Rickley v. County of Los Angeles

Summarized by:

  • Court: 9th Circuit Court of Appeals Archives
  • Area(s) of Law: Civil Law
  • Date Filed: 08-19-2011
  • Case #: 09-56489
  • Judge(s)/Court Below: Circuit Judge Fisher for the Court; Circuit Judge Hawkins and District Judge Wolf
  • Full Text Opinion

Under the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, “a plaintiff who is represented by her attorney-spouse in a successful civil rights action may be awarded ‘a reasonable attorney’s fee as part of the costs.'"

Rebecca Rickley filed a civil rights suit against Los Angeles County “alleging violations of her constitutional rights to free speech and equal protection.” The parties reached a settlement, reserving attorney’s fees and costs to the district court. As the “prevailing party,” Rickley filed to recover $145,930 in attorneys fees under the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fees Awards Act of 1976, 42 U.S.C. § 1988, including $124,510 for legal work conducted by lead counsel Natasha Roit and $21,420 for work conducted by co-counsel Christopher Campbell. The district court granted Campbell’s attorney’s fees in the amount of $13,770 but denied the request for Roit’s attorney’s fees, because Roit is not an “independent emotionally detached counsel” since she is married to the appellant and was the “co-owner of property subject to litigation.” Rickley appeals. First, the Ninth Circuit holds that § 1988 does not impose a rule requiring counsel to be independent and emotionally detached. Secondly, the Ninth Circuit holds that the district court erred by “conducting an individualized rather than a categorical inquiry.” The Ninth Circuit reasons that “by abandoning [the] categorical framework in favor of a specific inquiry into whether Roit in particular was sufficiently independent and emotionally detached to render effective representation” the district course misapplied case law. Therefore, the district court erred in denying Rickley an award of attorney’s fees for Roit’s legal services. The district court is to determine a reasonable fee. AFFIRMED IN PART, VACATED IN PART and REMANDED.

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