Friday, March 21, 2008

attorney fees - civil rights - sec. 1988 - "prevailing party"

People Against Police Violence v. City of Pittsburgh - 3d Cir. - March 17, 2008

Plaintiffs were the "prevailing party" under 42 USC sec. 1988 where they achieved relief on the merits of their claims in the form of a preliminary injunction, which was dissolved only after the defendant city passed a new ordinance, even though the case was dismissed by agreement of all parties without a final judgment in favor of plaintiffs. The City never pressed the court to reach a judgment on the merits and eventually acceded to all of plaintiffs' claims.

This decision is in line with that of "nearly every Court of Appeals to have the addressed the issue." The great majority of the courts have held that "relief obtained via a preliminary injunction can, under appropriate circumstances, render a party 'prevailing.'" Such circumstances existed here, where "(1) the trial court, based upon a finding of a likelihood of plaintiffs’ success on the merits, entered a judicially enforceable order granting plaintiffs virtually all the relief they sought, thereby materially altering the legal relationship between the parties; (2) the defendant, after opposing interim relief, chose not to appeal from that order and remained subject to its restrictions for a period of over two years; and (3) the defendant ultimately avoided final resolution of the merits of plaintiffs’ case by enacting new legislation giving plaintiffs virtually all of the relief sought in the complaint." The final resolution of the case involved the required "judicial imprimatur" required by Supreme Court precedent.

"At the end of the proceedings, plaintiffs had achieved precisely what they sought on an enduring basis, and that success was a result of plaintiffs’ efforts and court-enforced victories rather than defendant’s voluntary actions."