Idaho Fees Ruling Gets Summarily Smacked Down

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By Nicholas Datlowe

Jan. 25 — A woman mauled by a police dog won't have to pay the city of Boise, Idaho's attorneys' fees incurred defending her civil rights suit against the city, after the U.S. Supreme Court Jan. 25 summarily reversed a decision of the Idaho Supreme Court (James v. City of Boise, 2016 BL 18517, U.S., No. 15-493, per curiam, 1/25/16).

“The Idaho Supreme Court, like any other state or federal court, is bound by this Court's interpretation of federal law. The state court erred in concluding otherwise,” the court wrote in a per curiam opinion.

Melene James was severely injured by a Boise police dog while in her office attempting to repair dental work for a friend. She had gotten locked out, and attempted to gain reentry through a window. A suspicious neighbor called police who unleashed the dog.

James's excessive force civil rights suit, under 42 U.S.C. §1983, against the city was dismissed. She appealed, and the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed.

It also awarded the city attorneys' fees, which a court may grant to a prevailing party “in its discretion” under 42 U.S.C. §1988.

The Idaho court did so notwithstanding that the U.S. Supreme Court held in Hughes v. Rowe, 449 U.S. 5 (1980), that attorneys' fees can't be awarded unless the action was “frivolous, unreasonable or without foundation.” Boise made no such showing.

The Idaho court decided that although the U.S. Supreme Court can limit the discretion of federal district courts to award attorneys' fees, it had no such power to do so for state courts.

To contact the reporter on this story: Nicholas Datlowe in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jessie Kokrda Kamens at