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Partly Frivolous Lawsuits

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One civil case decided today involves awards of attorneys' fees under 42 U.S.C. §1988, an issue that arises frequently in suits against law enforcement.

The late Billy Ray Vice, one-time chief of police of Vinton, Louisiana, was evidently a real sleazoid.  His dirty campaign against his election opponent, Ricky Fox, was a triple loser.  He lost the election to Fox.  He was prosecuted and convicted of extortion.  Finally, Fox sued him.

Fox had very good grounds to sue Vice, but he messed up by including a federal civil rights claim.  The Federal District Court found that the civil rights portion was not only meritless but frivolous, awarded summary judgment and attorneys' fees to Vice, and booted the remainder of the case back to state court.

Today, the Supreme Court decided that the award of attorneys' fees should have been limited to the portions that would not have been incurred without the bogus civil rights claim, excluding fees incurred for work that overlaps the valid and bogus claims.

The case did not involve, and does not address, the true vice of the Supreme Court's §1988 jurisprudence -- the different standards for plaintiffs and defendants.  There is no basis for this in the language of the statute, and the Court explained in the John Fogerty case, involving a different statute, why a dual standard is a bad idea.  (Oh, Lord, stuck in litigation again.)  That issue must await another case, or possibly congressional action.

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