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Nation's Most Important Attorney Fee Rulings of 2014

December 24, 2014 | Posted in : Bankruptcy Fees / Expenses, Defense Fees / Costs, Expenses / Costs, Fee Award, Fee Entitlement / Recoverability, Fee Jurisprudence, Fee Request, Fee Shifting, Fees for Fees / Fees on Fees, NALFA News, Prevailing Party Issues

NALFA tracks important attorney fee rulings in state and federal courts throughout the U.S.  These fee rulings impact the body of law related to attorney fees.  NALFA has ranked the most important attorney fee ruling of 2014.  The following cases are the most significant attorney fee rulings of 2014, and their holdings (one yet to be decided) will have an impact for years to come:

  1. Octane Fitness v. Icon Health & Fitness is one of two rulings by the U.S. Supreme Court regarding patent litigation fee-shifting (the other case being Hallmark v. Allcare Health).  Section 285 of the Patent Act authorizes a district court to award attorney's fees in patent litigation in "exceptional cases" – that is, cases which stand out from the others with respect to the substantive strength of a party’s litigating position or the unreasonable manner in which the case was litigated. District courts should determine whether a case is exceptional “in the case-by-case exercise of their discretion, considering the totality of the circumstances.” The Federal Circuit’s Brooks Furniture Mfg. v. Dutailier framework, pursuant to which a case is “exceptional” only if the district court finds either litigation-related misconduct of an independently sanctionable magnitude or determines that the litigation was both “brought in subjective bad faith” and “objectively baseless,” superimposes an inflexible framework onto statutory text that is inherently flexible.
  2. ATP Tour Inc. v. Deutscher Tennis Bund in the Delaware Supreme Court held that a bylaw shifting attorney fees and expenses to the losing party in an intra-corporate litigation can be valid and enforceable under Delaware law.  Many corporations are incorporated in Delaware and this ruling allows them to get around the American Rule, where both parties are responsible for their own litigation costs.
  3. At issue in Baker Botts LLP v. Asarco LLC, before the U.S. Supreme Court is whether Section 330(a) of the Bankruptcy Code grants bankruptcy judges discretion to award compensation for the defense of a fee application (i.e. fees for fees).
  4. In a question of first impression, in Holland v. Jachmann, a Massachusetts appellate court held that trial judges have discretion to award attorney fees for work performed by in-house counsel for claims brought under the state’s unfair trade practices law.  The court held that in-house fees were just as “incurred” as fees paid/owed by a company to outside counsel.