In Balla v. State of Idaho, 2012 DJDAR 4848 (2012), the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals granted attorney fees in a class action brought under the provisions of the Prison Litigation Reform Act. The case began in the 1980s. The appeal arises out of a crisis which began at the end of 2008 relating to the retransfer of inmates back to the State of Idaho (the “State”). The State brought the prisoners back to the State even though it lacked the facilities to house or care for them. The class action was initiated on behalf of the prisoners and the complaint alleged a myriad of constitutional violations.

After nine years of litigation, the district court found the State had violated the prisoners’ constitutional rights and granted the plaintiffs an injunction to remedy the constitutional violations.

The law firm of Stoel Rives LLP had been appointed by the court as counsel for the class. After learning of the State’s plan to house prisoners, allegedly in violation of the prior injunction, Stoel Rives filed a contempt motion against the State. In response, the State took measures to comply with the injunction. Due to the State’s remedial actions, the court denied the contempt motion. Despite losing the motion, the district court thereafter awarded Stoel Rives its attorney fees and costs. The State appealed the fee award.

The Ninth Circuit affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The court noted that under the Prisoner Litigation Reform Act, attorney fees shall not be awarded, except to the extent that the fee was incurred in enforcing the plaintiff’s constitutional rights.

The court noted that a previously granted injunction was sufficient to meet the statutory threshold. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the award on that basis.