Matthew Kezhaya v. City of Belle Plaine, No. 22-2183 (8th Cir. 2023)Annotate this Case
Appellant Attorney Kezhaya represented The Satanic Temple, Inc., in its lawsuits against the City of Belle Plaine, Minnesota. The Temple sued the City, claiming that the City opened a limited public forum for a Christian monument, but closed the forum to exclude a Satanic monument. The City sought $33,886.80 in attorney’s fees incurred by responding to the complaint in the second lawsuit and preparing the motion for sanctions. The court determined that the rates charged by the City’s counsel were reasonable but observed that a portion of the work was duplicative of the first lawsuit and that the issues unique to the second lawsuit were not complex, novel, or difficult. The court thus reduced the requested amount by fifty percent and ordered the Temple’s counsel to pay the City $16,943.40 under Rule 11(c). Kezhaya appealed the sanctions order. He argues that the district court abused its discretion by (i) imposing sanctions, (ii) failing to consider non-monetary sanctions, and (iii) granting an arbitrary amount of sanctions.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court explained that under the circumstances, it disagreed with Kezhaya’s contention about the righteousness of a second lawsuit. For the claims dismissed “without prejudice” in the first lawsuit, Kezhaya and the Temple made a strategic choice to seek leave to amend the complaint to correct the deficiencies identified in the dismissal order. Further, the court found that even if the City’s insurance carrier ultimately paid the fees, the fees were “incurred” for the motion and could be awarded under Rule 11(c)(2).
Court Description: [Colloton, Author, with Smith, Chief Judge, and Benton, Circuit Judge] Civil case - Attorney Sanctions. The district court did not abuse its discretion by awarding defendants attorneys' fees as a Rule 11 sanction after plaintiff's counsel filed a duplicative lawsuit; the district court did not abuse its discretion in deciding to impose a monetary sanction rather than a lesser sanction such as a reprimand; even if the city's insurance carrier ultimately paid the city's attorneys' charged fees for preparing a motion to dismiss the second suit, the fees were incurred for the motion and could be awarded under Rule 11(c)(2); the amount awarded was not an abuse of the court's discretion.