LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (Legal Newsline) - The Arkansas Supreme Court has affirmed a six-figure attorneys fee award against the City of Little Rock after the city was accused of imposing illegal traffic court fees.
On Jan. 23, the Supreme Court of Arkansas also affirmed a $10,000 enhancement fee for LaDonna Nelson, who sued as parent and next of friend of Ricky Nelson in a class action. The Pulaski County Circuit Court granted LaDonna $225,000 in attorney’s fees and the $10,000 enhancement fee. The Supreme Court affirmed.
“We agree with the circuit court’s ruling,” Chief Justice Dan Kemp wrote. “Because of the circuit court’s intimate acquaintance with the record and the quality of counsel’s services rendered, the circuit court had a superior opportunity to assess the critical factors before it, and an award of attorney’s fees will therefore not be set aside absent an abuse of discretion.”
The Supreme Court also affirmed the $10,000 enhancement fee, pointing out that the city failed to give any statute or authority that would support a reduction of the fee.
LaDonna sued on May 12, 2014, alleging the city illegally forced traffic-court defendants to pay fees in Little Rock District Court for years. She sued for herself and on behalf of a class via the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. While the court dismissed the illegal-exaction claim, it green-lighted LaDonna’s motion to certify the class of those who paid traffic-court installment fees 30 days early, at minimum.
After a more than four-year legal battle, the lower court’s jury ruled the city did infringe on the Arkansas Civil Rights Act. The lower court ordered an award of $8,670 in damages and instructed the city to reimburse the fees that were improperly charged for certain class members.
LaDonna then filed for $397,542.42 in attorneys fees plus the $10,000 enhancement for her participation in the class. While the city said that amount was “grossly disproportionate,” the lower court gave LaDonna $225,000 in attorneys fees along with the extra $10,000.
Justice Josephine Liner Hart dissented in a separate opinion.