AELE LAW LIBRARY OF CASE SUMMARIES:
Civil Liability of Law Enforcement Agencies & Personnel
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Attorneys' Fees & Costs: For Defendants
Monthly Law Journal Article: Attorneys'
Fees in Federal Civil Rights Lawsuits: An Introduction - Part One
(4) AELE Mo. L. J. 101
Monthly Law Journal Article: Attorneys' Fees in Federal Civil Rights Lawsuits: An Introduction - Part Two, 2011 (5) AELE Mo. L. J. 101
and state courts hearing federal civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. Sec.
1983 have discretion to award a prevailing party (other than the federal
government) reasonable attorneys' fees under 2 U.S.C. Sec. 1988. The U.S.
Supreme Court, however, has restricted such awards to prevailing defendants
only to cases in which the plaintiff's lawsuit was "frivolous, unreasonable,
or without foundation." The Idaho Supreme Court held that it was not
bound by that interpretation of the law and made a Sec.1988 award of attorneys'
fees to a prevailing defendant in a Sec. 1983 lawsuit without first deciding
whether the plaintiff's claim was "frivolous, unreasonable, or without
foundation." The U.S. Supreme Court reversed. Sec. 1988 is a federal
statute, so the Supreme Court's interpretation is final and binding on
all courts, federal or state. James
v. Boise, #15-493, 136 S. Ct. 685, 2016 U.S. Lexis 947.
After a woman's federal civil rights claims against police officers were determined to be frivolous, the city employing the officers asked the court to award it $362,545.61 in attorneys' fees and costs as a sanction under 28 U.S.C. § 1927 against the plaintiff's attorney. The attorney continued to pursue his client's claims after it was clear that they were frivolous. A federal appeals court ruled that the trial court could take into consideration the attorney's claim that he had no assets and had only earned approximately $20,000 annually in the past three years, and, if true, reduce the amount of any sanction based on his inability to pay. Haynes v. City and County of San Francisco, #10-16327, 2012 U.S. App. Lexis 15102 (9th Cir.).
Even though a candidate for chief of police won his election, he sued his opponent for violation of his federal civil rights, as well as claims under state law, for allegedly interfering with his right to seek public office. A federal court dismissed the federal claims as frivolous, and sent the other claims to state court. The U.S. Supreme Court held that reasonable attorneys' fees could be awarded to the defendant under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988, but only for costs that the defendant would not have incurred "but for the frivolous claims." Fox v. Vice, #10-144, 2011 U.S. Lexis 4182.
A plaintiff's $250 million lawsuit concerning the ownership of several pieces of personal property seized by a police department, asserting claims for theft, violation of civil rights, and violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act was frivolous and groundless. Since the plaintiff failed to present a viable case for any of his claims, the defendant was entitled to an award of $6,591 in attorneys' fees. Swiney v. State of Texas, Civil Action No. SA-06-CA-0941, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 51522 (W.D. Tex.).
