When A Civil Rights Plaintiff Can 'Win' But Not 'Prevail'

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The May 15, 2012 edition of Bloomberg/BNA Law Week includes a leading "BNA Insights" article by Pryor Cashman Litigation Partner William Charron regarding a Federal Circuit Court split as to what it means for a plaintiff to "prevail" under the federal Civil Rights Act in order for the plaintiff to be entitled to recovery of its attorneys' fees.

The article arises out of a case Charon handled for a client against the Attorney General of New Jersey, where he argued that New Jersey had unconstitutionally tried to divest Pryor Cashman's client of its unregistered trademark rights under New Jersey's so-called "Truth In Music Act."

After Charron obtained a temporary restraining order against New Jersey's enforcement of its statute on First Amendment, Equal Protection, Due Process and Supremacy Clause grounds, the State changed its position and agreed not to continue enforcing its Truth In Music Act as it had done. Charron then argued that Pryor Cashman's client had "prevailed" within the meaning of the Civil Rights Act and moved for an award of fees.

Although the U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey denied Charron's motion, in 2010 the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed that ruling and, by a 2-1 decision, agreed with Charron's arguments. In 2011, however, a full "en banc" panel of the Third Circuit (consisting of 16 federal appellate judges) reheard oral argument in the case and again reversed, reinstating the District Court's initial ruling. As that ruling conflicted with the decisions of other federal appeals courts around the nation, Charron asked the U.S. Supreme Court to grant a writ certiorari to further review this important federal matter. The Supreme Court denied that petition.

Charron wrote his article, entitled "When A Civil Rights Plaintiff Can 'Win' But Not 'Prevail'", and sought to publish it in a prestigious nationwide periodical such as Bloomberg/BNA, in the hope of reaching a broad audience in order to shed light on this complex area of law. Charron's article concludes with the opinion that the Supreme Court should step in and resolve the conflict among the federal courts, and should issue a decision that effectively would overrule the Third Circuit's en banc opinion.

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