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Legal Memorandum: Attorney's Fees in Civil Rights Cases

Issue: WHETHER DEFENDANTS ARE ENTITLED TO RECOVER ATTORNEY’S FEES IF THEY CANNOT SHOW THAT EACH OF PLAINTIFFS’ CLAIMS WAS FRIVOLOUS, UNREASONABLE, OR WITHOUT FOUNDATION.

Area of Law: Constitutional Law, Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Attorney's fees; Frivolous, Unreasonable; Civil rights
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 143 F.3d 765; 764 F.2d 122; 403 U.S. 88
Cited Statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), § 1983
Date: 01/01/2008

The Second Circuit case of Colombrito v. Kelly, 764 F.2d 122, 133 (2d Cir. 1985) is on point and instructive.  In Colombrito, the plaintiff, a member of the Unification Church, filed suit alleging certain civil rights violations based on religious animus, including conspiracy in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1985(3), deprivation of rights under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and violations of the state civil rights statute.  Id. at 126.  The suit arose from alleged damages sustained after the plaintiff’s parents requested abduction and “deprogramming” of the plaintiff from his religious beliefs.  Id.  The district court entered judgment in favor of the defendants’ application for attorney’s fees, finding that the action was instituted only for the purpose of harassment, and not based on a genuine belief that there was a conspiracy with intent to deprive the plaintiff of his civil rights; the suit, the court found, was meritless.  Id. at 128.  On this basis, the district court awarded attorney’s fees.  Id.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit reviewed the latitude given a plaintiff in a § 1985(3) action; an action lies “when a plaintiff is injured by a private conspiracy to interfere with his constitutional rights so long as there is ‘some racial, or . . . otherwise class-based, invidiously discriminatory animus,’ including that based on religion, ‘behind the conspirators’ action.”  Id. at 130 (quoting Griffin v. Breckenridge, 403 U.S. 88 (1971)).  Based on this standard, the court held, the plaintiff’s action could not be […]

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