While police and city prevailed in arrestee's excessive force lawsuit, the fact that there was some evidence that he suffered injuries to his face requiring stitches, and that the officers struck him after he had been subdued indicated that his lawsuit was not frivolous or malicious. As a result, the defendants were not entitled to an award of attorneys' fees against the plaintiff. Stollings v. Current, No. 3:05-cv-109, 2007 U.S. Dist. Lexis 6665 (S.D. Ind.).[N/R]
Trial court abused its discretion in denying an award of costs to a city after it was granted summary judgment in a lawsuit brought by an arrestee attempting to collect on a civil rights judgment against a former police officer. The city was not liable for the officer's conduct in ransacking the plaintiff's apartment because he was not then acting within the scope of his employment, and the plaintiff was therefore not entitled to enforce the judgment against the city. While the appeals court upholds an exception to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 54(d)(1) allowing losing indigent parties to avoid paying costs, the losing plaintiff in this case failed to adequately show that she would be unable to pay such costs to the city, and had not even yet attempted to discover what assets the ex-police officer (now in prison), against whom she has a $175,000 judgment, might have against which she could collect. Rivera v. City of Chicago, No. 06-1318, 2006 U.S. App. Lexis 28839 (7th Cir.). [N/R]
While jury returned a verdict for the defendant police officer in an arrestee's lawsuit claiming excessive use of force, the officer was not entitled to an award of attorneys' fees against the plaintiff, since the arrestee's claim was not brought in bad faith or frivolous, and the evidence would have been sufficient to support a jury verdict for the plaintiff. Holmes v. McGuigan, No. 04-1299, 2006 U.S. Dist. Lexis 67361 (E.D. Pa.). [N/R]
Federal trial court's award of attorneys' fees to defendant city and police officers in federal civil rights lawsuit was improper and an abuse of discretion when it failed to provide any reasons or explanations for the award, and also failed to calculate the amount of attorneys' fees in compliance with prior instructions from a federal appeals court. Dehertoghe v. City of Helmet, No. 04-55533, 159 Fed. Appx. 775 (9th Cir. 2005). [N/R]
Sheriff and sheriff's department were entitled to an award of attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. Sec. 1988 when an arrestee's lawsuit for harassment, malicious prosecution, abuse of process, and intentional infliction of emotional distress in connection with the issuance of an arrest warrant was voluntarily dismissed. The court found that the lawsuit brought had been frivolous when the arrest never took place, the sheriff's department, named as a defendant, was not a legal entity which could be sued, and there was no showing that there was any alleged violation of constitutional rights related to official county policies or practices. Evans v. Monroe County Sheriff's Department, No. 05-10077, 148 Fed. Appx. 902 (11th Cir. 2005). [N/R]
Motorist's stipulation, in criminal proceeding, that there had been probable cause to arrest her for felony assault with a deadly weapon, a car, in a "road rage" incident, barred her pursuit of lawsuit for unlawful arrest. The stipulation either had a collateral estoppel effect, totaling barring the claim, or else, at the very least, was admissible in the case as an admission by the plaintiff, which could serve as a basis for summary judgment. Additionally, her continued pursuit of her civil lawsuit after signing the stipulation was sufficient to enter a finding that the lawsuit was maintained in bad faith, resulting in an award of attorneys' fees and costs to defendants. Salazar v. Upland Police Department, Nos. E032557, E033447, 11 Cal. Rptr. 2d 22 (Cal. App. 4th Dist. 2004). [N/R]
Trial court properly awarded $44,044 in attorneys' fees to defendants in "frivolous, unreasonable, and groundless" lawsuit filed by woman prosecuted on misdemeanor charges after refusing to obey police officer's orders to leave city council meeting when he told her the chamber was filled to capacity. Plaintiff, who was released on her own recognizance after charges were made against her, was not seized, and no motive to punish her for expressing her opinions about a proposed airport expansion was shown. Attorneys' fee award served to help deter frivolous lawsuits. Karam v. City of Burbank, No. 02-55954, 340 F.3d 884 (9th Cir. 2003). [2003 LR Dec]
Presence of officers during a court-sanctioned entry into a man's residence by his wife in connection with divorce proceedings to retrieve some of her possessions did not constitute an illegal search and seizure in violation of federal and state constitutional provisions. The plaintiff's federal civil rights claims against the city and officers were frivolous and the defendants were therefore entitled to an award of attorneys' fees. Todd v. City of Natchitoches, 238 F. Supp. 2d 793 (W.D. La. 2002). [N/R]
Defendant municipality was entitled to payment by plaintiff in civil rights case of its costs incurred after making a settlement offer when the offer was not accepted and the judgment finally obtained by the plaintiff was not more favorable to him than the offer, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68. Payne v. Milwaukee County, #01-1818, 288 F.3d 1021 (7th Cir. 2002). [N/R]
333:132 Trial court properly assessed attorneys' fees against motorist who sued officer for alleged illegal search of her car when she presented no evidence of illegality and even conceded at trial that she had consented to the search; awarding attorneys' fees against her on a claim surrounding a second stop was an abuse of discretion when her claim was not frivolous, although a jury rejected it. Myers v. City of West Monroe, No. 98-30729, 211 F.3d 289 (5th Cir. 2000).
