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Additional Attorney's Fees Allowed in Ohio Voter-Registration Suit

The Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless (NEOCH) instituted a 42 U.S.C. Section 1983 case challenging the 2006 Voter ID law, which resulted in consent orders in 2006 and 2008. A similar action by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) was consolidated into the NEOCH case, and attorneys for both plaintiffs were awarded fees by the district court. The State of Ohio appealed that order, and yet another consent decree was signed by the parties in 2010, and the attorneys again sought fees. The district court approved these fees, but in a reduced amount.

The State of Ohio then appealed, arguing that the 2010 consent decree was in full and final settlement of all claims, including attorney's fees. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the district court order and upheld the award of additional attorney's fees, agreeing that there had been no waiver of fees by the consent order because the parties thereto did not intend it to dispositive of all claims.

Noting that the Civil Rights Attorney's Fees Award Act (the "Fees Act"), 42 U.S.C. Section 1988(b), "permits a court in its discretion to award the 'prevailing party"," Pouillon v. Little, 326 F.3d 713 716 (6th Cir. 2003), the Appellate Court said that "The consent decree does not explicitly refer to attorneys' fees and costs incurred during the time period claim in the plaintiffs' third motion for fees...The issue of attorneys' fees seems to be n afterthought..."

In attacking the district court order, the defendants stated that the decree was "final and binding" and meant to be "in resolution of this action."

In re Lybarger, 793 F.2d 136, 138 (6th Cir.1986), the Appellate Court recognized these concerns, but took notice of the fact that the "district court retains the power to modify or police a consent decree," showing that lacking specific language to the contrary the plaintiffs did not waive any resulting claims for additional fees.

See: Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, et al. v. Secretary of State of Ohio, 11-3035/3036/3037, U.S. Crt. of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, (2012).

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Related legal case

Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, et al. v. Secretary of State of Ohio