The question in this appeal was whether the trial judge’s significant involvement in settling a case provided the necessary “judicial imprimatur” to make the plaintiffs “prevailing parties” entitled to attorney’s fees.
When the merits of this civil rights case were settled in 1992, the parties agreed to litigate the fee issue subsequently. At that time fees were routinely awarded based on favorable settlements. But an appeal in the fee litigation was still open in 2001 when language in a Supreme Court decision suggested that a “private settlement” could not support a fee award. On remand to consider the effect of that decision, the Superior Court ruled in 2008 that fees must be denied.
We agreed to represent the plaintiffs’ attorney in appealing that decision, and we argued on appeal that the trial judge’s aggressive involvement in pushing the parties to settle the merits and to put aside plaintiffs’ fee claim for later determination—at a time when both sides understood the fee claim to have merit—gave the settlement all the “judicial imprimatur” it required. But the D.C. Court of Appeals found that it had no jurisdiction over the appeal because the plaintiffs’ original attorney had failed to name the proper parties in her notice of appeal, so the appeal was dismissed.