in damages, as well as $570,771 in attorneys' fees. BNSF appeals the attorney fee award, and this court reduces the award by $103,642; the district court did not err in determining that plaintiff prevailed on his claim that he was wrongfully retaliated against for reporting his workplace injury, even though he dismissed his FELA claim; the court rejects BNSF's request for pro rata reduction of fees based on the gulf between the damage award and the fee award as the fees were largely drive by the protracted procedural history of the case, and there is no indication the fees were the result of an effort by plaintiff to run up fees based on the rancorous nature of the dispute; however, plaintiff was not entitled to fees related to the first trial as this court vacated the judgment in the first appeal because of plaintiff's error in offering a jury instruction that contained a legal error based on Eighth Circuit precedent; the district court should have reduced the fee award by the amount expended on the first trial - $103,642. Affirmed in part and reversed in part, with instructions to reduce the fee award.