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(ADF) Fourth Circuit Grants Attorney Fees in Lefemine v. Wideman Case

Contact: Steven Fitschen, The National Legal Foundation, 757-463-6133, nlf@nlf.net

COLUMBIA, S.C., July 17, 2014 /Christian Newswire/ -- In 2005, pro-life advocates Steve Lefemine and Columbia Christians for Life fought for their right to engage in free speech regarding abortion. In 2010 the court declared the sheriff unconstitutionally silenced their speech and granted an injunction against the department but the court inexplicably refused to award the pro-life advocates attorneys' fees available by federal statute for those who demonstrate the government infringed upon their civil rights. So the National Legal Foundation appealed the fee decision. In 2012, the United States Supreme Court reversed the lower courts and clarified that the pro-life advocates qualified as a "prevailing party," and sent the case back for further proceedings.  Despite the Supreme Court's declaration, the trial court again refused to award attorneys fees finding "special circumstances" justified the denial of fees.

Last Friday, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rebuffed the trial court again explaining that the federal statute authorizing the fee award was intended to protect those like the pro-life advocates who are forced to engage attorneys to fight for their civil rights in court, and that no special circumstances exist that justify the trial court's denial of fees.  The appellate court has now ordered the trial court to award the pro-life advocates the fees they are entitled to both as the victors of the initial law suit as well as those required to appeal the trial court's obstinate rulings.  The matter is now back before the trial court to determine the amount of the award.

Alliance Defending Freedom provided funding in support of this important victory.

Below is a quote from the ruling, which you can read here:

    Here, Plaintiff Steven C. Lefemine, leader of the Columbia Christians for Life, successfully sued various Greenwood County Sheriff’s Office officials for First Amendment violations. But the district court deemed "(1) the Defendants' qualified immunity, (2) the absence of a policy or custom of discrimination against abortion protestors by the Greenwood County Sheriff's Office, and (3) the limited nature of [Lefemine's] injunctive relief" to be special circumstances that made the award of attorneys' fees to Lefemine unjust.1 We, however, hold that the relief Lefemine obtained was notably broader than the district court suggested and that the other two circumstances are not "special" and do not render a Section 1988 fee award unjust. Accordingly, we reverse.

This report is posted on the Alliance Defending Freedom website.