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Marek v. Chesny

Citation. 473 U.S. 1 (1985)
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Brief Fact Summary.

Plaintiff rejects a settlement offer and wins in trial but is awarded less than the settlement offer. Plaintiff attempts to get a higher amount post-trial to cover attorneys fees.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

Under FRCP 68 a defendant is not responsible for attorneys fees incurred by the plaintiff subsequent to an offer of settlement when the plaintiff receives judgement less than the offer, even if the fees might normally be awarded pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988.


Defendant Marek was one of the officers responsible for shooting and killing Steven Chesny while responding to a domestic disturbance call. Plaintiff, decedent’s father and administrator of his estate, filed suit against the officers alleging a violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state tort law. Before trial defendants made a settlement offer for $100,000, including costs and attorneys’ fees. Plaintiff Chesny rejected the offer and proceeded to trial where he won and was only awarded $60,000 total in damages. Post-trial, Plaintiff Chesny filed a request for $171, 692.47 in costs and attorneys’ fees. Defendants disagreed arguing that the pre-trial settlement offer was greater than the judgement award and therefore under FRCP 68 Chesny was not entitled to attorneys’ fees. The trial court denied Plaintiff Chesny’s request and he appealed. The court of appeals reversed, finding that imposing FRCP 68 in situations where attorneys’ fees might normally be awarded under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 would be contrary to the civil rights spirit of § 1983 and § 1988. The officers appealed and the Supreme Court of the United States granted certiorari.


Must attorneys fees incurred by a plaintiff subsequent to a settlement offer under FRCP 68 be paid by the defendant under 24 U.S.C. § 1988 when the plaintiff receives a judgement less than the offer?


No, under FRCP 68 a defendant is not responsible for attorneys fees incurred by the plaintiff subsequent to a settlement offer when the plaintiff receives a judgement less than the offer, even if the fees might normally be awarded pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1988. Holding of the court of appeals is reversed


Justice Brennan with Justices Marshall and Blackmun dissenting

The court’s holding ignores the history of the FRCP for six reasons. (1) history indicates that the drafters only intended taxable costs to be included, not attorneys fees. (2) the rules specify that “costs” may be automatically taxes by the clerk, suggesting the costs were intended to be routine expenditures not attorneys fees, (3) when the rules mean to apply to attorneys fees they say so explicitly, (4) the cases the majority uses to support its opinion are recent meaning history may not support the ruling, (5) While the court usually gives plain language meaning to words when possible, to do so with the FRCP would result in absurd results, and (6) the language of fee award statutes varies slightly, and to apply FRCP 68 to some and not others based on their minor differences will result in unbalanced application. This decision will harm plaintiffs by pressuring them to settle.


Justice Justice Powell concurring

As expressed in his concurrence in delta Airlines, Inc. v. August, settlement offers should be required to be composed of two components in order to be valid, including (1) the substantive relief proposed, and (2) costs, including attorneys’ fees. Although the court does not make those requirements here, parties have an interest in a clear articulation of the application of FRCP 68 and the court did so in this case, therefore concurring in the judgement.

Justice Justice Rehnquist concurring

Agrees with the judgement here even though he held differently in Delta.


  1. FRCP 68 states that if the judgement obtained by the plaintiff is not higher than favorable than the unaccepted offer, the plaintiff must pay the costs incurred after the offer was made.
  2. An offer is valid under FRCP 68 so long as it is timely.
  3. The offer is not required to be itemized.
  4. In this case the question is whether the term “costs” in FRCP 68 applies to settlement offers in a case where attorneys fees may otherwise be awarded to the prevailing party under § 1988, and the court finds that it does.
  5. The term “costs” is neither defined in the rule nor in the notes, and the meaning is to be inferred from that clear omission.
  6. “Costs” for the purposes of FRCP 68 should include attorneys fees when the underlying statute defines costs as incorporating attorneys fees.
  7. This holding does not inhibit plaintiffs’ access to justice by restricting access to attorneys’ fees awards in these types of cases.
  8. FRCP 68 is neutral in application and encourages pretrial settlement, which is beneficial to both parties.
  9. Holding of the court of appeals is reversed, and Plaintiff Chesny’s request for $171,692.47 is denied.

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