When a plaintiff prevails in an action under a law designed to protect individual civil rights, she is normally entitled by statute to have her reasonable attorneys’ fees paid by the losing defendant. The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals explored the standards for fee awards in an en banc rehearing and amended opinion in Quaratino v. Tiffany & Co. [FOOTNOTE 1] While there are still some unanswered questions in this fast-changing field, that ruling and others provide some practical guidance for practitioners.

Litigation pursuant to certain statutes, including federal civil rights laws, serves the valuable socio-legal purpose of ensuring that those laws are enforced more widely than government could enforce them alone. The U.S. Supreme Court has noted that plaintiffs who bring such lawsuits act as “private attorneys general” on behalf of the public.[FOOTNOTE 2]