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Arizona Court of Appeals Authorizes Attorney Fees in Bilke Minimum Wage Class-Action Suit

By Matt Clarke

On January 29, 2009, the Arizona Court of Appeals held that plaintiffs’ attorney fees must be paid by the state in the Bilke case.

Mitchell Paul Bilke, Charles Roberts, Kenneth Asherman, Felton Hale, Richard S. Berry, Mervin L. Davis and Damon D. Fisher are Arizona state prisoners who filed a class-action suit in 1988 seeking payment of minimum wage to state prisoners who work in various industries pursuant to state law. The prisoners who worked for Cutter Biological, a private industry that contracted with the prison system for prisoner labor, and some prisoners working in the coupon plant were successful in court and were paid minimum wage. The plaintiffs then filed a motion for attorney fees, which was denied by the trial court. Plaintiffs appealed the denial of attorney fees.

The court of appeals noted that to be entitled to attorney fees under A.R.S. § 12-2030(A), plaintiffs “must establish that they (1) prevailed on the merits (2) in a civil action (3) filed against the State or a political subdivision of the State (4) to compel a State officer or any officer of any political subdivision to perform a duty imposed by law. The court of appeals held that plaintiffs prevailed on the merits in a civil action filed against the State to compel a State officer to comply with A.R.S. §§ 31-254(A) and 41-1624.01(A) requiring the payment of minimum wages to certain prisoners. Therefore, the prisoners who prevailed (the Cutter Biological and coupon plant workers) were entitled to attorney fees. The fact that the instrument used to compel the State officer’s compliance did not have the word “mandamus” in its title is irrelevant. The fact that some plaintiffs did not prevail might affect the amount of attorney fees, but not the fact that prevailing plaintiffs are entitled to attorney fees. Therefore, the judgment denying attorney fees was reversed as to the successful plaintiffs and the case returned to the trial court for a determination of the amount of attorney fees to be awarded. See: Bilke v. State of Arizona, Ariz.Ct.App., No. 1 CA-CV 07-0787.

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Related legal case

Bilke v. State of Arizona