In a? non-employment? civil? rights? police misconduct case, the Ninth Circuit set forth new and troubling principles for deciding a prevailing party?s ?fee ?petition? under ?42? U.S.C. ?? ?1988. Shortly after discovery began, the plaintiff made a settlement demand of $251,000, including attorneys? fees.? ?The case did not resolve and plaintiff?s counsel ?continued to aggressively pursue discovery.??? After the plaintiff?s wrongful detention and false arrest claims were dismissed on summary judgment, he settled his remaining claim, excessive force, for $20,000, excluding attorneys? fees which the parties agreed to submit to the district court for a ruling. ?As the prevailing party, the ?trial ?court ?reduced ?the ?plaintiff?s ?fees ?from $301,551?? to?? $200,000,?? and?? awarded?? his?? full amount of costs, $15,034.? ?The City appealed. Reversing,? the? Ninth? Circuit ?held ?that ?the ?trial court did not provide an adequate explanation for the? number ?of? hours? that? it? allowed? or? how? it arrived at the hourly rate it approved.? ?Although the panel noted that the ?district court correctly treated all of McCown?s claims as ?related,?? this was little consolation since the Court held: ?Although we can understand why our able district court colleague may have found the case law on this issue to be inscrutable, we hold that attorney?s fees awarded under 42 U.S.C. ? 1983 must be adjusted?? downward?? where?? the?? plaintiff?? has obtained limited success on his pleaded claims, and the result does not confer a meaningful public benefit.???? ?Recognizing that ?A rule of proportionality is inappropriate,? and that the excellence of the overall result often may not be measured merely in dollars, the panel cited to a concurring ?opinion ?for ?the ?proposition ?that ?the Supreme Court suggested ?a comparison of damages? awarded? to? damages ?sought? is required.? ?Comparing what he sought with what he got, the Court found that ?McCown?s victory clearly fell far short of his goal; therefore, it is unreasonable to grant his attorneys more than a comparable portion of his fees and costs they requested.?????? ?Distinguishing McCown?s achievement from the positive public effect of other civil rights cases, the Ninth Circuit noted that those plaintiffs? victories established a deterrent to systemic mistreatment of racial minorities and a change in policies whereas McCown did not allege an illegal animus and did not? bring? about? any? change? in? police? policy. These remarks suggest that although the Court may continue to treat prevailing discrimination plaintiffs as conferring a public benefit worthy of awarding? the? bulk? of? their? fees,? that? principle may be inapplicable in civil rights cases not involving discrimination.? ?McCown v. City of Fontana, 550 F.3d 918 (9th Cir. 2008).
Court Orders Reduction in Attorneys? Fees Award to Prevailing Party in Non-Discrimination Civil Rights Case Where Settlement Fell Far Short of Plaintiff?s Demand and Case did Not Confer Public Benefit.
Oct 18, 2008