United States District Court, D. North Dakota
North Dakota Farm Bureau, Inc., Galegher Farms, Inc., Brian Gerrits, Breeze Dairy Group, LLC, North Dakota Pork Council, and Bill Price, Plaintiffs,
Wayne Stenehjem, in his official Capacity as Attorney General of North Dakota, Defendant, Farmers' Educational and Cooperative Union of America North Dakota Division, d/b/a North Dakota Farmers Union, Intervenor-Defendant, Dakota Resource Council, a North Dakota Nonprofit Corporation, Intervenor-Defendant.
ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR
ATTORNEY'S FEES AND COSTS
L. Hovland, Chief Judge
the Court is the Plaintiffs' motion for attorney's
fees and costs filed on April 10, 2019. See Doc. No.
134. They seek $250, 589.33 in attorney's fees and
$435.00 in costs. The Defendant, North Dakota Attorney
General Wayne Stenehjem (“State”), filed a
response in opposition to the motion on April 24, 2019.
See Doc. No. 140. The Plaintiffs filed a reply brief
on May 1, 2019. See Doc. No. 143. The State filed a
surreply on May 8, 2019. See Doc. No. 146. For the
reasons set forth below, the motion is granted.
Plaintiffs brought this action challenging the
constitutionality of Chapter 10-06.1 of the North Dakota
Century Code (the “Corporate Farming Law”) in
June of 2016. The Corporate Farming Law regulates and limits
ownership of farm and ranch land in North Dakota. The
Plaintiffs specifically challenged N.D.C.C. § 10-06.1-12
(the “family farm exception, ”) which allows
corporate entities to own farmland, but only under certain
Plaintiffs sued Attorney General Stenehjem in his official
capacity, and two non-profit organizations subsequently
joined the litigation as Intervenor-Defendants. The
Plaintiffs challenged the constitutionality of the Corporate
Farming Law under three constitutional provisions: the
Commerce Clause, the Equal Protection Clause, and the
Privileges and Immunities Clause. All of the claims were
pursued under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.
litigation proceeded through written discovery and motion
practice. On September 21, 2018, the Court granted summary
judgment in favor of the Plaintiffs, finding that the family
farm exception violates the dormant Commerce Clause.
See Doc. No. 119. The Plaintiffs conceded their
claims under the Privileges and Immunities Clause should be
dismissed. As a remedy, the Court found that the offending
language in the family farm exception could be severed, and
enjoined the State from enforcing the family farm exception
in a manner which limits its application to only North Dakota
corporations and limited liability companies.
the Court's Order granting summary judgment on the
dormant Commerce Clause claim, the parties stipulated to the
dismissal of the Equal Protection claim. See Doc.
No. 129. The Court entered final judgment on March 20, 2019.
See Doc. No. 130. In its final judgment, the Court
“permanently enjoined” the State of North Dakota
…enforcing or seeking to enforce Section 10-06.1-12 of
the North Dakota Century Code in a manner which limits its
application to only North Dakota corporations and limited
liability companies, and must permit corporations and limited
liability companies organized under the laws of other states
to utilize the family farm exception, so long as they meet
the other requirements of the current law which are not the
subject of this litigation.
See Doc. No. 119, p. 39. Neither side appealed. Now
before the Court is the Plaintiffs' motion for
attorney's fees and costs. See Doc. No. 134.
Plaintiffs, as the prevailing party in a lawsuit brought
under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, bring this motion to recover
attorney's fees and costs from the State under 42 U.S.C.
§ 1988. The State raises several objections to the
motion, each of which the Court will address in turn.
State contends the Plaintiffs are not a prevailing party
despite having obtained a permanent injunction on their
dormant Commerce Clause claim prohibiting the enforcement of
the family farm exception in a manner which treats
out-of-state corporations and limited liability companies
differently than North Dakota corporations and limited
liability companies. The Court finds the contention
U.S.C. § 1988 permits, but does not require, the award
of reasonable attorney's fees to the “prevailing
party” in an action to enforce a provision of, inter
alia, Section 1983. To qualify as a prevailing party,
“a civil rights plaintiff proceeding under § 1983
‘must obtain at least some relief on the merits of his
claim.'” North Dakota v. Lange, 900 F.3d
565, 567 (8th Cir. 2018) (Colloton, J., concurring) (quoting
Farrar v. Hobby, 506 U.S. 103, 111 (1992)). A
plaintiff need not prevail on every claim or theory as long
as it succeeds on “any significant claim.”
Texas State TeachersAss'n v. Garland Indep.