Supreme Court Rules in Clinic Case

June 6, 2011

The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled partially in favor of a client of the Law School's Supreme Court Litigation Clinic in Fox v. Vice.

Mark Stancil

The case was one of four from the past term in which the clinic was involved, a record for the class.

The case resulted from a contentious race for police chief in Vinton, La. Incumbent Billy Ray Vice was accused by his opponent, Ricky Fox, of misconduct, and was later convicted of extortion for attempting to force Fox from the race. Fox won the election and subsequently sued Vice and the town.

A federal district court ruled that the portion of Fox's lawsuit alleging civil rights violations was frivolous, and ordered Fox to pay Vice's attorney fees. Fox appealed the ruling, claiming that the existence of non-frivolous claims in the suit protected him from having to pay any part of his opponent's legal fees.

The clinic became involved in the case after the Supreme Court agreed to hear it, and represented Vice's estate and the Town of Vinton; Vice died shortly after the appeals court ruling.

Clinic instructor Mark Stancil argued the case in March, and said the unanimous ruling today was a partial but significant win for the clinic.

The Supreme Court agreed with the respondents' position that the inclusion of a non-frivolous claim in the lawsuit did not make Fox immune from paying any attorney's fees. However, the ruling also found that the lower court had been too generous in ordering Fox to pay all of Vice's legal costs, and said Fox should be responsible only for costs Vice incurred defending the frivolous portion of the suit.

The Supreme Court sent the case back to a lower court to determine the amount of Vice's legal fees for which Fox was responsible.

Notably, the court endorsed our argument that inclusion of a frivolous federal civil rights claims can increase the cost of defending non-frivolous claims — for example, the case might end up in federal court or require more expensive counsel to defend," Stancil said. The court held that such additional expenses are recoverable."

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