A few statutes provide that the prevailing party receives their attorneys’ fees back from the other side. One would think that who wins in a lawsuit is self-evident. But while that will often be the case, quirks, twists, and turns happen.
Take a case that recently came out of the U.S. Supreme Court. The EEOC had sued a trucking company for sex discrimination. The case was thrown out as it became evident that the EEOC, in an example of administrative overreach, had not bothered to properly investigate or mediate the claims.
Not stopping there, the EEOC went on to argue that since the trial court did not hear the case on the merits, the government could not be charged for the company’s attorneys’ fees because no-one won. The Supreme Court mercifully disagreed, holding that a defendant who gets the plaintiff’s case thrown out right off the bat surely prevailed.
This case also carries a note of caution about the risks and cost of fighting the government. The complaint the EEOC acted on with such abandon was filed in 2005. Eleven years later, the company knows only that it may be allowed to recover its fees. More time will pass before knowing whether it will in fact receive a fee award. Various factors must be considered.
Cases with attorney fees provision are few but growing. The diligent litigator will know what they are and when fees can be awarded.