Supreme Court hears arguments on property seizure, attorney's fees

[JURIST] The US Supreme Court [official website; JURIST news archive] heard oral arguments [day call, PDF; merit briefs] Wednesday in two cases. In Alvarez v. Smith [oral arguments transcript, PDF], the Court heard arguments on whether the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment [text] requires state and local governments to allow probable cause challenges to property seizures, and if so, what the requirements for those hearings should be. Six plaintiffs whose property was seized without a warrant brought suit against Cook County, Illinois, arguing that the Illinois statute allowing warrantless property seizure is unconstitutional. The case comes before the court after the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held [opinion, PDF] that some hearing was due, but had remanded the case to the district court in order to determine the applicable test. Counsel for petitioner Cook County argued that no post-seizure adversarial hearing should be required in addition to the civil forfeiture hearing itself. Counsel for respondents argued that due process requires an adversarial hearing.

In Perdue v. Kenny A. [oral arguments transcript, PDF; JURIST report], the Court heard arguments on whether an attorney's fee award under a federal fee-shifting statute can be enhanced based on quality of performance and results obtained when these factors already are included in the lodestar calculation. The lodestar calculation is used by courts in awarding attorney's fees and is the product of reasonable hours worked and a reasonable hourly rate. The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit affirmed [opinion, PDF] the lower court's enhancement of attorney's fees in a class action suit, finding that factors such as quality of performance and results obtained may appropriately be considered. Counsel for the petitioners argued:

This Court has previously held that factors, such as novelty and complexity of the issues, contingency, and superior performance cannot be used to increase the lodestar amount because the factors are subsumed within that determination.

But because of this Court's indication that, in rare or exceptional circumstances, upward adjustments may be permissible, district courts, such as the one below, have used quality and results to increase lodestar awards, even though the - the multiplication of the reasonable number of hours expended times the reasonable hourly rate constitutes a fully compensatory fee and serves the purpose of the statute, which is to attract competent counsel without providing a windfall.
Counsel for the respondents argued that fees should be able to be enhanced by quality of performance and results obtained.


 

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