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Court Grants Attorneys' Fees in Little Rock Desegregation Case

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on March 27, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit addressed the issue of attorney fees in a long standing desegregation case, awarding legal fees to the prevailing parties.

On March 26, 2012, a panel of the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled again in a case that has been before the courts since 1982. This time, the court didn't rule on the merits of the case, but on the awarding of attorneys' fees and costs to the "Joshua Intervenors", a group of African-American parents who appealed the desegregation practices of the Little Rock School District, reports the Associated Press.

In December, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals partially denied the petition for a declaration of unitary status by the Pulaski County Special School District. The Little Rock School District also appealed to the Eighth Circuit, contesting the decision to terminate certain funding obligations of the state to the District.

While the Joshua Intervenors prevailed on the appeal of Pulaski County, the court ruled in favor of the School District on the funding issue, on procedural grounds.

So, were the Joshua Intervenors entitled to attorneys' fees and costs, as "prevailing parties" under the fee-shifting statute?

Let's first have a look at the attorney fee claims made by the Little Rock School District. LRSD didn't obtain its desired result in the underlying case, which was essentially a holding on the merits that the continued funding from the state was justified. The issue was really won on procedural grounds.

Based on this result, the court reduced the attorneys' fees by 25 percent of the hours reasonably expended.

As for the Joshua Intervenors, they sought fees from the state as well as from the Pulanski County Special School District.

As a technical point, the Joshua Intervenors were "intervenors" in one case, participating in the appeal on the state funding cuts.

On that issue, they couldn't get their attorneys' fees.

On the matter against PCSSD, however, the tables were turned. The Joshua Intervenors were the prevailing party. However, the court made an adjustment on the attorneys' fees requested, throwing out the argument that the fees awarded should be in accordance with a national standard on billing rates. The court, instead, looked at the billing rates for local counsel and adjusted the fees accordingly.

In the end, the Little Rock School District received $69,972.66 and the Joshua Intervenors received $149,417.50.

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