United States District Court, D. Rhode Island
ANTHONY E. SINAPI, Plaintiff,
RHODE ISLAND BOARD OF BAR EXAMINERS, et al. Defendants.
MEMORANDUM & ORDER
J. McConnell, Jr. United States District Judge
Anthony E. Sinapi obtained a temporary restraining order
(TRO) that compelled defendants, the Rhode Island Board of
Bar Examiners and its members (the Board), to grant him
testing accommodations for the July 2015 Rhode Island bar
examination, in compliance with regulations of the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA). ECF No. 6. Mr. Sinapi now moves
for attorney's fees as a "prevailing party"
under that Act's fee-shifting provision, 42 U.S.C. §
12205, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d), and D.R.I.
Local Rule 54.1. ECF No. 44. The Court finds that Mr. Sinapi
is a prevailing party based on the TRO, and awards $19, 486
in fees and $400 in costs. ECF No. 6.
Sinapi applied to take the July 2015 bar examinations in
Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Mr. Sinapi applied for
disability-related testing accommodations in both states in
the form of 50% extra time, a distraction reduced
environment, and permission to take prescribed medication
during the exam. Massachusetts initially denied Mr.
Sinapi's request, but reconsidered upon receipt of
additional documents. Rhode Island also denied his initial
request. Mr. Sinapi then requested reconsideration from Rhode
Island's Board, offering to provide the same documents
that appeared to convince Massachusetts of the merits of his
accommodations bid. The Board declined, even when Mr. Sinapi
reduced the additional time request to 25% extra time. Mr.
Sinapi then pursued the remedy-prescribed by the Board by
filing an Emergency Petition for Review with the Rhode Island
Supreme Court, where he was again denied relief.
that he had no other options in light of the looming
examination date, Mr. Sinapi filed an action with this Court
for injunctive relief and damages against the Board, pursuant
to the ADA, 42 U.S.C. § 12101, et seq., 42
U.S.C. § 1983, and the Rhode Island Constitution. ECF
No. 1. In his action, he sought a TRO compelling the Board to
allow him to sit for the July 2015 bar examination in Rhode
Island with 25% additional time and other accommodations. ECF
No. 2. The Board objected on grounds that this Court lacked
jurisdiction and that the Board was entitled to absolute
immunity from all claims. ECF No. 3. After a hearing, this
Court granted the TRO on the ground that the Board's
failure to give weight to the Massachusetts Board's
decision to give Mr. Sinapi an accommodation likely violated
ADA regulations. ECF No. 6. Mr. Sinapi took his exams under
the terms he sought in his motion. He passed Massachusetts,
but failed the Rhode Island test.
August, the Board appealed this Court's decision to grant
the TRO to the First Circuit, seeking to establish that Mr.
Sinapi had taken the July 2015 bar exam under disqualifying
conditions because this Court lacked jurisdiction to grant
the order. See Sinapi v. R.I. Bd. of Bar Exam'rs, et
al, No. 15-1980 (1st Cir. Oct. 13, 2015). The First
Circuit dismissed the Board's appeal as moot because the
order had been "irrevocably executed" after Mr.
Sinapi took the exam. See id.
already been granted the injunctive relief he initially
sought, Mr. Sinapi then amended his complaint, adding a claim
for violations of the Rhode Island Civil Rights Act. ECF No.
20. The Board moved to dismiss the complaint. ECF No. 35.
Believing there was an absence of case or controversy because
Mr. Sinapi received the test accommodations, this Court
issued a show cause order as to why the case should not be
dismissed. This Court later dismissed all of Mr. Sinapi's
outstanding claims on grounds that it lacked jurisdiction to
hear his claims for money damages against the Board and its
members under the Eleventh Amendment, and that his claims
against members individually were precluded by quasi-judicial
immunity. ECF No. 43; Sinapi v. R.I. Bd. of B.
Exam'rs, No. CV 15-311-M, 2016 WL 1562909 (D.R.I.
