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Marek v. Chesny

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Brief Fact Summary.

After rejecting a pretrial settlement offer of $100,000 and being awarded $60,000 at trial, Respondent requested an additional award of costs and attorney fees. Petitioners argued against the request under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68.

Synopsis of Rule of Law.

An award of attorney’s fees under 42 U.S.C. § 1988can be barred by the fee shifting provision of Rule 68.

Points of Law - Legal Principles in this Case for Law Students.

In other words, the drafters' concern was not so much with the particular components of offers, but with the judgments to be allowed against defendants.

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Facts.

Three police officers (Petitioners) shot and killed Chesny’s (Respondent) son when responding to a domestic disturbance. Respondent sued the Petitioners under 42 U.S.C. § 1988 and state tort law. Before trial, Petitioners made a settlement offer of $100,000, including costs and attorney fees. Respondent rejected the offer and was awarded $60,000 at trial. Respondent filed a request for $171,692.47 in costs and attorney fees. Petitioners argued against the request under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 68.

Issue.

Does Rule 68 preclude a party from recovering costs and attorney fees in a 42 U.S.C. § 1988 claim, when the award at trial was less than the pretrial settlement offer?

Held.

Yes, costs and attorney fees are precluded, and the decision of the Court of Appeals is reversed.

Dissent.

Justice Brennan

Justice Brennan argued that the Court’s decision undermined the purpose of the attorney’s fees provision of 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

Discussion.

The Court determined that Petitioners pretrial, lumpsum offer was a valid offer under Rule 68 and that the term “costs” included attorney fees under a 42 U.S.C. § 1988 claim. Thus, the Court determined that § 1988, which encourages civil rights suits, was consistent with and subject to Rule 68, which encourages settlements.


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