Legislature(2005 - 2006)
2005-01-28 House JournalFull Journal pdf
2005-01-28 House Journal Page 0184 HB 117 HOUSE BILL NO. 117 by the House Rules Committee by request of the Governor, entitled: "An Act relating to the liability of the state and municipalities for attorney fees in certain civil actions and appeals; and providing for an effective date." was read the first time and referred to the Community & Regional Affairs and Judiciary Committees. The following fiscal note(s) apply: 1. Zero, Dept. of Administration 2. Zero, Dept. of Law The Governor's transmittal letter dated January 27, 2005, follows: "Dear Speaker Harris: Under the authority of art. III, sec. 18, of the Alaska Constitution, I am transmitting a bill to, as a matter of sovereign immunity, limit the award of attorney's fees against the state and municipalities. Since territorial days, Alaska has had a statutory policy of requiring the losing party in most litigation to pay a portion of the prevailing party's attorney fees. In recent years, this policy has been embodied primarily in Alaska Rule of Civil Procedure 82, which the Alaska Supreme Court adopted in response to a legislative delegation, made immediately following statehood, in AS 09.60.010. In most cases, the prevailing party receives a partial fee award, equal to no more than 20 percent of a money judgment or 20 percent of actual fees in a non- monetary case. In cases brought against state or local governments, departures from the general rule of partial fee reimbursement have occurred with some regularity, with the governmental party required to reimburse all of the prevailing party's fees. Ordinarily, the basis for these enhanced fee awards has been the judicially created public interest litigant policy, wherein selected litigants bringing suits to advance ends deemed by the court to reflect strong public policies are granted full fees as a 2005-01-28 House Journal Page 0185 subsidy from the state treasury. The cost of this subsidy has been significant to the state in all recent fiscal years and, on a more irregular basis, has been significant to the municipalities targeted by such lawsuits. There are instances where a Legislative policy sufficiently supports full attorney fee awards and the legislature has chosen to provide for them by statute. Full reimbursement is also important for eminent domain proceedings. Beyond these contexts, the Legislature has not identified a policy that would support a direct public subsidy to private litigants that goes beyond the traditional norm of partial fee awards. To ensure that public money is not disbursed as a subsidy to these litigants without an appropriate legislative authorization, this bill would provide, as a matter of sovereign immunity, that the state or a municipality would not be liable for an attorney fee award in excess of certain percentages of a money judgment or, if a money judgment is not recovered, certain percentages of the reasonable actual attorney fees the prevailing party incurred in litigating the issues upon which the party prevailed. This would prevent enhanced fee awards against the state or municipalities that are not authorized by statute, but leave those governments open to the standard partial fee awards called for in the Civil Rule 82 fee schedule. Section 1 of the bill describes the purposes of the Legislation. It notes the fiscal impact of enhanced fee awards, and specifically relies on the legislature's constitutional authorities in regulating this area. Section 1 states clearly that this bill, if enacted into law, would neither preclude nor repeal specific statutes authorizing the award of costs or fees in particular situations. Section 2 of the bill would create a new provision in the chapter of AS 09 devoted to immunities. It provides that for civil actions or appeals in which a money judgment is recovered, the state and municipalities are not liable to pay more than 20 percent of the money judgment. In civil actions in which no money judgment is recovered, the liability of the state and municipalities for attorney fees for cases that go to trial is capped at 30 percent of the reasonable actual attorney fees that were necessarily incurred in litigating issues on which the party prevailed, and 20 percent for cases that do not go to trial. For appeals in which no money judgment is recovered, the liability of the 2005-01-28 House Journal Page 0186 state and municipalities for attorney fees is capped at 20 percent of reasonable actual attorney fees that were necessarily incurred in litigating issues on which the party prevailed. These limits on liability are very similar to the limits that courts have found for years to represent fair partial compensation to a prevailing party. These limitations do not apply if the statutes provide differently, if the courts determine it is appropriate to award attorney fees as a sanction for misconduct by a party or the party's counsel, or in cases involving the condemnation of property under the power of eminent domain. Section 3 of the bill would make the bill, if enacted into law, applicable only to civil actions or appeals initiated after it takes effect. I urge your prompt consideration and passage of this bill. Sincerely yours, /s/ Frank H. Murkowski Governor"