Friday, June 10, 2011
Federal law authorizes a court to award a reasonable attorney’s fee to the prevailing party in certain civil rights cases. See 42 U. S. C. §1988. We have held that a defendant may receive such an award if the plaintiff’s suit is frivolous. In this case, the plaintiff asserted both frivolous and non-frivolous claims. We hold today that a court may grant reasonable fees to the defendant in this circumstance, but only for costs that the defendant would not have incurred but for the frivolous claims. A trial court has wide discretion in applying this standard. But here we must vacate the judgment below because the court used a different and incorrect standard in awarding fees.
For further coverage and analysis, check out Amy Howe’s post at SCOTUSblog.