Monday, December 12, 2005

No sauce for the goose

In Wendt v. Leonard, the District Court found that because of the Anti-Injunction Act which limits the ability of courts to act to prevent state law tax collection efforts, it had no subject matter jurisdiction to enjoin the defendants from seizing the plaintiff's boat for unpaid taxes, and then awarded attorneys' fees against the plaintiff under 42 U.S.C. § 1988.

The plaintiff thought about this for a while and then filed a motion under Rule 60(b)(4) as to the fees, claiming that the fee award must be void, because if the District Court had no subject matter jurisdiction over the merits, then it was similarly powerless as to the attorneys' fees.

The Fourth Circuit, in an opinion by Judge Traxler, joined by Judge Gregory and District Judge Harwell, affirmed the denial of the post-judgment motion, concluding that section 1988 gives the district courts the power to impose attorneys' fees in cases filed under section 1983, even those over which the court lacks subject matter jurisdiction.

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