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Federal appeals court finds Ohio must pay attorneys’ fees in abortion suit Federal appeals court finds Ohio must pay attorneys’ fees in abortion suit

Bronze medal Reporter Adv. John Posted 29 Jul 2019 Read More News and Blogs
Federal appeals court finds Ohio must pay attorneys’ fees in abortion suit

The US Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled Thursday that Ohio must pay $382,529.98 to cover attorneys’ fees accrued by Planned Parenthood, the ACLU of Ohio and other organizations who challenged the state’s abortion legislation.

The suit relates to a 2004 law placing limits on the prescription of mifepristone, a pill used to induce a medication abortion. Abortion advocates brought suit alleging that the statute was unconstitutional because, among other things, it imposed an undue burden on a woman’s right to an abortion and it violated due process because it lacked an exception to protect the health or life of the woman. A federal court granted a preliminary injunction that put the law on hold until 2016 when new FDA regulations concerning mifepristone rendered the law moot. Both parties then agreed to dismiss the case without prejudice, and the district court awarded Planned Parenthood and the other plaintiff organizations attorneys’ fees for their work on the preliminary injunction. Though parties in the US typically pay their own attorneys’ fees, the Civil Rights Attorney’s Fee Awards Act sets out an exception so that organizations and individuals with valid civil rights claims against the state would not be deterred by the cost of litigation. Under the statute, only a “prevailing party” may collect attorneys’ fees from an opponent in a civil rights case.

Ohio appealed the award, noting that the statute is ordinarily understood to require a “final decision on the merits” and thus Planned Parenthood and the other parties did not “prevail” such that an award of attorneys’ fees would be justified. However, the Court of Appeals affirmed the district court’s decision, holding that “district court properly engaged in a contextual, case-specific review and appropriately determined that Planned Parenthood prevailed in this litigation because its relief, albeit preliminary, was based on the merits of its claim, provided a benefit to the plaintiffs, and was sufficiently lasting.” According to the court, the duration of the relief awarded to Planned Parenthood qualified them as a prevailing party because a preliminary injunction that “provides a lasting benefit to a party based on the substantive merits of at least one of that party’s claims suffices to meet the generous standard used to determine prevailing-party status. Planned Parenthood’s more-than-decade-long preliminary injunction qualifies as such a lasting benefit.”

Ohio’s attorney general has indicated he disagrees with the ruling intends to appeal.

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