NEW ORLEANS – Plaintiffs in a Texas redistricting battle who were initially awarded attorney’s fees by a district court were rebuffed in a ruling by the U.S. Fifth District Court of Appeals after being unable to prove they were the “prevailing party".
A dispute between seven elected officials and one citizen of Galveston, Texas, against Galveston County began when the county redrew district lines following 2010 census.
The plaintiffs filed suit on grounds that the proposed electoral maps violated the U.S. Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which requires certain jurisdictions with histories of voting discrimination to receive federal approval before changing voting procedures.
When Galveston County altered election maps according to 2010 population changes and applied “the ‘one person, one vote’ constitutional requirement,” affecting three county elections for commissioner, constable, and justice of the peace, the defendant filed the necessary documentation to the U.S. Department of Justice for pre-clearance.
In November 2011, a month after documents were filed, the plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment and injunctions against the redistricting plan. The district court granted a temporary restraining order and requested an evidentiary hearing. Upon review, the court vacated the restraining order as the county indicated they would not be implementing the changes until approved.
The DOJ issued a formal objection to the county’s plans in March 2012, finding them “retrogressive and rais[ing] concerns that the County did not meet ‘its burden of showing that the proposed plan was adopted with no discriminatory purpose’.”
The court upheld the parties’ agreement to use 2001 maps for the upcoming elections and entered a judgment permanently preventing the county from any procedures not pre-cleared for the 2012 elections.
As a result of this judgment, the plaintiffs filed a motion for and were awarded attorney’s fees by a district court judge for the work and lobbying before the DOJ. The county appealed, asserting that the plaintiffs are not entitled to an award as they were not the prevailing party and lobbying fees are not “sufficiently related to the court litigation.”
The Fifth Circuit holds that the plaintiffs failed to meet “prevailing party” status as the nature of the relationship between the parties was not materially affected by the ruling, and the county’s behavior was not altered in such a way that benefited the plaintiffs. Therefore, the court ruled that the plaintiffs were not entitled to fees and reversed the district court’s judgment and remanded the case for judgment to Galveston County.
The plaintiffs were represented by Neil G. Baron and Chad Dunn in the District Court suit, Case No. 3:13-cv-00308. The district court judge was Gregg Costa. Robert Barron Boemer, Joseph M Nixon, Dalton L. Oldham and James Edwin Trainor III represented Galveston County.
The appellate case was heard by Circuit Judges E. Grady Jolly, Harold R. DeMoss Jr. and Leslie Southwick.
Case no. 12-40856.