Brief Fact Summary. Prevailing petitioner, Venegas (Petitioner) was required to pay his attorney based on a contingency contract more than statutory award against respondent, Mitchell (Respondent). Petitioner appeals.
Synopsis of Rule of Law. A statutory award of attorney’s fees does not invalidate a plaintiff’s ability to become bound by a private agreement, even if the private fee is larger than the statutory award.
Issue. Whether 42 U.S.C. Section: 1988, which states that a court may award a reasonable attorney’s fee to the prevailing party in a civil rights case, invalidates contingent-fee contracts that require prevailing civil rights plaintiff to pay his attorney more than the statutory award against the defendant?
Held. No. Judgment affirmed. 42 U.S.C. Section: 1988 does not restrict a plaintiff’s right to become contractually and personally bound to pay an attorney, a percentage of the recovery even if such a fee is larger that the statutory fee the defendant must pay to the plaintiff. The purpose of Section: 1988 is to enable civil rights plaintiffs to employ reasonably competent lawyers without costs to themselves if they prevail. However, nothing in the section regulates what plaintiffs may or may not promise to pay their attorneys if they lose or win. An attorney can collect both a statutory award of fees and fees that are derived from a private agreement. Petitioner also argued that the contingent fees in this case were unreasonable under federal and state law. However, the courts rejected this argument.
Discussion. The fee award in this case was calculated by what is called the lodestar method, multiply the hours worked by the lawyer by the lawyer’s hourly rate. The court may disallow hours that were spent on unsuccessful claims or inefficiently us