Apr. 15, 2016). Mr. Sinapi now moves for attorney's fees.
ECF No. 44. The Board opposes the award on grounds that Mr.
Sinapi is not a prevailing party under the relevant statute,
and that, even if he were otherwise entitled to fees, the
Board has quasi-judicial immunity from any such award. ECF
No. 45. In the alternative, the Board opposes the size of the
award proposed by Mr. Sinapi as unreasonably excessive in
terms of time spent and rates charged by counsel.
the ADA's fee-shifting provision, "the court or
agency, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party,
other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's
fee, including litigation expenses, and costs." 42
U.S.C. § 12205. The Court is presented with the
threshold issue of whether Mr. Sinapi is a "prevailing
party" based on the TRO and, if so, the Court is
presented with the second issue of what fee award is
reasonable. The Court must initially consider whether an
award is foreclosed by immunity.
Board claims quasi-judicial immunity from attorney's fees
under 42 U.S.C. § 1988, which governs fee-shifting under
42 U.S.C. § 1983. ECF No. 45 at 32. The argument is
unavailing because the instant motion is governed by the
ADA's fee-shifting provision, 42 U.S.C. § 12205 - an
entirely different statute.
Board is correct that before 1996, the two fee-shifting
statutes were functionally identical. In Pulliam v.
Allen, 466 U.S. 522, 541-42 (1984), the Supreme Court
held that judicial immunity was not a bar to prospective
injunctive relief against a judicial officer under section
1983 or to an award of attorney's fees under section
1988. Id. at 541-42, 44. The ADA's fee-shifting
provision contained substantially similar language to section
1988, so that decision was also persuasive in interpreting
the ADA. Compare 42 U.S.C. § 12205 ("[T]he
court or its agency, in its discretion, may allow the
prevailing party, other than the United States, a reasonable
attorney's fee, including litigation expenses, and costs
. . .") with 42. U.S.C. § 1988 ("the
court, in its discretion, may allow the prevailing party,
other than the United States, a reasonable attorney's fee
as part of the costs . . ."); see also Hutchinson ex
rel. Julien v. Patrick, 636 F.3d 1, 13 (1st Cir. 2011)
(noting that case law under section 1988 is helpful to
interpret section 12205).
1996, Congress amended section 1988 to include a judicial
immunity clause, and it amended section 1983 to bar
injunctive relief with respect to judicial officers. Pub.L.
104-317, Title III, § 309(a)-(b). However, Congress
never amended the ADA to include similar protections for
judicial officers. See Hiramanek v. Clark, No.
C-13-0228 EMC, 2014 WL 107634, at *6 (N.D. Cal. Jan. 10,
2014) ("In contrast to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, there is
no provision in the ADA that bars injunctive relief with
respect to judicial officers."); see also Prakel v.
Indiana, 100 F.Supp.3d 661, 677-78 (S.D. Ind. 2015)
(suggesting that attorney's fees are permitted for ADA
claims against judicial officers sued in their official
capacities); Mag. J.'s Order on Tel. Status Conf., 100
F.Supp.3d 661. Accordingly, the absence of a judicial
immunity clause in section 12205 of the ADA is fatal to the
Board's claim of quasi-judicial immunity from an award of
PREVAILING PARTY STATUS
provisions in federal civil rights statutes represent
Congress' considered departure from the traditional rule
that attorneys pay their own way in American courts,
regardless of the outcome. See Hensley v. Eckerhart,461 U.S. 424, 429 (1983); Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v.
Wilderness Soc'y421 U.S. 240, 247 (1975). Congress
enacted these provisions "to ensure 'effective
access to the judicial process' for persons with civil
rights grievances." See Hensley,461 U.S. 424
at 429 (quoting H.R.Rep. No. 94-1558, p. 1 (1976)).
Accordingly, the Court must be mindful of a civil rights
statute's purpose when it determines whether a party has
achieved "prevailing party" status under ...