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Legal Memorandum: Entitlement to Attorney's Fees

Issue: WHETHER A DEFENDANT IS ENTITLED TO ATTORNEY’S FEES IF THE PLAINTIFF’S CLAIMS ARE PROVEN FRIVOLOUS, UNREASONABLE OR WITHOUT FOUNDATION.

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure
Keywords: Attorney's fees and costs; Frivoulous claims; Unreasonable, or without foundation
Jurisdiction: Federal
Cited Cases: 578 F.2d 34; 560 F.2d 1078; 764 F.2d 122; 449 U.S. 5
Cited Statutes: 42 U.S.C. § 1988(b)
Date: 01/01/2008

Defendants may seek attorney’s fees under the federal civil rights attorney’s fees and costs statute, which states:

            In any action or proceeding to enforce a provision of sections 1981, 1981a, 1982, 1983, 1985, and 1986 of this title, title IX of Public Law 92-318 [20 U.S.C. 1681 et seq.], the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 [42 U.S.C. 2000bb et seq.], the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000 [42 U.S.C. 2000cc et seq.], title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 [42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq.], or section 13981 of this title, 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 . . . .

42 U.S.C. § 1988(b).  Interpreting this statute 30 years ago, the United States Supreme Court set forth the standard to be used to decide whether a prevailing defendant may be awarded discretionary attorney’s fees in a discrimination case.  Christiansburg Garment Co. v. EEOC, 434 U.S. 412 (1978).  The Supreme Court emphasized in the Christiansburg decision that a defendant, unlike a plaintiff, is not entitled to attorney’s fees simply by prevailing in the suit.  Id. at 418.  Instead, a defendant is entitled to attorneys’ fees only when the plaintiff’s claims are found to be “frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation, even though not brought in subjective bad faith.”  Id. at 421.  The Court offered a message to […]

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