319:102 City was entitled to an award of attorneys' fees and costs against plaintiffs and their attorney in case where it was frivolously alleged, without sufficient evidence, that city failed to evacuate black residents in the same manner as non-black residents following chemical plant explosion. Walker v. City of Bogalusa, #97-31331, 168 F.3d 237 (5th Cir. 1999).
304:53 Officer was not entitled to an award of attorneys' fees from plaintiff after officer prevailed in excessive force lawsuit, in absence of a showing that lawsuit was frivolous. Cupp v. Ziegler, 972 F.Supp. 421 (E.D. Mich. 1997).
301:5 Plaintiff ordered to pay defendant law enforcement officers $3,903.75 in attorney's fees and court costs; plaintiff liable for defendants' attorneys fees incurred after they made a settlement offer that he rejected, following which summary judgment was granted for defendants on all claims. Smith v. Vaughn, 171 F.R.D. 323 (M.D. Fla. 1997).
290:20 Jury returns verdict for defendant police officer and his sister-in-law, who testified that a another officer was the man she saw masturbating in car outside her home, rejecting plaintiff officer's federal civil rights suit alleging that they conspired to violate his civil rights; court declines to award prevailing defendant attorneys' fees, however, in absence of showing that lawsuit was "vexatious" or "frivolous" Neider v. Comblo, 917 F.Supp. 262 (S.D.N.Y. 1996).
Trial court did not have to state detailed findings in denying award of attorneys fees to prevailing defendants in federal civil rights lawsuit Maag v. Wessler, 993 F.2d 718 (9th Cir. 1993).
Civil rights plaintiff solely seeking monetary damages who was awarded only $1 in nominal damages was a "prevailing party," but was not entitled to attorneys' fee award of $280,000; Court states that, in such cases, "the only reasonable fee is usually no fee at all" Farrar v. Hobby, 113 S.Ct. 566 (1992).
Federal appeals court modifies earlier opinion awarding attorneys' fees to defendant officers in civil rights suit brought by man taken into custody for medical evaluation because of irrational behavior Maag v. Wessler, 960 F.2d 773 (9th Cir. 1992), superseding 944 F.2d 654 (9th Cir. 1991).
Awarding defendants fees and costs for defending frivolous suits will not deter plaintiffs' from bringing suits Davis v. City of Charleston, 649 F.Supp. 417 (E.D. Mo 1986).
Employer awarded attorney's fees of $20,54625 for having to defend harassing and groundless suit brought by employees Lucas v. Aetna Ca and Sur Co, 552 F.Supp. 824 (D. Colo 1982).
Police chief awarded attorney's fees in suit that accused him of drafting a misleading report to cover-up shooting incident Larson v. Wind, 548 F.Supp. 479 (N.D.Ill. 1982).
Plaintiff's attorney ordered to pay $1,000 in attorney's fees to defendants for not litigating in good faith McCandless v. Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Company, Inc, 697 F.2d l98 (7th Cir. 1983).
City to receive attorney's fees as indemnitor to officials sued by disciplined officer Campbell v. Cook, 706 F.2d 1084 (10th Cir. 1983).
Officer wins attorney's fees and costs in suit voluntarily dismissed by plaintiff during trial Bovee v. LaSage, 664 P.2d 160 (Alaska 1983).
Police entitled to attorney's fees when granted summary judgment Palmer v. Coons, 581 F.Supp. 1160 (D. Vt 1984).
U.S. Supreme Court allows attorneys to waive fees in settlements Evans v. Jeff D, 475 U.S. 717 (1986).
Failure to follow pleading requirements in Strauss results in attorney being personally responsible for defendants' fees and costs Stewart v. City of Chicago, 622 F.Supp. 35 (DC Ill 1985).
Attorney must personally pay sheriff's attorney's fees and costs Thornton v. Wahl, 787 F.2d 1151 (7th Cir. 1986).
Police officers awarded $29,294 in legal costs after successfully defending against frivolous civil rights lawsuit Kappenberger v. Oates, 663 F.Supp. 991 (S.D.N.Y. 1987).
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