United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
ANITA M. BARROW, Plaintiff,
HERBERT A. BARROW, JR., et al, Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER ON DEFENDANT AZARIAN'S
MOTION FOR ATTORNEYS' FEES
Dennis Saylor IV United States District Judge
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
property was ultimately sold, through a different realtor, to
Falmouth Realty Investments for $385, 261.14. (Id.
at ¶¶ 19, 79-81, 196).
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
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.
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.
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 ...