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Barrow v. Barrow

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

July 10, 2017

ANITA M. BARROW, Plaintiff,
v.
HERBERT A. BARROW, JR., et al, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT AZARIAN'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES

          F. Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge

         This action arises out of the partition by sale of a property in Falmouth, Massachusetts, formerly owned by Emma Barrow, the mother of plaintiff Anita Barrow. In her will, Emma Barrow granted a life estate in the Falmouth property to one of her daughters, Willinda Powell Gray. Anita, Willinda, and a third sibling named Herbert Barrow were devised equal shares of the proceeds from the sale of the property as remaindermen. Willinda occupied the house for some time, and it fell into a state of disrepair. The property was ultimately sold for substantially less than its fair market value. Plaintiff, proceeding pro se, then filed this action contending that her siblings and various other individuals involved in either the decline in the property's value or its ultimate sale-including Douglas Azarian, a real estate agent who listed the property for sale-discriminated against her on the basis of race in violation of state and federal law, including the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq., and the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, and 1983.

         On August 31, 2016, Azarian moved to dismiss the claims against him for the failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, which the Court granted. Azarian then moved for attorneys' fees. For the reasons stated below, that motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         I. Background

         A. Factual Background

         The facts are set out fully in this Court's prior Memorandum and Order on Plaintiff's Motion for Lis Pendens, Plaintiff's Motion to Strike, and Defendants' Motions to Dismiss. (See Docket No. 58 at 2-5). As is relevant here, the facts are as follows.

         Anita Barrow is an African-American woman. (Compl. ¶ 33). Her mother, Emma Barrow, died on July 9, 2006. (Compl. ¶ 55). In her will, Emma devised her property in Falmouth, Massachusetts, to her three children. (Compl. ¶ 33, 35, 48). She granted defendant Willinda Powell Gray-the half-sister of Anita Barrow and Herbert Barrow-a life tenancy in the property. The will further provided that upon Willinda's option or at her death, the property was to be sold, with the proceeds divided equally between Willinda, Herbert, and Anita or their issue. (Compl. Ex. 2). She named Michelle Maldonado, Willinda's daughter, as executor of her estate. (Compl. ¶ 49).

         According to the complaint, on July 1, 2014, Maldonado used a void and fraudulent deed to list the property for sale with Douglas Azarian at Kinlin Grover Realty. (Compl. ¶ 51, 70). Also according to the complaint, the deed overstated the powers of the executor to sell the property. (Compl. ¶ 148). On July 3, Anita travelled to Cape Cod; she stayed there for two weeks while trying to stop the sale of the property. (Compl. ¶ 123). On July 19, Maldonado, along with defendants Herbert, Willinda, and Azarian, attempted to sell the property “in a wasted condition” to defendant SDSB Investment Group for $385, 000. (Compl. ¶ 52). It appears that the sale to SDSB fell through.

         The property was ultimately sold, through a different realtor, to Falmouth Realty Investments for $385, 261.14. (Id. at ¶¶ 19, 79-81, 196).

         B. Procedural Background

         On July 18, 2016, plaintiff filed the complaint in this action. The complaint alleges that defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her race in violation of the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”), 42 U.S.C. § 3601, et seq. (Count 1); 42 U.S.C. §§ 1981, 1982, and 1983 (Count 2); and Massachusetts General Laws chapter 151B (Count 3). The complaint also asserts a number of state-law tort claims for breach of fiduciary duty (Count 4); waste (Count 5); and fraud (Count 6). It also asserts an action to quiet title (Count 7).

         On August 31, 2016, defendant Douglas Azarian, as well as a number of other defendants, moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. On September 23, 2016, plaintiff moved to strike that motion to dismiss. This Court denied the motion to strike and granted the motion to dismiss on November 29, 2016.

         On December 29, 2016, Azarian moved for an award of attorneys' fees pursuant to the Fair Housing Act, 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(2), the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b), and sanctions pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. Rule 11. For the reasons stated below, that motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

         II. Analysis

         A. Attorneys' Fees

         The FHA and the Civil Rights Act both authorize attorneys' fees for prevailing parties. See 42 U.S.C. § 3613(c)(2) (“[T]he court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee and costs.”); 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b) (“[T]he court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party . . . a reasonable attorney's fee as part of the costs . . . .”). In Christiansburg Garment Co. v. Equal Employer Opportunity Comm'n., 434 U.S. 412, (1978), the Supreme Court held that when a defendant is the prevailing party in an action brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, fees should be assessed against the plaintiff only if the plaintiff's claims were “frivolous, unreasonable, or groundless, or [if] the plaintiff continued to litigate after [they] clearly became so, ” or if the claims were brought or continued in bad faith. Id. at 422. The Supreme Court subsequently extended Christiansburg to claims for fees under § 1988(b) of the Civil Rights Act. See Hughes v ...


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