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Open Government Act’s Catalystic Theory for Attorneys’ Fees Doesn’t Apply Retroactively

The provisions of the Open Government Act of 2007 that restore the catalyst theory for attorneys’ fees do not apply retroactively, the D.C. Circuit decided June 26, 2009.

Anthony Summers settled a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit with the government in 2005. After the Open Government Act took effect, Summers sought an award of attorneys’ fees. Prior to passage of the Act, attorneys’ fees could only be awarded if there was a “judicially sanctioned change in the relationship of the parties.”

The court, however, concluded that the new law could not be applied retroactively to Summers’ 2005 settlement because doing so would expose the government to liability for suits that it might not have settled had it known it would be subject to paying attorneys’ fees.

See: Summers v. Department of Justice, 569 F.3d 500 (D.C. Cir. 2009).

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Related legal case

Summers v. Department of Justice