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Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, Eighth Circuit

December 10, 2019

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission Plaintiff- Appellant
CRST Van Expedited, Inc. Defendant-Appellee

          Submitted: September 27, 2019

          Appeal from United States District Court for the Northern District of Iowa - Cedar Rapids

          Before SMITH, Chief Judge, WOLLMAN and ERICKSON, Circuit Judges.


         This case returns to us following our remand to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion in CRST Van Expedited, Inc. v. E.E.O.C. (CRST III), 136 S.Ct. 1642 (2016). The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) again appeals the district court's[1] award of attorney's fees, expenses, and costs to CRST Van Expedited, Inc. (CRST). We affirm.

         I. Background

         The underlying facts of this case are set forth in prior opinions of this court and the Supreme Court. See id. at 1647-51; E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc. (CRST II), 774 F.3d 1169, 1172-77 (8th Cir. 2014), vacated and remanded, 136 S.Ct. 1642 (2016); E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc. (CRST I), 679 F.3d 657, 665-71 (8th Cir. 2012). In summary, "[i]t has been over 10 years since [Monika] Starke first filed her charge [of discrimination] and close to 9 years since the [EEOC] filed its complaint. The dispute over the award of attorney's fees has continued over much of that period." CRST III, 136 S.Ct. at 1653.

         The district court had previously awarded attorney's fees and costs in the amount of $4, 694, 442.14. In a prior appeal, we reversed the district court's award of attorney's fees, in part, because we held that the "court's dismissal of 67 claims for the EEOC's failure to satisfy Title VII's presuit obligations d[id] not constitute a ruling on the merits." CRST II, 774 F.3d at 1181. We also reversed the fee award because the district court failed to "make particularized findings of frivolousness, unreasonableness, or groundlessness as to each individual claim upon which it granted summary judgment on the merits to CRST." Id. at 1183. And we reversed the district court's award of fees for the EEOC's 2012 appeal of the merits of the summary judgment orders and dismissal for failure to comply with presuit requirements because "the district court made no particularized findings as to why the EEOC's appeal to this court was frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation." Id. at 1185. Finally, we reversed the district court's fee award as it pertained to fees associated with CRST's defense of a purported pattern-or-practice claim because "the EEOC did not allege that CRST was engaged in a pattern or practice of illegal sex-based discrimination or otherwise plead a violation of Section 707 of Title VII" in its complaint. Id. at 1179 (internal quotations omitted). Accordingly, we remanded the case with directions for the district court to "individually assess each of the claims for which it granted summary judgment to CRST on the merits and explain why it deems a particular claim to be frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless." Id. at 1185. If the district court determined that frivolous claims existed on remand, we instructed the court "to determine what fees, if any, CRST 'expended solely because of the frivolous allegations.'" Id. (quoting Fox v. Vice, 563 U.S. 826, 841 (2011)).

         The Supreme Court granted a writ of certiorari on the proper interpretation of "prevailing party" under 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)-5(k) and held "that a favorable ruling on the merits is not a necessary predicate to find that a defendant has prevailed." CRST III, 136 S.Ct. at 1646. Accordingly, the Court rejected this court's holding "that CRST did not prevail on the claims brought on behalf of 67 women because the District Court's disposition of these claims for failure to investigate and conciliate was not a ruling on the merits," id. at 1651, vacated our judgment, and "remanded for further proceedings consistent with [its] opinion." Id. at 1654. In turn, we remanded to the district court for further proceedings consistent with the Supreme Court's opinion.

         On remand, in an extensive 82-page order, the district court once again held that CRST was entitled to attorney's fees, expenses, and costs. The district court first reaffirmed its earlier holding that "[t]he EEOC's failure to conciliate and investigate the sixty-seven claims at issue caused the resulting claims in the instant action to be frivolous, unreasonable and/or groundless under Christiansburg." E.E.O.C. v. CRST Van Expedited, Inc.(CRST IV), 277 F.Supp.3d 1000, 1017 (N.D. Iowa 2017) (citing Christiansburg Garment Co. v. E.E.O.C., 434 U.S. 412 (1978)). The court reiterated its prior finding that "the EEOC's practice of presenting a moving target of claimants was an unreasonable litigation tactic, the direct result of which was these claims." Id.

         The district court next considered whether CRST was entitled to a fee award for the 78 claims dismissed on summary judgment. After an exhaustive, claim-by-claim analysis, the court determined that the claims of seven women and portions of two other women's claims were not wholly frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless. But "[a]s to the remaining women and remaining portions of claims, the court found such claims to be frivolous, groundless and/or unreasonable for a variety of reasons." Id. at 1049. The court explained:

[T]he EEOC never properly pled a pattern-or-practice claim, such that any claims predicated on that method of proof satisfied Christiansburg; the claimants admitted that they never utilized CRST's reporting procedure, a procedure of which they were admittedly aware, and thus failed to give CRST proper notice; the claimants that complained to CRST of sexual harassment had their complaints properly and promptly remedied; and the claimants did not suffer harassment that was sufficiently severe and pervasive. The court has also determined, on remand from the Supreme Court and then the Eighth Circuit, that the claims it dismissed due to the EEOC's abdication of its presuit statutory requirements not only constituted a sufficient alteration of the legal relationship of the parties to make CRST a prevailing party, but also that such claims satisfied Christiansburg, as the court has found numerous times previously. In short, fees for all but seven claims, and portions of two claims, from the court's original fee award should be preserved here.


         Thereafter, the district court considered whether the fees could be awarded to CRST under Fox. For the individual claims that the district court held satisfied the Christiansburg standard, the court found that CRST's proposed method for calculating fees reasonably separated fees for claims meeting the Christiansburg standard from those claims that did not. The method adopted by the district court first took the prior amount awarded ($4, 694, 442.14) and subtracted the fees previously awarded for the EEOC's first appeal ($465, 230.47) and those attributable to the EEOC's purported pattern-or-practice claim ($456, 320.90). The court then calculated the average fee amount for the claims dismissed at summary judgment ($24, 937.94) and for the EEOC's failure to satisfy its presuit obligations ($20, 225.34).[2] The court also awarded $122, 749.25 for the briefing and hearing on CRST's motion to show cause based on the EEOC's presuit failures. The court then added a portion of the fees previously awarded for the pattern-or-practice claim ($53, 336.16) to cover the individual claims for which the EEOC relied on its pattern-or-practice theory. These calculations resulted in a new fee award of $3, 317, 289.67.

         The EEOC now appeals for the third time.[3] "Against this background of protracted and expensive litigation on the fee issue," we are mindful of the Supreme Court's directive "to resolve the outstanding issues without unnecessary delay. As the Court has noted in earlier cases, the determination of fees should not result in a second ...

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