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Ninth Circuit Affirms Attorney’s Fees for Denied Motion

Ninth Circuit Affirms Attorney’s Fees for Denied Motion

In response to the state’s appeal of awarded attorney’s fees generated by monitoring compliance to an injunction compelling the defendant, Idaho State Board of Corrections (ISBC), to reach prescribed population levels, along with other security matters, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, in April 2012, the district court’s award of $77,481.74 to the plaintiff’s court appointed legal counsel, Stoel Rives, LLP. The issue contended was whether, where a party previously prevailed and won a judgment, fees of a court-appointed monitor are barred for efforts leading to a motion that was denied.

Plaintiff Walter D. Balla, representative of a class of prisoners at Idaho State Correctional Institution (ISCI), prevailed in a suit against the prison. He alleged constitutional violations including deliberate indifference to adequate medical and psychological care, gross overcrowding, and poorly advised security procedures that led to intolerable living conditions. The court imposed an injunction against ISBC compelling compliance, along a timetable, with set housing, sanitation, and population standards. The state was not transparently cooperative and the prison erupted in riot.

Since the riot was a function of the state’s lack of compliance, the court, in another hearing, refined and focused the requirements of the injunction and reappointed Stoel Rives to monitor the state’s progress. With further prevarication on the state’s part, Stoel Rives moved for a contempt action involving fines. The threat of fines motivated the state’s compliance with the inunction before a hearing could be held, therefore mooting the plaintiff’s complaint and obviating the injunction.

When Stoel Rives submitted their bill to the state, the non-prevailing party, per the guidelines of 42 U.S.C. §1997, The Prison Litigation Reform Act, the state appealed.

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled for Balla/Stoel Rives, noting that the authority the state relied on in its argument – 42 U.S.C. §1988 – applied to cases where judicial relief had never been ordered, whereas the authority underlying Balla’s argument – 42 U.S.C. §1997 – spoke to instances where there had been judicial relief, though the monitoring work was subsequent to the judicial order and produced no new order; the monitoring in and of itself precipitated compliance with the injunction. See: Balla v. Idaho, 677 F.3d 910 (9th Cir. Idaho 2012).

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Related legal case

Balla v. Idaho