Civil Rights Attorney's Fees - Qualifying as a Prevailing Party Offers No Guarantees

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With the enactment of the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Awards Act of 1976, a court may allow a prevailing party in a section 1983 civil rights lawsuit to recover reasonable attorney's fees as part of the award. One of the stated goals of the statute was to attract lawyers to represent plaintiffs in civil rights cases. Almost 10 years after the statutes enactment, in 1985, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit issued a published report titled "Court Awarded Attorney's Fees" that analyzed the then-prevailing law governing attorney fee applications in a variety of contexts. In the report, it was noted that several members of the task force expressed the view "that few awards in recent years in the social action context have been so discouraging that few attorneys will accept a civil rights case."

Originally published in New Jersey Lawyer - February 2014.

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