Senator SEAN T. KEAN
District 11 (Monmouth)
Caps attorney fee awards in actions against public entities.
CURRENT VERSION OF TEXT
An Act concerning attorney fees and supplementing Title 2A of the New Jersey Statutes.
Be It Enacted by the Senate and General Assembly of the State of New Jersey:
1. a. As used in this act, “public entity” means the State and any county, municipality, district, public authority, public agency and any other political subdivision or public body in the State.
b. Where a plaintiff prevails in an action against a public entity and the court, in addition to awarding damages, also orders the award of attorney fees, the amount of the attorney fee award shall not exceed the amount of the plaintiff’s recovery, subject to the court’s determination of a reasonable fee, as follows:
(1) If the plaintiff is awarded $50,000 or less and the defendant is also ordered to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees, the fee shall not exceed $50,000.
(2) If the plaintiff is awarded more than $50,000 and the defendant is also ordered to pay the plaintiff’s attorney fees, the fee shall not exceed the amount of the plaintiff’s award.
2. This act shall take effect immediately and shall apply to all actions that have been filed with the court but not yet dismissed or finally adjudicated.
This bill would cap the attorney fee awards that public entities are required to pay in certain instances to plaintiffs who prevail in actions against them.
In some cases, prevailing plaintiffs who are awarded damages are also awarded attorney fees, paid by the defendant. Various statutes authorize the award of attorney fees to prevailing plaintiffs, including the “Law Against Discrimination,” P.L.1945, c.169 (C.10:5-1 et seq.) and the “Conscientious Employee Protection Act,” P.L.1986, c.105 (C.34:19-1 et seq.), among others.
It is the view of the sponsor that these attorney fee awards are sometimes disproportionately high when compared to the actual awards received by the plaintiffs in the suit. In some instances attorney fee awards may even exceed the amounts awarded to the plaintiff. When the suits are brought against public entities, the high attorney fee awards pose added burdens on taxpayers.
Under the bill, in any action against a public entity where the court orders the award of attorney fees to a prevailing plaintiff, the amount of the attorney fee award could not exceed the following amounts, subject to the court’s determination of a reasonable fee:
(1) $50,000, where the plaintiff is awarded damages of $50,000 or less, or
(2) an amount equal to the plaintiff’s award of damages, where the plaintiff’s award exceeds $50,000.