United States District Court, D. Massachusetts
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
DOUGLAS P. WOODLOCK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the path to an unsuccessful jury verdict with respect to her
claim of alleged illegal retaliation by her employer Fidelity
Investments, the plaintiff, Jackie Hosang Lawson, achieved an
important interlocutory victory in the Supreme Court
affirming the right to pursue such a theory under the
Sarbanes-Oxley Act, 18 U.S.C. § 1514A. Lawson v. FMR
LLC, 571 U.S. 429, 134 S.Ct. 1158, 188 L.Ed.2d 158
(2014). Ms. Lawson now seeks a partial award of
attorney fees for that interlocutory success.
Lawson's right to attorney fees turns on whether she may
be termed a prevailing party in a case where judgment on the
merits of her substantive claims ultimately entered for the
defendant. Hewitt v. Helms, 482 U.S. 755, 759, 107
S.Ct. 2672, 96 L.Ed.2d 654 (1987) (“In order to be
eligible for attorney's fees . . . a litigant must be a
‘prevailing party.'”). She asserts she is a
prevailing party to the degree of her interlocutory victory
because the first of the prayers she made for relief in her
complaint was for a declaration that the defendant
“Fidelity Investments, as a contractor and/or a
subcontractor to Fidelity Mutual Funds, is a covered employer
under 18 U.S.C. § 1514A.” That is the legal issue
as to which she was successful in the Supreme Court.
formal procedural predicate for attorney fees on this basis,
Ms. Lawson seeks to amend the judgment in this case to
recognize by means of a separate declaration her
interlocutory procedural victory. I decline to engage in that
sleight of hand. The core purpose of a declaratory judgment
is the termination of the case or controversy before the
court on the basis of largely undisputed facts. 28 U.S.C.
§ 2201(a) (authorizing federal courts to “declare
the rights and other legal relations of any interested party
seeking such declaration, whether or not further relief is or
could be sought” and noting that “[a]ny such
declaration shall have the force and effect of a final
judgment or decree”); see Hewitt, 482 U.S. at
760-63 (noting that a declaratory judgment is a form of
“[r]edress . . . sought through the court, but
from the defendant” and concluding that
“a favorable judicial statement of law in the course of
litigation that results in judgment against the plaintiff
does not suffice to render him a ‘prevailing
party'” because a favorable statement of law that
has no impact on the relationship between the plaintiff and
the defendant is not equivalent to a declaratory judgment)
(emphasis in original). This case was never in that posture.
I would not in the ordinary course enter a declaratory
judgment that did not serve the core purpose of the
declaratory judgment procedure. To do otherwise would be to
issue an advisory opinion.
specifically, I conclude that in the context of this
litigation, the declaration sought in Ms. Lawson's prayer
for relief does not exist as a standalone claim. Rather, it
is a procedural dimension to the substantive claim Ms. Lawson
unsuccessfully pursued. Achieving an interlocutory procedural
victory in a case where final judgment enters for the
opposing party, does not confer prevailing party status upon
the party against whom final judgment enters. See
Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. West Virginia
Dep't of Health & Human Res., 532 U.S. 598, 603,
121 S.Ct. 1835, 149 L.Ed.2d 855 (2001) (“a
‘prevailing party' is one who has been awarded some
relief by the court.”); Hewitt, 482 U.S. at
760 (noting that a plaintiff must “receive at least
some relief on the merits of his claim before he can be said
to prevail” and that “an interlocutory ruling
that [a plaintiff's] complaint should not have been
dismissed for failure to state a constitutional claim . . .
is not the stuff of which legal victories are made”);
Hanrahan v. Hampton, 446 U.S. 754, 758-59, 100 S.Ct.
1987, 64 L.Ed.2d 670 (1980) (“Congress intended to
permit the interim award of counsel fees only when a party
has prevailed on the merits of at least some of his claims,
” and “procedural or evidentiary rulings . . .
were . . . not matters on which a party could
‘prevail.'”); Gay Officers Action League
v. Puerto Rico, 247 F.3d 288, 293 (1st Cir. 2001)
(“a plaintiff prevails when actual relief on the merits
of his claim materially alters the legal relationship between
the parties by modifying the defendant's behavior in a
way that directly benefits the plaintiff.”) (quoting
Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111-12, 113 S.Ct.
566, 121 L.Ed.2d 494 (1992)) (internal quotation marks
fully and vigorously litigated trial of this case on the
merits underscores that Ms. Lawson's success in
establishing a right to pursue her claims was only one hurdle
to resolution on the merits. While grounding that right in
the Sarbanes-Oxley Act was a necessary condition to
prevailing status for her, it was not sufficient.
Artificially restyling the basis for pursuing the claim as a
separate declaratory judgment does not transform ultimate
lack of success into a partial victory entitled to
recognition as a basis for establishing prevailing party
status under the law of attorney fees.
I hereby DENY both the motion (#378) to alter judgment and
the motion (#380) for attorney fees.
 The instant case was one of two
separate matters - this one brought by Ms. Lawson, the other
by Jonathan Zang, Zang v. Fidelity Management &
Research Co., No. 08-cv-10758-DPW - in which by a
consolidated memorandum I declined to grant a motion to
dismiss Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower claims against Fidelity
entities. Lawson v. FMR LLC, 724 F.Supp.2d 141 (D.
Mass. 2010). I certified my decision for interlocutory
appeal. Lawson v. FMR LLC, 724 F.Supp.2d 167 (D.
Mass. 2010). On appeal, the First Circuit reversed my
underlying decision with respect to the applicability of the
Sarbanes-Oxley whistleblower claims. Lawson v. FMR
LLC, 670 F.3d 61 (1st Cir. 2012). The Supreme Court in
turn reversed the decision of the First Circuit. Lawson
v. FMR LLC, 571 U.S. 429, 134 S.Ct. 1158, 188 L.Ed.2d
158 (2014). Mr. Zang thereafter settled his case with