Legislature(2003 - 2004)
2003-03-03 House JournalFull Journal pdf
2003-03-03 House Journal Page 0359 HB 145 HOUSE BILL NO. 145 by the House Rules Committee by request of the Governor, entitled: "An Act relating to public interest litigants and to attorney fees; and amending Rule 82, Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure." was read the first time and referred to the Judiciary and Finance Committees. The following fiscal note(s) apply: 1. Zero, Dept. of Law 2. Indeterminate, Dept. of Administration The Governor's transmittal letter dated February 28, 2003, follows: 2003-03-03 House Journal Page 0360 "Dear Speaker Kott: Under the authority of art. III, sec. 18, of the Alaska Constitution, I am transmitting a bill that would change the Alaska Rules of Civil Procedure as they apply to the award of attorney's fees. First, the bill provides for specific rules that govern the award of attorney's fees to or against certain public interest litigants. The bill does so by specifically requiring that any award of attorney's fees to or against public interest litigants for cases contesting decisions by the Department of Environmental Conservation, the Department of Fish and Game, or the Department of Natural Resources making a coastal consistency determination, adopting regulations, or in which the public had an opportunity to comment to the agency and seek administrative review before the agency, be governed by Alaska Rule of Civil Procedure 82 (Rule 82). The bill would then amend Rule 82 to require that attorney's fees be awarded to or against a public interest litigant in those situations in the same manner as attorney's fees are awarded to or against non-public interest litigants under Rule 82(b). Second, the bill provides, for all litigants, that in the absence of exceptional circumstances, courts may award increased fees only for issues upon which a party prevailed. Under Rule 82, attorney's fees are awarded to the prevailing party. By rule, the attorney's fee awards are limited to a specified percentage of the actual fees, with the precise percentage dependent upon a number of factors, including whether the case is contested or goes to trial, and whether or not a money judgment is received. The complexity of the case and length of trial are among a list of other factors that may be used by the court to vary the size of the award. Upon consideration of a variety of factors, a court may apportion fees based upon the issues and whether a party prevailed. In contrast, current Alaska case law creates an exception to Rule 82 by which, in most circumstances, public interest litigants who prevail receive full attorney's fees, with no apportionment by issue, but are not liable for an opposing party's fees if the public interest litigant loses the case. The attorney's fee exception for public interest litigants creates several undesirable incentives when decisions of the state are called into question. First, those seeking to preserve an action of the state have an incentive to avoid litigation because of the possibility of full attorney's 2003-03-03 House Journal Page 0361 fees being awarded against them. This is compounded by the fact that those seeking to overturn actions of the state have an affirmative incentive to take a chance on doubtful claims because they may win and earn large rewards in the form of full fees, without the counterbalancing risk of even partial fees being awarded against them. This is of particular concern in the area of resource development where well-financed groups have sought to use litigation to impede the state's efforts to proceed with the orderly development of its resources. This bill would redress this imbalance in the narrow group of cases involving the resource agencies. I urge your prompt consideration and passage of this bill. Sincerely, /s/ Frank H. Murkowski Governor"