NATIONAL RIFLE ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA v. CITY OF CHICAGO (June 2, 2011)

The District of Columbia, the City of Chicago, and the Village of Oak Park all had similar handgun ban ordinances in 2008. That was the year that the Supreme Court decided, in Heller, that the District of Columbia ban violated the Second Amendment. Chicago and Oak Park retained their bans, relying on the fact that the District of Columbia is a federal enclave. The bans were challenged. The Supreme Court reversed the Seventh Circuit and concluded that the Second Amendment applied to states and municipalities and struck down the bans. It entered its judgment on June 28, 2010. Within weeks, both Chicago and Oak Park repealed their ordinances. The Seventh Circuit directed the district court to dismiss the cases as moot. The plaintiffs requested attorneys’ fees. Judge Shadur (N.D. Ill.) rejected the request on Buckhannon and Zessar grounds -- that being a catalyst for change is not enough, a party must have a judicial order changing the legal status to sustain a fee award. Plaintiffs appeal.

In their opinion, Chief Judge Easterbrook and Judges Bauer and Posner reversed and remanded. In Buckhannon, defendants voluntarily changed the law before the district court rendered its decision. In Zessar, defendants voluntarily changed the law after the district court's decision but before its judgment. In both cases, fees were disallowed because there was no judicial order changing the parties’ legal status. But here, the plaintiffs do have a judicial order. They have a judgment of the Supreme Court that altered the party's legal relationship. The fact that the district court would have entered an injunction had the case not become moot does not alter that fact. The plaintiffs are entitled to reasonable attorney's fees.