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Lefemine v. Wideman

Docket No.: 12-168
Certiorari Granted: November 5, 2012
Decided: November 5, 2012

Topics:

attorney fees, Civil Rights Act, First Amendment, abuse of discretion, prevailing party status, qualified immunity

PartyNames: Steven Lefemine, dba Columbia Christians for Life v. Dan Wideman, et al.
Petitioner: Steven Lefemine, dba Columbia Christians for Life
Respondent: Dan Wideman, et al.

Court Below: United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
Supreme Court Observer Blog Post for Lefemine v. Wideman

Steven Lefemine, dba Columbia Christians for Life
v.
Dan Wideman, et al.
Background:

In 1976, Congress enacted the Civil Rights Attorney's Fee Act of 1976 (42 U.S.C. Section 1988) with the express intent of allowing awards of attorney fees to prevailing plaintiffs in actions brought under, inter alia, 42 U.S.C. Section 1983. Prevailing plaintiffs are those who obtain "enforceable judgments on the merits [or] court-ordered consent decrees [which] create the material alteration of the legal relationship of the parties necessary to permit an award of attorney's fees." In the instant section 1983 case, the Petitioner, Mr. Lefemine, was granted permanent injunctive relief and declaratory relief on the merits. The Fourth Circuit erred in refusing to recognize the Petitioner as a prevailing plaintiff.

Question Presented:

1. Did the Fourth Circuit err when it rejected this Court's Buckhannon rule by holding that a plaintiff who has obtained a permanent injunction and declaratory relief on the merits of his claim has nonetheless not prevailed? 2. Did the Fourth Circuit err when it promulgated its new rule that the determination of whether a plaintiff has prevailed will now be subject to abuse of discretion review?

Holding: The petition for certiorari is granted, the judgment of the Fourth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
Decision: This case concerns the award of attorney's fees in a suit alleging unconstitutional conduct by government officials. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that a plaintiff who secured a permanent injunction but no monetary damages was not a "prevailing party" under 42 U. S. C. Section 1988, and so could not receive fees. That was error.
Opinion By: Per Curiam
For more coverage on Lefemine v. Wideman please see our blog posting.
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