Monday, January 25, 2016

SCOTUS: State Courts Can Award Attorneys' Fees In Sec. 1983 Cases Only If Suit Was Unreasonable

Suits under 42 USC Sec. 1983 for deprivation of federal civil rights may be brought in state court as well as federal court. Today the U.S. Supreme Court in a per curiam opinion published at the end of its Order List held that state courts are bound by the Supreme Court's interpretation of provisions regarding award of attorneys' fees to defendants in Sec. 1983 actions.  In James v. City of Boise, Idaho, (Sup. Ct., Jan. 25, 2016), the Supreme Court reversed a decision of the Idaho Supreme Court that had held in awarding attorneys' fees under 42 USC Sec. 1988, state courts could ignore the U.S. Supreme Court's interpretation of the statute that limited awards to cases where plaintiff's suit is frivolous, unreasonable, or without foundation.  Idaho had taken the position that since this limitation is not found in the words of the statute, the Supreme Court was merely limiting the discretion of federal courts. The U.S. Supreme Court however, citing cased dating back as far as the 19th century, held that once the Supreme Court interprets federal law, it is the duty of state courts to follow that interpretation.